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Celts Drop Another

01.04.09 at 7:29 pm ET

The Celtics have played 23 games against the Eastern Conference and they have lost twice. The first came against Indiana, a way, way back in early November. If there was any game the Celtics played this year that made no sense it was that one. Well, they have a second “what was that?” game for the 2008-09 season now, after getting dumped by the Knicks, 100-88 at Madison Square Garden. (Recap here)

The Knicks, who had lost seven of eight, did just about everything right. They only shot 41 percent, but they made 9-of-22 3-pointers and were 23-for-28 from the free throw line, with only 10 turnovers. Al Harrington (30 points and 7 boards) and Wilson Chandler (31 points and 8 rebounds) both had career nights.

For the C’s, there was Paul Pierce and there was everyone else. Pierce was sensational with 31 points, seven rebounds and four assists. The Captain destroyed Quentin Richardson in this round of their rivalry, but Rajon Rondo did not have a good night (1-for-7, 3 assists, 24 minutes), Ray Allen missed all nine of his 3-point shots and Kevin Garnett was limited to just 28 minutes (6 points and 9 rebounds) thanks to some early foul trouble and what looked like an ankle injury.

The Celtics have now lost four out of their last six, and four of their last five on the road. They have a tough week in front of them with Charlotte on Tuesday, the tough Houston Rockets on Wednesday, the huge matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday and then Toronto on Sunday. (The Raptors have been playing better lately).

Speaking of the Cavs, the Celtics caught a break because Cleveland lost to Washington, 80-77 Sunday afternoon in a game that was as ugly as the score. Boston (29-6) and Cleveland (27-6) are still tied in the loss column for the best record in the East race.

A few more quick observations on a Sunday evening:

1. The Celtics got great looks, but they just didn’t go down. The Knicks made more than a few tough shots. It happens. That’s why it’s so hard to win 70 games, or go on 19-game winning streaks. There’s a reason things like that are historic, and it’s also why the reporters got frustrated when the players wouldn’t acknowledge the accomplishments.

Forget winning 70, the Celtics have to get themselves straightened out. There’s no reason to think they won’t, but let’s hold off on the rest of that for now, considering they were to this point stastically not as good as the team that won 66 games last year.

2. Because it was the Knicks, one can’t help think about Stephon Marbury tonight. This one wasn’t the bench’s fault–the decisive run came early in the third quarter–but the bench has been much maligned over the last few weeks and seems to be in need of a shakeup. Marbury makes sense for a number of reasons, namely:

A. The second unit needs a creator. They need someone who can break down his man and get to the basket. The best person off the bench right now is Tony Allen, and his jumper isn’t good enough to allow him to do that with any kind of consistency. That is Marbury’s biggest strength.

B. Eddie House would feast off Marbury drive-and-kicks (provided that smallish backcourt wouldn’t get eaten alive defensively).

C. Rondo is too good, and too far along, to be bothered by somebody like Marbury playing behind him.

D. Marbury could be what they’ve wanted Sam Cassell to be.

E. All of that assumes that Marbury had his screwed on straight if he got here. And if he didn’t, he’d be gone. That is an assumption, also.

3. OK, speaking of the second unit: Brian Scalabrine has to make wide-open jump shots. Yes, he played good defense and it’s really a treat to watch him play with the starters because he does such a good job of moving without the ball, but when he has that much open space, he has to knock them down.

4. Pierce has been playing his best basketball of the season. Over the last 10 games he is averaging 23 points on 53 percent shooting (56 percent on 3-pointers and 87 percent free throw shooting).

What’s been fascinating about his season is that Pierce has been incredibly restrained this year. Earlier in the season, when his shot wasn’t going down he rarely forced the action. Even when he has played with the second unit, he has been fine blending into the action. He’s going with the flow, as he said the other night. He’s not going to win any MVP awards playing like that, but he is the team’s ballast, more so than even Kevin Garnett this year.

5. The Celtics are fine, but it really wouldn’t hurt their cause if they got a big win in Charlotte, Tuesday.

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