Paul Pierce, Celtics Struggle to Maintain Effort, Focus Without Kevin Garnett as Injuries Mount

Paul PierceBOSTON — Avery Bradley did not try to pinpoint any one area in which things went wrong for the Celtics on Tuesday.

Neither a massive disparity in second-chance points nor the Celtics’ carelessness with the basketball was the first reason provided by the third-year guard when he was asked the open-ended question of how a competitive game unraveled so quickly.

“We weren’t playing hard on either end of the floor,” Bradley said. “We weren’t pushing the ball. We just weren’t playing the right way.”

Well, OK. Tell us how you really feel, Avery.

From key role players like Bradley and Jeff Green to team leaders like Paul Pierce, several players pinpointed a lack of energy as the culprit in the Celtics’ 100-85 loss to the Knicks. In dropping their fifth consecutive game, the Celtics actually shot better from the field and beyond the arc than the Knicks, but they fell far short in statistical categories based on hustle and focus.

The Celtics were outrebounded on the offensive glass, 15-7, and dominated in second-chance points, 29-6. The Knicks had 12 steals while forcing 20 turnovers by Boston, which committed only 16 fouls. In this case, the shortage of fouls was not a result of clean, fundamental defense, but of a matador approach to New York ballhandlers.

“I think our energy is down,” Green said. “We’ve just got to find a way.”

Kevin Garnett sat out with inflammation in his left ankle, missing his fourth game in the last six. Courtney Lee tested his sprained left ankle a couple of hours before tip-off, but apparently did not feel comfortable because he was also out of uniform for the game. There was a sense within the home locker room at TD Garden that all the injuries are starting to catch up with the Celtics, who are already soldiering on after losing Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Leandro Barbosa to season-ending maladies.

Pierce found such an attitude, if it even exists, unacceptable. The 35-year-old forward logged 36 minutes in the blowout, hanging around for the last minutes before he was relieved by Shavlik Randolph with Boston down by 15 points. He laughed dolefully at his team’s predicament, finding itself two more men down in an injury-plagued year, but he was clearly seething inside over things like the rebounding and turnover differentials.

“Hey, we’ve just got to figure it out,” Pierce said. “There’s going to be nights when we put four smalls on the court, and that’s what it is. That’s what you saw tonight. That means guys have got to do a better job rebounding. Roles are expanded. Every year, you have guys who sit the bench that want to play more. Well, here’s your opportunity. There’s injuries, there’s opportunities. Nobody wants to sit the bench. Everybody on this team wants to play. Now is an opportunity for guys to step up, and we’re going to need everybody to.”

After Pierce had finished his interview, he excused himself and made his way out the locker room door. The assembled media stood there for a moment, wondering what to do with themselves. Normally, there is a long wait ahead for Garnett to emerge from the trainer’s room. If Lee is around, a few reporters might chat with him quietly as he dresses.

But when Pierce was done on Tuesday, that was that. Garnett and Lee were not making an appearance. Everybody could go home. That might have been the most fitting thing to do, since there was not much more to say. The Celtics’ own play had said it all.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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