This shouldn’t be happening.
If I were Doc Rivers, that’s what I’d be telling my basketball team this morning. I’d pull out the stat sheet and go down the Indiana Pacers’ roster, player by player, and explain to the Celtics in explicit terms just who they are trailing, 2-1, in this first-round playoff series.
Start with point guard Anthony Johnson, a career backup who cheerfully concedes he will always be a backup, and is just keeping the seat warm in case Jamaal Tinsley (injured foot) ever gets well. Johnson dished out eight assists in Thursday’s Pacers win in Game 3. He’s killing the Celtics by dictating tempo. That simply defies logic.
There’s All-Star Jermaine O’Neal, whose shoulder was so painful after Game 3 he couldn’t lift his hand above his waist. O’Neal also had his right ankle checked by the medical staff after the game, but was mum on the reason. O’Neal is encased in ice after every game, a nifty impersonation of Nolan Ryan after throwing nine innings of fastballs. It was a wise strategy to make Indiana’s big fella pay with hard fouls every time he ventured inside, but even that backfired when Antoine Walker took it one step too far and got himself tossed. Advantage, O’Neal.
The mercurial Stephen Jackson, the only player in this series who has a championship ring (he snagged his with San Antonio two seasons ago), played 33 minutes on a balky left knee that made it darn near impossible to keep up with Paul Pierce in the opening half. Pierce wisely took advantage of the mismatch — for a while. But when Boston closed within 7 and needed a big basket from its captain, why take a three against a guy who is having issues with mobility? Take him to the hole. Make it hurt. Make the kid work.