On Tuesday night, the New York Knicks defended their home court and took a 2-0 series lead over the Boston Celtics. Carmelo Anthony scored 34 points, giving him four straight postseason games with 30-plus going back to last season.
But the headline of the evening was New York's defense. After the C's managed just eight points and coughed up eight turnovers in Game 1's dreadful fourth quarter, the Knicks limited Boston to 23 points in the entire second half on Tuesday.
New York's defensive effort gave its rivals the ignominy of tying a postseason record for fewest points in a half (Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers, May 16, 2000 and Utah Jazz at Chicago Bulls, June 7, 1998, per NBA.com).
If the Knicks can sustain anything close to that defensive effort, they'll roll right over the Celtics and would be poised to challenge any team in the league.
Under Mike D'Antoni last season, Mike Woodson was called a defensive specialist. Now he's the head coach and the Knicks are playing a completely different brand of basketball.
The Knicks' ability to ramp up their defense when it matters most will carry them far in the playoffs, but let's not get ready to dethrone the kings of the Eastern Conference just yet.
The Knicks got outscored 28-16 in the second quarter on Tuesday night, and they obviously drank a lot of Gatorade at halftime. Unlike Game 1, Boston extended its futility across the third and fourth quarters as it fell into a 2-0 hole. Cover your eyes if you're a Celtics fan.
Marouan Wahbi @MarouanWahbi
The Knicks held the Celtics to 19.4% shooting in the second half (23 points). #DEFENSE http://t.co/g10D7NFgB54/24/2013, 3:09:57 AM
Somehow, the Celtics shot just 19.4 percent from the field in a 23-point second half, tying a record for ineptitude.
If the second halves of Games 1 and 2 were taken as four whole quarters, Boston would have 48 points in that game. Someone check if Madison Square Garden's shot clocks are turned on.
The Knicks beat Boston three out of four games in the regular season. The Celtics scored 102 points in their win and no more than 89 in any of the losses. Since Kevin Garnett and company don't appear able to score more than 80 points, a sweep could be in the cards up in Boston.
5s are Wild
New York began the season with stellar defense behind Rasheed Wallace's torrid play, but it fell to the middle of the pack after he went down in December. It wasn't until March that Kenyon Martin, who was signed off the couch, took the court just as Tyson Chandler went down.
Chandler missed 16 games down the stretch with a multitude of injuries, but K-Mart provided a ferocity to the Knicks defense that helped them impose their will on opponents. They reeled off a 13-game winning streak and ascended to the No. 2 seed.
Who could have predicted that the crowd at MSG would be singing his name during a playoff victory? Martin protected the rim like a guard dog, blocking four shots and throwing a couple of them into the corporate seats.
It was also encouraging to see Chandler play well in the second half of Game 2 after being invisible for most of last Saturday's game.
But it's not just about the Knicks' felicitous rotation at the 5. Carmelo Anthony has rededicated himself on defense, holding opposing power forwards to a PER of 13.4, which is approximately the output of a player like the Minnesota Timberwolves' Dante Cunningham (per 82games.com).
Raymond Felton guarded Paul Pierce for most of Game 2 and got victimized on a couple of occasions, but the 6'1" guard kept fighting and The Truth wore down in the second half.
J.R. Smith can turn any steal into an easy bucket, and his athleticism allows him to contest shots that other guards can't get to. (Smith has two steals and two blocks in the series.)
Iman Shumpert's explosiveness has improved by piecemeal, but he's now reached the level of lockdown defense he flashed last season.
Having Jason Kidd on the team provides the Knicks with a savvy veteran who has had a knack for making the key play all season. Against Boston, Kidd has already snagged five steals in two games.
Even 35-year-old rookie Pablo Prigioni has proven to be a pesky defender. Per 36 minutes, the Argentine averaged two steals per game, along with 3.8 three-pointers and 6.7 assists.
The Knicks have tired out the C's like a veteran prize fighter letting their opponent punch themselves out before taking over the contest.
New York has been able to avoid getting caught mismatched on switches, though that could be a bigger problem against a more versatile opponent.
But the important factor is that extra gear the Knicks have developed. The capability for playing shutdown defense with the game on the line is precisely what champions are made of.
Going forward, New York looks like it can match defenses with the Indiana Pacers, and it has enough offense to get past them. The biggest challenge projects to come in the conference finals against the Miami Heat.
While the Knicks' defensive prowess has now been well established, Miami's Big Three presents a nightmare matchup for any team. Carmelo Anthony has played well when guarding LeBron James, and Iman Shumpert can blanket Dwyane Wade. That leaves Chandler and K-Mart to focus on Chris Bosh.
But the Heat can beat you in so many ways, it's unlikely that the Knicks can take them in a seven-game series. New York will get beat up by the Pacers if things play out as expected, and the Heat will likely be saving their best for last.
Prediction: Miami beats New York 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals