For the third year in a row, the Knicks have made the playoffs, but for the first time in seemingly forever, they go in as a favorite. After winning the Atlantic Division and capturing the two seed, the Knicks have a favorable path to the Eastern Conference Finals.
On top of that, the Knicks will be out for revenge, as the Celtics bounced them from the playoffs two years ago in Carmelo Anthony's first season in New York. After years of playoff shortcomings, Melo realizes that it's now-or-never with this Knicks squad, a veteran group that stormed through the regular season with gusto.
For Boston, they're essentially playing with house money. With Ray Allen's departure in the off-season, the "Big Three" are no more. For the second consecutive season, Kevin Garnett's name was a hot topic at the trade deadline, but Danny Ainge stayed pat, trying to squeeze one final run out of his veteran-laden team. The C's, like the Knicks, have coped with their fair share of injuries all season, most notably to All-Star guard Rajon Rondo, who tore his ACL and is out for the remainder of the season.
Since Rondo's injury, the Celtics have gotten big contributions from Jeff Green, who has returned from his heart issues a year ago to remind everybody why he was the fifth overall pick in the 2007 Draft. He really burst onto the scene with a 43-point effort against the Heat on March 18th, a game that saw him completely take over the game throughout the first half. The 6'9 forward is a better shooter than given credit for (38.5% from behind the arc), and his lankiness creates defensive match-up issues.
The Knicks will host a Game 1 in the playoffs for the first time since 2001 (yes...it's been that long). Expect the Garden to be electric and for the Knicks to feed off their momentum.
Boston is a battle-tested team, and anybody who thinks the Knicks will simply show up and beat them is sorely mistaken. Expect Boston to make this a half-court game, and expose the Knicks' nicks and bruises, especially in their front court.
Boston's major advantage over the Knicks comes in the psychological sense, as all Knick fans remember the infamous "Honey Nut Cheerios" comment that clearly rattled Anthony. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are proven winners, and even without the defensive magic of star point guard Rajon Rondo, the Celtics will make the Knicks earn every bucket.
The Knicks shoot more three-pointers than any team in the league, and lack an inside scoring presence without Amar'e Stoudemire. When they're hot, they're hot. But unfortunately for them, Boston is one of the best teams in the league against the three-pointer (tied for 9th in 3-pointers allowed and 4th in opposing 3-point percentage). If the Knicks struggle from the outside, it will be a tough road for them to climb.
Unlike previous years, the Knicks finally have a strong veteran corps to help navigate such pitfalls, as the additions of Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, and Marcus Camby are impossible to measure when it comes to the locker room. While the Celtics have befuddled the Knicks in the past, expect the Knicks to feed off the energy of their fans en route to an opening game victory.
The Knicks 31-10 home mark was the second-best in the Eastern Conference, and they haven't lost a home game since March 7th, a one-point loss to the Thunder, in which Carmelo did not suit up.
On the flip side, the Celtics struggled mightily on the road all season, going 14-27. While the playoffs are a different beast, the season-long road troubles for the Celtics must be accounted for.
With the pressure of the first win off their chests, the Knicks will be able to play more freely throughout.
Expect them to jump out to a quick lead, as Boston is stuck playing catch-up, something they can ill-afford.
The Celtics have a middle-of-the-pack offense (they average 96.5 PPG, tied for 18th in the NBA), and won't be able to withstand the Knicks' offensive onslaught.
For Boston to have a puncher's chance in the series, they must have Jason Terry play like Jason Terry of old. The talented guard came to Boston this season after eight seasons in Dallas, but has seemed to left his shooting touch behind. His 10.1 PPG is the lowest since his rookie season, and the C's starting back-court of Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee, while defensively stout, is not striking feat into opposing defenses.
Terry's only averaged 8.2 shots per game this year (also the lowest mark since his rookie year), and may need to revert back to his shot-happy ways for the Celtics to have a chance.
Unfortunately for Boston, the Knicks are well equipped at the guard position, as both J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert will give the 6'2 Terry fits with their size advantage, causing him to struggle to find his shot.
The Knicks will leave MSG up 2-0.
If you thought MSG was loud, imagine what TD Garden will be like for the first Celtics game post-bombings. Buoyed by the home crowd, the Celtics will give their fans something to cheer about, no matter how small it pales in comparison to the horrific events that took place Monday.
Paul Pierce goes for 24, KG has 18 and 12, and Avery Bradley does all the little things to get the Celtics back in the series.
Despite his career year, Carmelo Anthony has struggled in big situations at times. For the season, he's 1/6 on game-winning attempts (his one make was a free throw against Atlanta), and playing in such a hostile environment will do little to help those numbers. Expect Anthony to struggle against a hungrier Boston team all night, in a game that's score is not indicative of the match-up. The Knicks may add on some window dressing points, but expect a big first quarter for the Celtics as they put it on cruise control throughout.
The Knicks chances in this game hinge on the first quarter. If they are able to withstand the added adrenaline that Boston is sure to fire at them, and keep the game close, they'll be able to hang around. Boston is not a particularly deep team, especially in its' back-court, and it would be prudent for the Knicks to try and push the pace as much as possible. Both Jason Terry and Kevin Garnett are nursing injuries, and if the Knicks can force them to run baseline to baseline all night, it will have positive repercussions not only throughout the game, but throughout the remainder of the series.
For the Knicks, the credo is clear: winning the first two games is a MUST. Boston, like New York, is a very strong home team (27-13), and while the Knicks 23-18 road mark was tied for second-best in the East, the emotional tidal wave they'll be confronting puts them at a serious disadvantage. Allowing Boston to escape MSG with a win will shift home court advantage back to Boston,where their rabid fans will make sure to influence the game as much as possible.
After struggling through the first three games, Jeff Green wakes up and gets it going with a big Game 4.
Sensing a chance to take a commanding lead in the series heading back to MSG, the Knicks play it tough to the end, but can't overcome Jeff Green's monster game. Paul Pierce hits a big jumper late to put the game away for good, evening the series at two games apiece.
While Rondo's passing abilities have been missed by the Celtics, a key attribute that doesn't get as much attention is his rebounding loss. The Celtics rank second-worst in the NBA in rebounding,and Rondo's 5.6 rebounds per game were good four fourth best on the team.
Another key injury- Jared Sullinger. The talented rookie is also out for the season following back surgery, and the C's have sorely missed his 5.9 RBG, good for third-best on the team.
While Jeff Green is a talented scorer, his rebounding leaves a lot to be desired, as he only grabs 3.9 RBG, a pitiful number for a 6'9 forward. While Green is playing far fewer minutes with the Celtics than he did with OKC, even his per-36 rebounding numbers are behind pace. In 2008-2009, Green grabbed 6.7 rebounds per game in just under 37 minutes of action. If you extrapolate his numbers this season to over 36 minutes, Green clocks in at 5 rebounds per game, nearly a 2 RPG drop.
Despite appearing in all 81 games this season (the Celtics game against the Pacers was cancelled due to the Boston Marathon bombings), Green only had one double-digit rebounding game.
Still, I believe part of that can be attributed to general rustiness of missing all of last season with a serious heart condition, as well as trying to adjust to his new role on the Celtics. Carmelo Anthony has been a monster on the boards as of late, and this is a battle Green must make headway in for the Celtics to have a chance. The Knicks are also a poor rebounding team (tied for 25th with the Sacramento Kings), and if Tyson Chandler isn't 100%, there will be ample opportunities for the Celtics for second-chance shots. Green will have a major part in that happening.
Carmelo starts hot, but is then befuddled by the Celtics' physical defense.
Enter J.R. Smith. The likely Sixth Man of the Year catches fire in the second half and helps the Knicks pull away in Game 5.
Lost in Carmelo Anthony's magical month was J.R. Smith's run of his own. During the Knicks 13-game winning streak, Smith went for at least 20 points eight times, and at least 30 points in four games.
Most pundits agree that Carmelo Anthony must lead the Knicks in order for them to capture the series, and for the most part that's true. But J.R. Smith may be just as important to the Knicks chances as Melo. The Knicks are 19-9 when J.R. goes for at least 20 points, and only 4-6 when he fails to score at least 10 points.
Without Amar'e Stoudemire in the line-up, J.R. Smith is the only Knick besides Anthony with the ability to create his own shot. While Raymond Felton can get to the basket against slower guards, he will be going against Avery Bradley, a very quick guard who will be able to keep up with him. But at 6'6, J.R. is too big for Bradley and Jason Terry, and too quick for Courtney Lee. While he has a tendency to force shots for stretches (the Knicks are 4-8 when he attempts at least 20 shots), if he is able to play under control and exploit his advantages, the Celtics will have trouble containing him.
Tyson Chandler, who's been slowed by a bulging disc and general rustiness throughout the series, finally gets back into form in Game 6 with a dominant defensive effort.
The Celtics leave everything they have left on the court, but it isn't enough to keep with the high-powered Knicks.
Chandler is the Knicks best defender and interior presence, and while his 1.1 blocks per game tied a career-low, his ability to alter shots is just as important as actually blocking them. At 7'1, 240, the Celtics don't have anybody who can match-up with Chandler on defense, which should allow him to have a field day on the boards.
The way to neutralize Chandler is to force him to come out to guard jump shooters, which is something the Celtics can do. Big men Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass are both good jump shooters, and if Chandler is forced to leave the paint to guard either of them, the Celtics may have a chance on the glass.
The other way to negate Chandler's effectiveness is to get him into foul trouble, something he has struggled with at times this season. Chandler, who only played in the Knicks first two games with Boston, had mixed results based on his foul situation.
In the first game, Chandler went for 13 points and 17 rebounds in just under 41 minutes of play in the Knicks 102-96 loss. Most importantly, he picked up only three fouls, allowing him to be aggressive throughout.
In the second game, Chandler struggled with foul trouble, scoring only 5 points while grabbing 8 rebounds in just under 40 minutes of play in the Knicks 89-86 victory. He picked up 5 fouls in the game, and the Knicks lack of front-court depth forces Chandler to play very conservative the closer he gets to approaching six fouls.
Luckily for Chandler, as stated in previous slides, the Celtics are not a strong rebounding time, and without Jared Sullinger, don't have a great interior presence. Earl Barron looked great for the Knicks in his lone game on Wednesday against the Hawks (though it was an obvious tune-up game for both teams), and he may be counted on big minutes if Marcus Camby isn't ready for extended game-action.
For the first time since 2000, Knicks fans can celebrate a playoff series victory, as they move on to face Indiana in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.