It is said that seven is a lucky number.
In the case of the New York Knicks, Mike D'Antoni's squad might as well take things all the way up to the NBA Finals, considering that is has been seven years since New York has made its last playoff appearance.
Considering that the two games against Boston were played before the trade that brought Carmelo Anthony to New York and Wednesday night's game was missing most of the big names as both coaches rested the teams’ star players, it will be tough to judge the outcome of the playoff series with only the bloody March 21 game as a sample.
Let’s see how New York stacks up against Boston position by position.
Below is the breakdown of players who fit or could play center in the New York-Boston series. Note that players listed at power forward could also play Center position as well.
New York’s front-court is frighteningly small, with only three players listed at or above 6'10":
Amar’e Stoudemire - 6’10’
Ronny Turiaf - 6’10’
Shelden Williams - 6’9”
Boston puts forth a formidable trio of:
Jermaine O’Neal – 6’11”
Nenad Kristic - 7’0”
Shaquille O’Neal - 7’1”
After trading Timofey Mozgov to the Denver Nuggets in the Anthony deal, New York is left with only Turiaf and Williams to back up Stoudemire, who will have his hands full handling the barrage of big bodies that Doc Rivers will throw his way.
During the March 21 game, Stoudemire grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds (Garnett had game-high 12 rebounds). To be noted is that the rest of the Knicks struggled to collect missed shot opportunities. The Knicks' Landry Fields came closest to Stoudemire with six boards of his own.
Undoubtedly, Stoudemire will have a tough time against the Celtics, but he will work through it and will put up decent numbers. It is the rebounding ineptitude of the rest of the Knicks that could prove to be the team's Achilles heel.
For all intents and purposes, not a single player on the Knicks roster could be considered a true center and unless the Knicks' play becomes a matter of concern for Doc Rivers, the Celtics could even use some of his forwards and rest his pivot men.
New York has managed to outrebound Boston in only one of the four games the teams played this season. The single rebounding victory coming in the meaningless season finale.
It will be a miracle if the Knicks manage to keep up with Boston in the rebounding race. Whoever controls the rebounds also controls the pace of the game and with this battle lost, New York will have to find a different way to win the war.
Due to a lack of a bonafide center, Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni will have to do a lot of shuffling with his undersized squad. This should mean that Knicks fans will be treated to an up-and-down brand of basketball. But considering that this is the playoffs, Boston will slow the pace down and force D’Antoni’s players into more half-court sets than they are accustomed to. Amar’e Stoudemire will have to split his time between playing center and power forward.
Not that Stoudemire hasn’t been doing so already.
Most likely, Stoudemire will play center on offense and power forward on defense, as guarding Shaquille O’Neal and Nenad Kristic will be up to the committee of Jared Jeffries, Shelden Williams and Ronny Turiaf in order to keep Stoudemire out of foul trouble.
It will not be a good sign if Jared Jeffries, who is a bit thin to play center, is forced to play center. This will only mean that Stoudemire is in foul trouble. Besides exposing New York’s lack of depth, Jeffries playing the five is sure to stifle his subpar scoring production.
Boston’s power forward plethora of Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis and Troy Murphy is sure to overwhelm even the better teams in the NBA, not to mention the Knicks.
Jeffries should earn his keep with strong defensive play against Garnett.
Garnett is getting up there in age, but at this point of his career the only thing that will keep him from partaking in the Celtics championship run is injury.
As Boston’s leading rebounder and third leading scorer, Garnett’s play is of prime importance to the success of the Celtics, however New York shouldn’t let its guard down since Davis and Murphy are high quality backups and sure starters on most other teams in the league.
To show how much depth the Celtics have, Murphy, who has been playing sparingly this season, just a season ago averaged 14.6 PPG and 10.2 RPG for the Indiana Pacers. Plus, the Celtics’ Jeff Green plays both forward spots and is averaging 9.8 PPG since coming over from Oklahoma City Thunder.
Considering that except Stoudemire, none of the Knicks power forwards (or centers) average more than 4.2 PPG and 3.4 RPG, the Knicks will have to show stellar skill in order to even have a fighting chance against the Celtics. Maybe Stoudemire can average 40 points every game of the playoffs, but somehow I don’t think even that will help.
If New York has an edge, it is definitely at the small forward position.
Albeit it is a not a runaway win for the Knicks in the small forward department, but it's still a win.
Unless we forget the craftiness of Pierce and the countless fouls that he draws on his pump fakes, Anthony needs to clearly outwork and outplay Pierce to even pull the winning scale in Knicks favor.
While Boston has the versatile Jeff Green (mentioned in the previous slide) as Pierce’s backup, New York’s Shawne Williams will have to pick up where he left off in the regular season.
Williams averaged 9.0 PPG in the month of April—his highest output in any given month this season—and will not only have to look to increase scoring, but also in other areas such as rebounding and steals to provide relief when Anthony heads to the bench.
Bill Walker, just as Williams, got better towards the end of the season with 9.6 PPG in the month of April, compared to 5.7 PPG on the season, and could be called upon by Mike D’Antoni.
It’s hard to find a better pure shooter in the NBA other than the league's career three-point leader Ray Allen.
No one is better at curling off a screen for a quick release silky smooth jumper or a three-pointer.
While the Knicks’ Landry Fields has done a superb job in his first season in the NBA, Allen’s experience and skill are sure to overwhelm the rookie guard in his first playoff series, even at Allen's ripe old age of 35.
In his 14 years in the NBA Allen is averaging 16.5 PPG while shooting 49 percent from the field and 44 percent from beyond the three-point line.
Fields is not the focal point of the Knicks offense, but his youth and energy will be counted upon in order to stick with Allen on defense.
In order for the Knicks to win, Fields will have to take away all of Allen's opens looks.
While Boston’s Rajon Rondo has managed to average a double-double this season with 10.3 PPG and 10.8 APG, it wouldn't be wrong to pick New York’s Chauncey Billups as the better point guard of this playoff series.
A 2004 NBA Finals MVP with the Detroit Pistons, a 34-year-old Billups, in my opinion, is a better all around point guard than Rondo, who himself has a championship ring on his finger.
While 10.3 PPG isn’t a horrible number, many teams chose to stay off rondo on defense and simply let him shoot. Rondo’s liability would be a major plus for the Knicks if his shot isn’t falling.
Billups isn’t as quick as Rondo, but he could certainly give Rondo space on defense and save himself for double teams and for when the Knicks are going back up the floor to score.
All in all, Billups’ 17.5 PPG is a major plus towards offsetting New York’s scoring deficiencies at other positions and the Knicks should look to exploit Billups’ championship experience and clutch play.
Billups’ backup, Toney Douglas, isn’t ideally suited to distribute the ball, meaning that Billups will be relied upon to play heavy minutes.
Anthony Carter could see playing time as Billups’ backup because of his hard-nosed defense and playmaking skills, but not for very long since he, much like Rondo, is a liability on offense.