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Injured Garnett's absence tough to overcome for champs Celtics

ALREADY down double digits with their title defense on the line, the Boston Celtics sent three second-round picks out to start the second quarter.

That's not exactly a Big Three.

And that's why the Celtics won't repeat as champions. Doc Rivers said before the game that the National Basketball Association is a players' league, and he simply didn't have enough of them this season.

Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen helped make Boston the NBA's best. With Garnett sidelined and Pierce and Allen overworked, the Celtics were just a .500 team - 7-7 in this postseason after a 82-101 loss to Orlando in Boston on Sunday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

It must have pained Rivers that every time he looked down the bench for a player to put in, he had to look over Garnett's head. Last year, he could tap solid role players such as James Posey, P.J. Brown and Leon Powe. The first two are gone and Powe's on the injured list with Garnett.

That left Glen Davis and Brian Scalabrine, two of those second rounders, to defend Rashard Lewis, an All-Star who scored 19 points. Think Garnett might have done better?

The Celtics built last year's team on the defensive standard Garnett set and demanded teammates live up to. The Lakers were practically untouched in the playoffs until the finals, when the Celtics hit Kobe Bryant with a defense that was as good as he'd ever seen.

Without Garnett, and without a legitimate stopper like Posey, there was no chance of that this time. The Celtics entered Sunday's game yielding 102.2 points per game in the playoffs, 12th among the 16 teams who made the postseason and more than 13 above last spring's average.

"This has been different," Rivers said before the game. "Each night almost we've been a different team. We've been an offensive team in some of the Chicago games and some of these games, and we won a couple games being a defensive team. Obviously we know who we would like to be every night, but it just hasn't worked out that way."

Considering what they had, it's almost surprising the Celtics didn't go out sooner.


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