Celtics limping into Game 3

The look on Doc Rivers' face said it all in the closing minutes of Game 2.

Two games into their second-round playoff series against the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics are looking like a beat-up van sitting on the side of the road. Steam coming out from under the hood, two flat tires, and, seemingly, no chance in hell of completing the journey.

After a solid first-round sweep of the New York Knicks, it appears as if the Celtics’ odometer has turned over. The Heat have run roughshod over the Celtics, who have looked old, battered, and incapable of stopping Miami, either on the break or in the half court. One of the best defensive teams in the NBA in each of the past five seasons, the Celtics have been impotent in this series.

Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and James Jones (James Jones!) have abused Boston on the defensive end with an endless array of slashing drives, spot-up jumpers, and deep 3’s that have succeeded in sucking the life out of this team. After trailing by seven points at halftime of Game 2, Boston battled back to tie the game at 80 with around seven minutes left in the game, but the Heat went on a 14-0 run, leaving the Celtics gasping in their dust.

What does Saturday’s Game 3 hold? Who knows? The Celtics have been manhandled in the first two games and don’t seem to have the answers to combat a team that is clearly smelling blood. Wade and James are taking the politically correct route, saying they expect this to be a long, grinding series.

But you have to believe that, at least behind closed doors, most of them feel the way guard Mario Chalmers did when he uttered this post-game assessment, singling out Kevin Garnett: “His face during the duration of the game gets longer and longer, so we just want to keep running on them. We know they’re an old veteran team, and our young legs, we want to use them to our advantage.’’

Not long ago, that quote would have been considered prime bulletin board material for a team that is built as much on pride as it is talent. You’d hope that at this point in their careers the Celtics wouldn’t have to depend on outside motivation to get themselves back on track.

A return to the Garden — and three much-needed days of rest — might just be what this team needs to climb back into this series. But it’s also possible we are witnessing a passing of the torch in the Eastern Conference. Right now, the Heat and Chicago Bulls seem to be far more potent teams. By late Saturday night, we’ll have a better idea about whether or not the Celtics can get their sputtering vehicle back on the road.

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