The NBA's seventh-best scoring defense limited the Celtics to a paltry 25 second-half points, including only eight in the decisive fourth quarter, en route to a series-opening 85-78 win.
It was hardly pretty for the Knicks, who hosted their first Game 1 in more than a decade, and were down by as many as seven late in the third quarter.
After a hot start, Carmelo Anthony significantly cooled down over the second and third quarters, before finding his groove again in the fourth, and former Net teammates Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin did all the little things necessary to take home the win.
By holding home-court advantage in Game 1, the Knicks set themselves up nicely for the rest of the series. Entering this year's playoffs, teams that won Game 1 went on to win the series 78 percent of the time (per ESPN Stats & Info).
Tyson Chandler made his return to the court in Game 1, but was basically invisible, grabbing only five rebounds and not attempting a shot in a little more than 20 minutes of action.
This is an uncharacteristically low number for Chandler, who averaged just less than 33 minutes a night for the season. Even with his general rustiness, this game was close throughout, so seeing him stuck to the bench for such long stretches was surprising.
With Chandler out of the lineup, the Celtics were able to break even with the Knicks on the boards, with each team pulling in 40 rebounds. This would suffice for Boston most nights, as the Celtics rank 29th in the NBA in total rebounding, and tied for last in offensive rebounding.
The Knicks aren't much better, as they're tied for 25th in total rebounding, though they're more middle of the pack on the offensive glass, coming in tied for 18th in the league.
Still, with injuries to Jared Sullinger and Rajon Rondo, the NBA's premier rebounding point guard, the Celtics lack true size in their lineup. Garnett is an undersized center, Brandon Bass is an undersized power forward and Jeff Green, while 6'9", is a poor rebounder.
Carmelo Anthony's 6.9 RPG were the most he's averaged since coming to New York, and the late-season acquisition of Kenyon Martin has helped shore up a depleted frontcourt. K-Mart's five offensive rebounds Saturday were more than the entire Celtics team (four), and provided the Knicks with ample second-chance opportunities, something an average offensive team like the Celtics can ill-afford.
The Knicks lead the NBA in three-pointers this season, averaging 10.9 triples a night, and were just under that mark Saturday by knocking down nine.
While the final numbers aren't pretty (9-of-25 from behind the arc, good for 36 percent), the Knicks actually started out 9-of-15 before missing their final 10.
That's the blessing and curse of the three-pointer: Teams live and die off of it. With the Knicks lacking a true interior presence, especially with Tyson Chandler's general ineffectiveness, they will be forced to knock down threes in order to win games.
Boston ranked 25th in the NBA in three-pointers made, averaging only 6.1 threes per night, a number they failed to reach Saturday (5-of-20).
If you take away Jeff Green's 3-of-5 shooting, the rest of Boston was 2-of-15, including a particularly ugly 1-of-7 from Paul Pierce. The X-factor for Boston is Jason Terry, who was invisible Saturday, going 0-of-5 from the field, including 0-of-4 from behind the arc. If he can get going, Boston's entire offense opens up.
If not, Boston will struggle to keep up with the Knicks.
There's loud, and then there's MSG loud. The Garden was raucous all game for the Knicks, as every basket was seemingly greeted by louder cheers.
While the Celtics have their fair share of veterans who are used to the animosity, the Knicks are a superior home team, going 31-10 on the season, second best in the Eastern Conference. The last time the Knicks lost a home game was March 7 to the Oklahoma City Thunder, a one-point nail biter that saw the Knicks go toe-to-toe with the West's best team sans Carmelo Anthony.
Boston struggled mightily on the road all season, going 14-27, and splitting their two trips to Madison Square Garden. Their best chance at stealing a game may have been Saturday in front of a Knicks team that looked out of sync for long stretches of the afternoon. By blowing a fourth-quarter lead, Boston showed some nervousness, something that is rare for a Doc Rivers-coached team.
Of all the improvements the Knicks have made this season, the biggest one is in the turnover department, where their 11.6 turnovers per game were a league-low. Last season, despite making the playoffs, the Knicks averaged 15.3 turnovers per game, second worst in the NBA.
While the Celtics are normally an average ball control team (13.9 turnovers per game, tied for 13th best in the NBA), they struggled mightily against the Knicks on Saturday, coughing up the ball 20 times.
Paul Pierce and Jeff Green were the two most egregious culprits, each turning the ball over six times against a suffocating Knicks defense. Remember, the Knicks' best defensive player, Tyson Chandler, struggled most of the night, making the 20 turnovers even more troublesome for Boston fans.
The Knicks turned the ball over 13 times, slightly more than their season average, but not enough to cost them the game.
The Celtics are not a high-scoring team, and can't exactly score points in bunches, so while the final score is in a range they're comfortable at, they will have virtually no chance at beating the Knicks if they turn it over 20 times a night.
Both teams are very good at forcing turnovers, with the Knicks eking out Boston (14.6 and 14.5 TPG, respectively).
The Knicks bench won the game for them Saturday, pouring in 33 of the team's 85 points. On the other side, Boston's bench managed only four points, putting way too much pressure on their starting lineup.
Outside of points, the Knicks bench players grabbed 19 rebounds compared to only six for the Celtics, who played a strict eight-man rotation. It's tough to imagine Kevin Garnett being able to play 37 minutes a night, and Doc Rivers will have to play his reserves more to keep his veteran starters fresh.
Led by likely Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith, the Knicks boast one of the deepest teams in the NBA, and that's with missing Amar'e Stoudemire, Marcus Camby, Pablo Prigioni and the recently retired Rasheed Wallace.
Jason Kidd was superb Saturday, knocking down two key triples in the second quarter right after the Celtics had taken a six-point lead, and keeping the Knicks offense under control. The 6'4" guard played more than 35 minutes, giving credence to coach Mike Woodson's reluctance of playing him big minutes down the stretch of the regular season to keep him fresh for the playoffs. In 76 games this season, Kidd played 35-plus minutes only six times, so it's doubtful he'll be playing that much every night.
Kenyon Martin was counted on and delivered a big performance for the Knicks. It's kind of tough to imagine that he was unsigned until late February, as K-Mart grabbed 10 points and nine rebounds—five offensive—and collected a steal and two blocks in a gritty defensive effort. With the Celtics often resorting to smaller lineups, he will have a major role in the series.
It may seem like an obvious thing to say, but the Celtics are not built to outscore teams. Saturday's pace, especially in the second half, favored Boston, but they were still unable to pull out the victory.
On the season, the Knicks averaged 100 PPG, good for 11th in the NBA. The Celtics clocked in at 96.5 PPG, tied for 18th.
The Celtics are actually one of the league's best shooting teams, as their 46.5 percent clip is good for sixth in the league, but their lack of a 3-point threat and their struggles on the boards limit their opportunities. Without Rajon Rondo to push the offense, the Celtics resort to gritty defense and half-court sets, something they had issues with Saturday with both Paul Pierce and Jason Terry ice cold from the behind the arc.
Boston will need more scoring from its bench to make this a series, especially from midseason acquisition Jordan Crawford, a gifted guard who didn't even attempt a shot in his nearly 11 minutes of play.
Before the game, if you had told somebody the final score would be 85-78, they most likely would have thought the Celtics would have won. But with the Knicks winning at the Celtics game, it shows how tough an out they'll be in the postseason.