Lack of Focus Dooms Team-First Celtics in Loss to Knicks

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April 7, 2010

Lack of Focus Dooms Team-First Celtics in Loss to Knicks The Celtics knew what they were in for on Tuesday night when they walked into Madison Square Garden. It was a matchup of one team vying for playoff position in the Eastern Conference and one collection of individuals playing for contracts. Given that scenario, the true team should win every time.

On Tuesday, not so.

The Celtics landed in Manhattan, fresh off a huge win over the Cavaliers, knowing full well that the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs was on the line. They were one game back of an Atlanta team playing on the road in Charlotte with no Joe Johnson, and they sensed a golden opportunity to gain a game and leapfrog back into third in the East. Tuesday night was huge.

The Knicks stumbled into this contest with nothing, collectively at least, motivating them. At 27-49, they were long gone from the East playoff race, and all that mattered was the contract status of each individual Knick.

David Lee, Al Harrington, Cuttino Mobley, Brian Cardinal, Chris Duhon — all coming off the books this summer. Tracy McGrady, acquired at the deadline in February mostly for his expiring contract will also be entering free agency. Bill Walker, J.R. Giddens and Eddie House, all former Celtics shipped to the Big Apple for Nate Robinson, are likely on the way out as well.

Since the middle of February, the Knicks’ sole purpose has been to test-drive the expiring guys on their roster, letting coach Mike D’Antoni get a feel for each player’s game and make smart decisions about who’s a good fit for his system going forward and who isn’t. Everyone’s got something to prove, and everyone’s playing for their own name, their own reputation, their own numbers. Team chemistry? Forget about it.

So how did the Celtics, a true team, a group gearing up for the playoff run that lies ahead, lose this game to the scattered, piecemeal Knicks?

The short answer is that Danilo Gallinari hit a ridiculous bank shot from the top of the key, giving the Knicks a 102-101 lead with 36.8 seconds left, and they never looked back.

But Doc Rivers had the longer answer.

“I thought we just showed up tonight and played basketball and had no focus,” the Celtics coach said Tuesday. “So I thought we deserved to lose. That bank shot Gallinari hit, that was the basketball gods punishing us for not having great focus.”

It was a frustrating game all night long for the Celtics. They didn’t move the ball well, they didn’t get inside and push their distinct advantages in size and strength, they didn’t stop settling for jump shots. On the other end of the floor, they didn’t get stops.

It was basic fundamental stuff — stuff that Rivers has been preaching all year, stuff that’s made the Celtics one of the NBA’s best teams when healthy — that failed them on Tuesday night. On Sunday against Cleveland, the C’s showed up ready to play, and they executed well throughout. Two nights later, they played like they were overlooking this one.

“We played who we were playing,” Rivers said. “You could see their intensity, and you know, listen. You let them hang around, and bank shots happen. I just thought we absolutely deserved that. I really did. I would have taken the win, obviously, but when you play with that type of focus, you lose basketball games. So we lost.”

It wasn’t just the one bank shot. Gallinari’s jumper was the conclusion of a fantastic shooting night — 10-of-15 from the floor, 10-of-11 from the free-throw line, a new career high of 31 points. Boston let multiple big men put up double-doubles — Earl Barron, with 17 points and 18 rebounds, and David Lee, with 13 and 11. The Celtics let the Knicks control this game from start to finish, and they deserved the notch in the loss column that they got.

For a Celtics team just eight days away from the end of the regular season, this loss was a disappointing one.

Just imagine if they’d been playing a real team.

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