Celtics Mailbag: LeBron James Wearing Down Paul Pierce, Affecting Captain’s Offense

Celtics Mailbag: LeBron James Wearing Down Paul Pierce, Affecting Captain's Offense Well, what can you say? This hasn't exactly gone according to plan.

The Celtics are now down 2-0 in their second-round playoff series with the Miami Heat. This is uncharted territory for them — they've never trailed 2-0 in a postseason series since acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. They're not quite sure how to respond.

Neither are you guys, apparently. This week's questions are a motley mix of panic, paranoia, and perhaps a little disdain for the superstar trio down in South Beach.

Thanks for everyone for your submissions this week. The Celtics may be fading fast, but your curiosity about this team sure isn't. Please do keep it up.

After a 14-0 Heat run in the fourth quarter of Game 2, the Celtics suddenly find themselves in a 0-2 hole. Series over?
–Marcel Lima

Things look bad, Marcel, but I'd hesitate to call this thing over just yet. The Celtics don't really believe in that whole "home-court advantage" thing, but they do believe this: They've got three days of rest, they're going to forget the past and refuel, and they'll be ready to go Saturday for Game 3.

Dwyane Wade admitted on Tuesday night that he doesn't like the rest, saying it helps the Celtics more than it helps him. He's right — the C's need a little time to rest Shaquille O'Neal's calf, Ray Allen's chest, Rajon Rondo's back and Paul Pierce's Achilles. After that, they should be ready to at least attempt a comeback.

The Heat are obviously the favorites now. But a Boston comeback wouldn't be unprecedented — this C's team did have three-game winning streaks against both Wade and LeBron James in the playoffs last year. If they show up Saturday ready to go on a run, you never know what could happen.

Who's to blame for this? Or are the Heat just better?
–Griffin Morrow

If you want to blame somebody, blame the Celtics' starters. They're carrying the vast majority of the workload, and they just haven't produced enough. Look at Garnett, for instance — he's shooting 11-for-29. The C's need efficiency, and right now they're just not getting it.

You can also blame the bench — Glen Davis still only had one good game in the postseason (Game 4 against the Knicks), Jeff Green has been in and out of relevance, and Delonte West has made a few questionable decisions on both ends of the floor. Those guys need to be steadier for the Celtics to push their edge in the depth department.

But also, yes, the Heat are just better right now. They have two of the five best players in the world who happen to be really clicking right now. That's extremely tough to stop. You can point all the fingers you want, but at the end of the day, LeBron and Wade have just been outstanding.

I'll tell you one guy who's not to blame, and that's Danny Ainge. The reasons for this predicament have nothing to do with Kendrick Perkins.

What's up with Shaq?
–Displaced Fan

If I had a nickel for every time I've been asked that question, I'd have… well, probably 85 cents or so. At least enough to buy a couple gumballs or something.

Anyway, I'm really not sure. I've been saying for weeks now that Shaq will be back eventually, it's only a matter of time. Now I'm starting to feel naive for ever believing Doc Rivers on that. Each game and each practice, he keeps teasing us. Shaq's close, he's closer, he's closer still. But we still haven't seen the guy play.

Doc said Sunday that Shaq would "for sure" play Game 3. At this point, though? Believe him at your own risk.

You have to give the Celtics credit for not hanging their heads and crying over Shaq's absence. They're making no excuses, doing what they can with the bodies they have. Although right now, it doesn't look like enough.

With Shaq, are we watching the same movie we watched in the 2009 playoffs with KG? Why do the Celtics as an organization insist doing this to the fans?
–Marcel Lima

I see where you're coming from. This is the second time in three years that we've had a high-profile Celtic come tantalizingly close to a playoff return. And it's definitely nerve-wracking for fans to wonder day after day what will happen with their star.

But it makes sense that the Celtics play it this way. They're in a big market, surrounded by tons of media, facing a lot of pressure. Every word they say gets scrutinized, so they have to be careful not to say too much. They don't want fans, writers or even opposing teams to overreact to anything they say. So Doc, Danny and team doctor Brian McKeon all do a good job of holding their cards close to the vest.

For the record, I still think 2009 was an entirely different situation. I still maintain that KG was never coming back, and all the hype about a potential return in the East finals against Cleveland was a figment of the media's imagination. He had a pretty severe knee injury — he needed surgery to remove bone spurs. As for Shaq, the guy's sore, but there's still a good chance he can play. Apples and oranges.

In a physical matchup like this, do you think the officials will keep up the pace with these calls, or let the players play?

Hard to say, because the league has different officiating crews from game to game. The group that called 45 personal fouls in Game 1 (Dan Crawford, Derrick Collins and Ed Malloy) was totally different from the one that called 46 in Game 2 (Joey Crawford, Jason Phillips and Greg Willard).

Refs are human. They all have different subjective definitions of what's a block, what's a charge, what's a push or a shove, and most importantly, what's a technical or a flagrant. It's hard to force the officials to adhere to a rigid set of standards. The game's too fluid for that.

For the most part, the officiating in this series has been pretty decent, with the exception of Malloy's double technical on Pierce and Wade in Game 1. There may have been an iffy call here or there, but by and large it's pretty weak to peg this one on the officials. The Celtics need to play better.

Will Pierce guarding LeBron on the defensive end affect his offensive play?
–Jeff Dunn

Sure. Always does.

Pierce has had an exhausting few weeks of playoff basketball so far. First he spent four games chasing around Carmelo Anthony for 40 minutes a night, and now he's stuck with LeBron. It's hard to find a tougher 1-2 punch than that. He did very well against Melo, but now he appears to be running out of steam a little bit. You can see it sometimes on the offensive end — Pierce looks a little winded, so rather than exert some extra energy and attack the basket, he settles for a tough jumper.

The numbers reflect that Pierce is indeed having some trouble. LeBron is averaging 28.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game so far in this series, shooting 50 percent; Pierce is putting up 16 and six, shooting 44 percent. He's got to be better.

One thing they've tried is mixing it up with their defensive coverages, giving other guys a crack at LeBron to help Pierce conserve some energy. One notable Celtic who's done a decent job against LeBron these first two games is Jeff Green. But how long will that keep up?

What about running some more of the offense through Garnett in the low post? They did this very effectively in last year's playoffs, even against the taller Lakers.

It's a good idea, isn't it? Playoff games tend to be won by big guys scoring points. The Celtics have very little of that right now.

It's not just Garnett, to be fair. KG is 11-for-29 from the field in this series, Jermaine O'Neal is 5-for-13, Glen Davis is 4-for-12 and Nenad Krstic is 0-for-2. Terrible across the board. It's not for lack of effort — look at the numbers, the Celtics are clearly trying to get some offense in the post. It just isn't working.

Perhaps we didn't give enough credit to Miami's interior defenders. Look at Joel Anthony, for example — that guy never puts up impressive numbers, but he continues to protect the rim and make life difficult for the Celtics inside. He deserves some credit. So does Chris Bosh, and so does LeBron, who's spent a good deal of time playing post D when Erik Spoelstra goes small.

The Celtics are trying to get the post game going. But right now, the Heat just won't stand for it.

Also, what about actually guarding guys like James Jones and Mike Bibby? They just completely left them open in Game 1. They are pretty much just spot-up shooters, but given such wide open shots, they'll knock them down most of the time. Understandably, it's tough to guard Wade and James, but they can't just completely leave excellent shooters.

Hate to say it, CT, but it sounds like you just answered your own question. When LeBron gets hot, he demands a double team, and you've got to leave someone. Oftentimes, the Celtics make the choice to leave a guy like Jones or Bibby, and just pray he misses.

That hasn't gone well. The lesser-known guys happen to be hitting their shots. Jones is 5-for-7 so far from 3-point land in this series, while Bibby is 3-for-7. Those shots have definitely made a difference.

Perhaps we're starting to see Pat Riley's vision for this Heat team materialize. Take superstar players, surround them with professionals that can knock down shots, and get them to work hard on defense. Boom. That's a title contender.

I'm honestly not sure if there's anything the Celtics can change at this point. They're doing everything they can.

Do the Heat have to pay people to be "fans" like the Chinese did in the Olympics?
–Andreas24x7, via Twitter

This may be my favorite question ever.

I must say I was surprised on the drive over to the arena, both for Games 1 and 2, to see signs outside reading "Tickets Available." I was showing up a few hours early, but not a week. There's no excuse for that. When it's springtime and you're showcasing two of the world's best players in their first postseason together, you must sell out. Period. There are no excuses.

The building eventually filled up, but not until about midway through the first quarter. And it sure does look bad when a playoff game opens and millions of TV viewers can see empty seats directly behind the teams' benches. Something's got to be done about that.

So do they have to pay fans? No, they eventually cram 20,000 people into the place, and they're all paying at least three figures if not more. But maybe they should throw a couple bucks toward getting better fans. You know — people who show up on time, people who care more about the game than the celebrities, and people who know better than to chant "MVP" when Joel Anthony steps to the free-throw line.

But hey, when it comes to fandom, we're spoiled here in Boston.

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