For the second time in three years, bitter Atlantic Division rivals Boston and New York will go head to head in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
The Knicks have taken three straight from the Celtics this season, but they must exercise some serious postseason demons this spring if they hope to survive Beantown's upset bid. With the NBA's regular-season scoring champion, Carmelo Anthony, leading the way, the Knicks have the fourth-best odds to win the NBA championship this summer, according to Sportsbook.com.
But as the Celtics have shown in the recent past, odds are meaningless come playoff time.
With Game 1 right around the corner, we'll analyze how each team can win the series and advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
New York Knicks
Take and Make Threes
If the New York Knicks are going to win their first playoff series since 2000, they absolutely must be able to connect from downtown against the Boston Celtics.
That task is much easier said than done, however. The Celtics rank fourth in the NBA in opponent three-point percentage, holding opponents to just 34.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc on average this season. Oddly enough, if the Celtics played the Knicks 82 times this season, they would rank 28th in opponent three-point percentage.
In four regular season matchups with Boston, the Knicks have hit 44-of-115 three-pointers—a clip of 38.3 percent.
That said, New York will have a huge advantage from beyond the three-point line in this series. It'll be up to Boston to stifle the Knicks' shooters and force New York to settle for unfavorable looks from three-point land as opposed to high-percentage outside shots in transition and off dribble penetration.
Defend the Paint
On the defensive end, it will be paramount that New York defend the paint against Boston.
While the Knicks make their living from distance on the offensive end, the Celtics are a team that likes to play on the interior. Of Boston's combined 362 points in its four meetings with New York this season, 172 of those points came in the paint, roughly 47.5 percent.
Considering the Celtics rank 25th in the NBA in three-pointers made this season (6.1 per game), it's no secret that they need to score in the paint in order to have any offensive success. Therefore, the Knicks will need a big-time performance from Tyson Chandler in this series.
The big man doesn't need to score a ton on the offensive end. So long as he's blocking shots and forcing tough looks at the basket from the Celtics, he'll be a vital piece for Mike Woodson's squad.
Slow It Down
The Celtics don't need to do anything special or reinvent the wheel in order to upend the Knicks this spring. Boston just needs to do what it does best: slow the game down, muddy things up and force New York to beat it in a half-court game.
In the regular-season series between these two teams, New York out-shot Boston 321-293, attempting slightly over 80 field goals per game compared to the Celtics' 73 per game.
Given New York's offensive prowess, that simply can't happen in this series if the Celtics hope to come out on top. Boston will need to slow down the pace of the game and crash the defensive glass consistently, thus limiting New York's possessions and, more importantly, any second-chance opportunities.
What makes Doc Rivers' squad so tough to beat this time of year is its ability to frustrate opponents on the defensive end and win ugly. That frustration often leads to rushed, low-percentage shots and unnecessary fouls on the other end of the floor.
Win In the Half Court
While the Celtics don't come close to matching the Knicks in terms of offensive talent, if they can make this a half-court series, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and the rest of Boston's rotation will be on an even playing field with New York offensively.
Who wins this first-round series?
The Celtics may not average 100 points per game like the Knicks, but their defense is better than New York's, giving them a mighty advantage in a sluggish, half-court game.
Boston is more likely to force turnovers in the half court as well, as all five Celtics are back on defense with New York's five in front of them.
The C's also rotate exceptionally well on defense; they will need to in this series if they are going to win and advance. The playoffs are known for offering a much slower pace of play, and it's no coincidence that Boston has been one of the most successful playoff teams over the past few years.
It doesn't matter how many regular-season wins Boston has or where or when the Celtics are playing in the postseason. If they can assert their will in this series against the Knicks, there's no reason they can't move on to the conference semifinals for the sixth consecutive year.
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