Carmelo Anthony is automatic. J.R. Smith is the difference.
The Boston Celtics may have the momentum, but the New York Knicks have outplayed them all series long, even through much of their losses. With some minor adjustments, the Knicks should return to form and win Game 6.
Before the series began, there was a little fear in the air. There’s always a hint of it against the Celtics.
Only recently have the Knicks gotten a handle on the Celts, with a record of 5-3 in the regular season the past two years versus 3-17 for the five years prior.
Meanwhile, going back to 1974, Boston has won four of its last five playoff matches against New York, including that more recent, stinging sweep in 2011.
Who Wins Game 6?
This time, the Knicks were the favorites going in and showed it, taking a seemingly (and historically) insurmountable 3-0 lead.
But as Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks always do, they’ve made things more difficult than they have to.
Don’t let the two-game slip fool you, though, and don’t get your hopes up Celtic fans. Let’s all take a breath. New York is a better team than Boston. They've been better all season, head-to-head and for most of this series too. These are the last kicks of the Garnett-Pierce era that we’re witnessing.
True, the Knicks better be careful or they’ll get kicked in the teeth. Nothing would be worse than becoming the first team in NBA history to drop a series after going up 3-0.
To prevent this from happening, the first thing that the Knicks must do is tend to their hubris. They have been embarrassing. A disgrace. Talking about funerals, wearing black suits and their overall cockiness are unbecoming of a team that hasn’t won a playoff series in 12 years. Amateur Night at the Garden.
Anthony, J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton and Kenyon Martin—not a title amongst them in 40 seasons—were the "ringleaders." Let’s walk the walk first guys. And, psst, it’s only Round 1, not exactly all the marbles.
What about nerves?
Ripe for the picking and the Celtics (and Boston crowd) know exactly how to do it. It’s now or never. Tune it all out, no matter what. It’s pee-wee league to bite.
Thankfully, the Knicks seem aware that they need to rein it in. Unlikely spokesman for that sort of thing, Smith, told the New York Post,
“If they come out there and boo me every time I touch the ball or whatever happens, I got to stay focused on my team and we got to come out with a W.”
Good advice: Focus on your own team. Ignore the Celtics chatter. Stop with the gratuitous elbows and mouth running. Win something first. The Knicks are as much playing against themselves tonight as they are against the Celtics.
Do it for us, the fans. We do not care about Honey Nut Cheerios, Carmelo. It’s OK.
To sum up, the first two ways the Knicks win Game 6 involve psychoanalysis: overcome hubris and maintain composure.
Boston will be playing physical tonight, drawing every foul possible and doing everything they can to literally crawl all over New York's skin. Best plan for that? The Knicks need to not only distance themselves mentally, but physically too. Keep contact to a minimum.
With those prerequisites filled and the Knicks’ focused and unwavering, they are now ready to win the game on the court.
The Knicks’ defense has played well. They’ve given up the fewest PPG in Round 1 (82.8) and have pushed most of the Celtics’ offensive production to the outside and one side.
Boston caught on to the Knicks’ defensive scheme and won Game 5 on the backs of fine perimeter shooting—45.7 percent FG, 50 percent 3FG and 11 three-pointers from Jason Terry, Paul Pierce and Jeff Green.
Doc Rivers might re-adjust again. The Knicks need to keep their heads up—as they now move to defend the left perimeter, Boston will move the ball to the other side and will exploit any opening on the inside.
According to Mike Woodson (MSG Video), it’s about moving the ball
“from side to side. If [Anthony’s] drawing a lot of the attention, then it leaves guys open on the perimeter. So, basically they’ve [Boston] shrunk our offense by just staying at home on shooters. So we’ve got to get the ball moved two or three passes more before we let it go and not quick shoot them as much.”
And the Celtics’ D has done just that in the past two games, holding shooters Anthony to FG percentages of 29 and 33, and J.R. Smith to one of the worst games of his season (22 percent).
Inside and Outside (Penetration and Three-Pointers)
The Knicks postseason shot chart so far is very telling.
Here you see the Knicks’ offense (similar to Boston) leans to one side. Moving the ball around will help balance that.
Notice two other “red” flags.
The Knicks’ three-point territory (and we all know how important the three has been to this team) has been reduced to about 2/5 the total range. They have nothing left in the top corners.
Steve Novak has taken six three-pointers total and played more than 10 minutes in just one game. Surely, Woodson has to find an itty bit more time for Novak and a couple more shots. These games are close—one into overtime and the other by six points.
All around penetration will help draw the defense off Novak, and collaterally will also improve Smith’s shooting percentage.
J.R. has lost his way. He had trouble early in the season staying outside, then he figured it out. Penetrate. Create your own shot after conditioning the defense to the inside. A couple of runs (fake or real) to the basket will eventually give him the room he needs on the outside.
Let’s not worry about Anthony scoring too little. He’s automatic. The difference maker right now is J.R. Smith. He was out in Game 4 and the Knicks lost. He had a terrible game in Game 5, the Knicks lost.
All Smith has to do is play a solid, role-playing, average-to-above-average shooting game—as he did in Games 1-3—and the Knicks will win.
Smith was three of 14 from the field in Game 5. The Knicks lost by six. One in-and-out from Anthony that could have found its way, and just a smidgen better shooting from Smith (see “Penetration” above) would have given the Knicks Game 5.
It will give them Game 6. Keep it simple.
The 2nd Quarter
The Knicks take the 2nd quarter off. They’ve been outscored in that period four of the five games (Game 1: 24-23; Game 2: 28-16; Game 3: 13-24; Game 4: 32-18; Game 5: 25-17).
In Game 4, the Knicks were smoked in the second period. In the critical Game 5, the Knicks jumped to an 11-0 lead. They were outscored 45-28 for the remainder of the half.
Why the 2nd quarter? It seems the Knicks are pumped out of the locker room (quarters one and three) and in the final minutes (quarter four).
Win that 2nd quarter tonight and win the series.