The Knicks and their fans were ready for a celebration and, it seems, a funeral all at the same time on Wednesday night. What they got instead was a rude awakening from the Celtics that a team made up of championship-caliber players doesn’t die easily.
After Boston’s surprising 92-86 victory at Madison Square Garden in Game 5, this playoff series seems destined for a dramatic, and potentially historic, Game 7. The reality, though, is that the Celtics won’t get a chance to do what the Red Sox did to the Yankees nine years ago–which is come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series.
This first-round contest will end in Game 6, Friday night, with New York winning in Boston.
Why? Because the Knicks have shown resiliency against adversity all season long. Also, their best player is due to improve his play after two consecutive dismal performances.
Let’s flash back to the night of March 18. The Knicks were playing the last game of a five-game west coast trip in Utah. They had lost the first four games of the trip by an average deficit of 20 points per game. New York was without the injured Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler in that game and they were facing a Jazz team that entered the contest with a 24-8 record on their home court. Despite being short-handed, on the road against a tough opponent and coming off a week of humiliating losses, they gutted out a 90-83 victory that night.
The Knicks would go on to win their next 12 games (including two against the Celtics) and would only lose two more times the rest of the regular season.
This is the best, but not the only, example of the resiliency this team has shown throughout the course of the 2012-13 season.
They also have a gritty come-from-behind November win in San Antonio on their resume–a game they trailed by 12 points with a little more than seven minutes left in the game. Nearly five months later they defeated the Thunder, another top Western Conference team, on the road. What made this early April win extra special was the fact that they secured the victory even after Oklahoma City took their first lead in 29 game-time minutes, amid a frenzied home crowd, midway through the fourth quarter.
Resiliency, though, is not enough to win a clinching playoff game on the road against a team with a championship mindset. In order to pull off this feat, a team needs their superstar to rise to the occasion.
The Knicks may not get a Jordanesque performance from Carmelo Anthony on Friday night, but they will certainly receive enough from their best player to win the game.
To be blunt, Anthony has shot terribly from the floor in the last two games. He followed up a 10-of-35 performance in Game 4 with 8-of-24 shooting, um, display in Game 5. The good news for Knicks universe (yes, they, like every other professional sports team in America, have their own universe) is that this level of shooting futility has only happened one other time to Melo this season.
In games where he has attempted at least 15 field goals, the only other instance where he shot 33 percent or worse from the field in back-to-back games occurred midseason, sandwiching the All Star Break. He shot 5-of-24 in a Feb. 13 game against the Raptors and followed that up a week later, after the conclusion of the break, with a 7-of-21 performance in Indiana.
Based on his field-goal percentage of 46.1 percent through the first three games of this series, and the fact he shot 45.7 percent from the field on the road in the regular season, Anthony has a much better chance of shooting above 45 percent on Friday night than below 35 percent.
The Knicks were clearly cocky heading into Game 5. Now that they know it takes more then black attire and a false bravado to win a playoff series, they are back in comfortable territory–no momentum and facing adversity under hostile, pressure-filled circumstances.
They have responded before, and with the help of their playoff-maligned superstar, they will respond again in Game 6.
Their best win of the season occurred six weeks ago in Utah. After Friday night, it will instantly become their second best victory of the 2012-13 campaign.