New York jumped out to a 2-0 series lead, winning each of its first two home games, the second of which came in convincing fashion.
The prospect of going down 3-0 and facing elimination in Game 4 isn't likely to sit well with the Celtics. A loss in Game 3 all but dashes any postseason hopes that Doc Rivers' soldiers had, so the atmosphere at TD Garden is likely to be thick with desperation.
Will Boston's current postseason sorrows be enough to fuel their first victory of the playoffs, or will it be New York that pushes the Celtics to the brink of elimination?
Time: Friday, April 26, 8 p.m. ET
Where: TD Garden; Boston, Massachusetts
Series Record: 2-0 Knicks
Key Storyline: Can the Celtics Hold Their Home Court?
This will be the first home game for the Celtics since the Boston Marathon bombing.
The Knicks and the Celtics paid tributes to the victims prior to Game 1, but this is still going to be an emotional homecoming, and the significance of it is bound to resonate with everyone involved.
If the Celtics lose, they'll be down 3-0 to the Knicks, and no team in NBA history has ever come back to win a series after falling into a 3-0 hole.
Fortunately for Boston, it went 27-13 at home during the regular season, so it has found plenty of success at the Garden. The Knicks, however, tied for the fifth-best road record in the NBA (23-18), proving to be one of the more resilient teams away from home.
To further complicate the Celtics' quest to hold their home court, Kevin Garnett suffered a hip injury in Game 2. He is expected to play, but if he is limited in any way, it makes the team's job that much more difficult.
Playoff teams are expected to have success on their home floor, and that's a fact. It's supposed to be an advantage. But there's no denying that winning at home isn't as easy when you're facing a team that you're just 1-5 against (regular season included) on the year.
It's not a stretch to believe that Game 3 could be a series-deciding contest. If the Celtics win, their hopes of pulling off an upset are alive. Should they lose, nearly everyone will write them off. History implores us to do so.
With the stakes in this one high, it will be interesting to see how the Celtics respond. Will they put themselves in a position to remain competitive, or will this be the game that cripples everything they've been working toward?
Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
Celtics: Kevin Garnett (hip, probable), Rajon Rondo (knee, out) and Jared Sullinger (back, out).
Knicks: Amar'e Stoudemire (knee, doubtful).
Projected Starting Lineups
Celtics: Avery Bradley (PG), Paul Pierce (SG), Jeff Green (SF), Brandon Bass (PF) and Kevin Garnett (C)
Knicks: Pablo Prigioni (PG), Raymond Felton (SG), Iman Shumpert (SF), Carmelo Anthony (PF) and Tyson Chandler (C)
The Celtics Will Win If...
They can score in the second half.
Boston hasn't played badly in the first half of either game. The Celtics took a four-point lead into halftime in Game 1 and a six-point lead into the locker room in Game 2.
Taking a lead into the third quarter hasn't meant much, though. They've suffered offensive meltdowns in the second half of each game. Boston scored just 25 points in the latter half of Game 1 (including an eight point fourth quarter) and 23 points in Game 2.
Ugly doesn't even begin to describe it. Combining for just 48 points in second halves thus far is a putrid total. Think about it, that's 48 points in an entire game's worth of minutes. Yuck.
The Celtics need to find a way to score consistently for the entire game. Their defense has held a Knicks team that averaged 100 points a night during the regular season to 87 and 85 points, respectively. They need to capitalize off that. But they haven't.
And if that doesn't change, their immediate postseason outlook won't either. Well, that's not entirely true. It will get worse.
The Knicks Will Win If...
They continue to play strong defense.
'Melo and crew have been helped along by poor offensive performances by the Celtics, but the Knicks have done a nice job keeping them out of the paint and forcing them into contested jumpers.
Boston remains without Rondo, which has allowed the Knicks to key in on Paul Pierce, doubling him when necessary and forcing him to pick up his dribble. And it's been effective.
Up 2-0, New York can hardly afford to loosen its hold on Boston's offense. The Knicks haven't been scoring at a high rate themselves (86 points a game) in this series because of how strong the Celtics defense is.
They need to match that defensive intensity or run the risk of suffering their first loss of the series while also allowing the Celtics to recapture any momentum that has eluded them thus far.
Execution is especially important in Game 3 because, let's face it, the Knicks can't expect Boston to post fewer than 30 points in the second half for a third straight game. It's a possibility, but now at home, the Celtics aren't likely to go down as quietly.
We also find ourselves waiting for that one big game from proven playoff performers like Pierce or Garnett. They have the ability (age, injuries and all) to take over a game offensively when given the chance.
The Knicks must ensure they don't get that opportunity.
I'm not sure if the geriatric Celtics will suddenly find new life at home, but another 16-point loss, which includes yet another second-half collapse, just doesn't seem as likely.
Boston has played well at home this season and the offense is averaging nearly 100 points per game when it does so. If the Celtics can find a way to score even close to that, a win will be well within reach.
And yet, while many thought (and still maintain) that we're destined for a hard-fought series, I don't envision a still-battered Garnett being as effective as he needs him to be.
I won't shy away from assuming Pierce will have a monstrous game because that's what he does, but I seriously doubt the Celtics will be able to generate the offense necessary to prevail in this one. It's been the tune I've been carrying since the series began, and I originally predicted they'd go down in five, then changed it to six after suffering from a case of mob mentality.
As badly as Boston wants the win, the Knicks can taste advancement. The Celtics swept them in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, and New York would love nothing more than to return the favor. It would be "super-duper."
Seriously, I'm not kidding. 'Melo actually said it would be "super-duper."
Neil Best @sportswatch
Melo on chance to sweep Celtics after they swept Knicks in '11: "If that happens I’ll be super-duper-happy-excited about that. I can't lie."2013-4-25 17:39:49
It would be just as super to see New York's offense gain some additional traction. And I think it will. The Knicks were only held to under 90 points in at least three consecutive games once during the regular season and are due for a three-point explosion of sorts.
You'll never catch me belittling the efforts of one of the NBA's scrappiest teams in the Celtics (though their last two second halves have been abysmal), but from the starting lineup down to the bench, they lack the offensive potency necessary to pull this one out.
New York will steal one on the road and put a hobbling Boston team down 3-0 and on the cusp of being eliminated in Game 4.
Prediction: Knicks 96, Celtics 89
*All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.