During his weekly Thursday appearance with Salk & Holley, Celtics  president of basketball operations Danny Ainge stopped short of saying he thought his C’s are the better team in their first-round NBA playoff series against the Knicks.
“We don’t think that we’ve played like we are capable of playing,” said Ainge. “It’s one thing to lose to a team who deserves to beat you and is a better team, but I feel like we’ve come out ready to play and I have no idea why the beginning of the third quarter in the last two games has not been good.”
Asked to clarify his comments, Ainge showered praise on the Knicks, who lead the series 2-0 and have held the Celtics to 48 combined second-half points.
“They’re very good. I have a great deal of respect for the Knicks, and Carmelo [Anthony] is a great player — maybe the toughest matchup in the entire league,” he said. “He’s right there in the same category as difficult a matchup as the Lebron [James]es and the Kevin Durant s and the Kobe Bryant s. He’s one of those types of players that can score against certain defense. So, no, I’m not particularly thrilled with the matchup.”
Still, Ainge placed the blame on his players. The Celtics simply haven’t lived up to their ability.
“We just need to play with more mental and physical toughness,” he said. “This isn’t the team I’ve seen play all year. The first halves have been, but not the second half. I wish I had an explanation, but we just need to be tougher, instigating the physical play. I think that they are getting into us, and we’re not responding. I’d like to see us instigate and initiate contact and be aggressive and not let their pressure affect us as much as it has.”
And the blame doesn’t rest with just one or two Celtics. They’ve pretty much all been been underwhelming.
“It’s everybody,” said Ainge. “It’s gotta be everybody. Avery [Bradley] embodies toughness. Paul Pierce  is toughness to us, and Jeff Green  — when he’s playing the way that we need him to play — he’s asserting himself and tough. And we know how tough Jason Terry  is. And right on down the line. It takes everybody. Brandon Bass . It takes every one of the guys. We don’t have a team where we can rely on one or two guys. We have to get good performances out of the whole team.”
“We’ve got to have contributions from the whole team,” he added. “You can’t do it with one or two guys like New York has done. We don’t have that kind of scoring power. We don’t have the league’s leading scorer on our team right now, so we have to get contributions out of a lot of people.”
Got it? Good. Now here are the remaining highlights of Ainge’s interview, which can be heard in full on the Salk & Holley audio on demand page :
On Avery Bradley  reportedly being late to practice : ‘I don’t think he was late, but I wasn’t at practice earlier this morning. I hadn’t heard any of that. He might not have been on the court. He might have been getting treatment, but I did see him on the practice court today.’
On the $25,000 fine for Doc Rivers : “What, are you trying to get me in trouble?”
On the problem being offensive or defensive: “To me, it’s all in attitude. When you try to define whether your offense wins or your defense wins, it’s attitude that wins. It’s your perspective and the way you play the game. Offense takes care of itself sometimes, but both is the answer. You’ve got to create offense sometimes with your defense when you’re struggling, and you’ve got to find a way. I liken it to a pitcher who doesn’t have his best stuff. You still have to get guys out. We’ve got to find a way to get stops, get in the open court as much as we can, but offensively we need to assert ourselves. We need to be more physical offensively.”
On Carmelo Anthony vs. Bernard King : “Bernard was special, too. You’re talking about two of the elite scores of their time. It’s a different time now, and I think that what makes Carmelo more difficult than Bernard is his size and strength. Bernard was 6-foot-5, and we still couldn’t guard him. He was a very unguardable player, but Carmelo gets to the free-throw line and he shoots the three ball and he gets to the rim. So, he’s a complete package. You can’t let him take open shots. You’ve got to crowd him. If you crowd him, he gets into the paint and to the free-throw line and gets to the rim, so he’s a guy you can play perfect defense on him and he can still score. Those players are very rare.”
On Kevin Garnett ‘s health: “I think KG expects to be at his best tomorrow night. He looked good in practice today. He’s moving well, and I expect KG to be good tomorrow.”
On Paul Pierce carrying the load : “I think Paul has taken four charges in two games. I’m not sure anyone else on the team has taken any. Paul is our leading scorer. He carries an offensive burden. Paul is right now our best player and our best scorer, and he needs help. He needs other guys stepping up. He can’t do it the whole game. It’s a grind for him. Paul still shows signs of being a great player. He’s not consistently as great as he was five years ago, but he is still a fantastic player in this league, and he’s showing that in this series.”
On the absence of Rajon Rondo : “We’ve had an opportunity to play a lot of games without Rondo, but listen, if you just look around, this has been going on for 30 years. It’s no secret. Great players at this time really step it up, and our guy that was our best player last year in the playoffs, the guy that had 44 at Miami and got us to the position that we were, that has been the MVP of multiple playoff series over the last handful of years — not just playoff games, but playoff series — he’s a guy who was certainly capable of being the best guy on the court on any given night, he’s a terrific player and we certainly miss him. And I’ve been saying that all year long.”
On playing “fuzzy ” without Rondo: “We had these same challenges before. Losing double-figure leads in the fourth quarter of games is not something that has just happened. It’s been going on for three or four years, and I wish I knew. Sometimes I think we put such an effort and emphasis on defense that our guys don’t have the energy to keep cutting and moving and so forth without the ball in the fourth quarter. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not just the Rondo issue. Missing Rondo, he has the ability to take over games as we’ve seen him do against the elite players in the world, and we don’t have a player like that. That hurts us. But not knowing what to do and what plays to run — we shouldn’t do that under any circumstance. Every team goes through that a little bit, but we should not be having that problem.”