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Celtics at a loss to explain slow starts

Posted By Ryan Hadfield On January 7, 2012 @ 2:07 pm In General | No Comments

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Paul Pierce and the Celtics struggled with their shooting Friday night against the Pacers. (AP)

Rajon Rondo pushed the ball forward trying to lead a Celtics fast break as time was running out in the first half of Friday night’s game against the Pacers. Indiana thwarted any easy opportunities for the Boston point guard by getting back on defense. Rondo pulled the ball out to just beyond midcourt to receive instruction from coach Doc Rivers. Less than 10 seconds remained, though, and the Celtics found themselves out of sorts offensively. Rondo was trapped by two Indiana defenders and was forced to pass the ball to Kevin Garnett, who launched a wild, off-balance jumper to end the half.

The TD Garden crowd serenaded the Celtics with boos while they left the court with their heads hung low. The possession exemplified Boston’s dreadful 25-point first-half output. The anemic offensive display tied a franchise record set in 1995 and repeated in 1999.

“It sucks to be on the wrong side of history,” Ray Allen said. “Especially with the firepower we have, you never think we could score so few points. We can always look back and remember this game.”

Allen, who missed Wednesday’s game against the Nets due to flu-like symptoms, remarkably was the game’s high scorer at halftime with eight points. As a team, Boston shot 9-of-34 (26.5 percent) from the field in the first half. Nine of those 34 attempts came from Paul Pierce, who struggled mightily, only hitting one attempt.

Boston’s captain finished the game with 10 points on 3-of-17 shooting, to go along with a team-high five turnovers (three of which came in the first half). Even though Pierce didn’t convert his opportunities, he was satisfied with the looks he got at the basket. “I took a lot of good shots tonight,” Pierce said. “They just didn’t fall, but I feel good about [the shot selection].”

Rondo made no excuses for his team’s performance Friday night, but he noted that Pierce’s shooting struggles were something he doesn’t think the 13-year veteran will replicate going forward. Meanwhile, Jermaine O’Neal said a rare break in the schedule will give the Celtics an opportunity to sharpen their offensive execution in practice, something the compacted season has made difficult with limited off days.

Perhaps more alarming for Boston is that this is the second consecutive game the team has struggled to produce offense in the first half. Wednesday against New Jersey, the Celtics scored a paltry 34 points through 24 minutes. The Nets were playing without two starters (Deron Williams and Kris Humphries), and were only able to counter Boston with a woeful 35-point effort themselves. The Celtics found their groove offensively and would go on to enjoy 55-point second half, cruising to an 89-70 victory.

Even at full strength, however, New Jersey does not possess the same talent as the Pacers. Consequently, as opposed to Wednesday, the Celtics traded baskets with Indiana in the third quarter Friday, each team scoring 30 points. In the end, the Pacers were able to pull away to an 87-74 win.

The Celtics have time to regroup, as their next game is not until Wednesday. Following the respite, Boston begins a series of four games playing some of the NBA’s best teams, starting Wednesday against the defending champion Mavericks. Two nights later, the Celtics play the first of back-to-back games with a home game against the Bulls. The next night Boston travels to Indiana to play the same Pacers team that snapped its four-game winning streak Friday. Then on Monday night, Boston is at home against another young and hungry team, the Thunder.

The stretch of four games in six days is looming, and the Celtics still are searching for answers about their offensive ineptitude in the first half of the last two games.

“[I] don’t know,” Rivers said when asked about Boston’s slow starts. “If I could, I would explain it to them first and then I would try to work on it. Then hopefully I wouldn’t have to answer this question.”


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