Knicks vs. Celtics: 10 Surprising Things the First New York Win Told Us

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2011

Knicks vs. Celtics: 10 Surprising Things the First New York Win Told Us

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    The New York Knicks' regular season officially began on Christmas day, with a revealing victory over the Boston Celtics.

    Expectations surrounding the Knicks are inconsistent at best, as no one truly knows how New York's big three and supporting cast will fare, and their first victory did little to help.

    While some aspects of the team's win were predictable, there were a number of factors that were unforeseen and will perhaps continue to surprise us moving forward.

Iman Shumpert

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    Heading into the season opener, it was known throughout New York that Iman Shumpert had flair, yet no one could have predicted he would play the way he did.

    In 22 minutes, Shumpert attempted 13 field goals. The fact that he only connected on three, and is now sidelined for up to a month courtesy of sprained medial collateral ligament, is irrelevant. The kid is overflowing with confidence, more so than anyone could have ever imagined, even after the soundbites he provided previously.

    Shumpert exuded such a willingness to look for his shot that it became apparent he may have to tone it down bit. On a team with multiple All-Stars, few could have surmised that a rookie would take the green light he was issued so literally.

    Upon the guard's return, it will be interesting to see if his flamboyance provides a spark off the bench or disrupts the flow of the offense; Shumpert is poised to have a substantially immediate impact—whether positive or negative—on this team's direction.

    While his abilities were not surprising, the manner in which he enacted them was.

Carmelo Anthony's Two-Way Impact

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    Carmelo Anthony publicly acknowledged that he was tired of being criticized for not being able to play defense, and while the potential has always been there, his complete defensive transformation was nothing short of astounding.

    Although he dropped 37 points on Boston, the real intriguing stat lines are his two steals and one block. There was no lackadaisical Anthony on the defensive side of the ball this time around. He was moving his feet, keeping his hands up and rarely getting beat off the dribble.

    Additionally, his days of desperate hacking seem to be behind him as his better positioning prevented him from playing catch-up with his opponent.

    The Knicks visibly improved defensively as a team, but none more so than Anthony. His efforts never waned and left New York with the sense that the new and improved Anthony wasn't going anywhere any time soon.

Tyson Chandler's Block Party

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    It's universal knowledge that Tyson Chandler was brought to New York for his defense, but his performance in the Knicks' first win speaks volumes about what's to come.

    Chandler has always been a defensive stalwart, but he has never had the type of free reign in the low post he does with the Knicks. 

    Rebounding is always a concern, but with Amar'e Stoudemire at his side, Chandler is able to step up and contest shots that are being attempted more than five feet away from the basket. This will affect his rebounding totals somewhat negatively—he only had three in almost 37 minutes of action against the Celtics—but should allow his shot-blocking numbers to skyrocket.

    Chandler blocked six shots in his regular season debut at Madison Square Garden, one more than the entire Boston team. After observing his efforts, it has become clear he has put more of an emphasis on blocking shots.

    It's surprising to see a rebounding machine step out of his comfort zone so frequently, but if the season opener was any indication, he has found himself another comfort zone. 

The Boston Celtics Aren't Done Yet

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    The Knicks' season-opening victory also revealed a surprising notion or two about the Celtics.

    It is abundantly clear that Boston's window of opportunity is closing, but it is now even more clear that it hasn't completely shut just yet.

    After trailing New York by as many as 17 points, the Celtics clawed their way back—without Paul Pierce—to take the lead heading into the game's final minutes. Boston was unable to hold on and the Knicks eventually won, but keep in mind the Celtics were without the game-changing Pierce.

    Despite Pierce's absence, Boston remained competitive against one of the strongest squads in the league. If nothing else, their performance was a true testament to their depth and remaining abilities.

    Many have already written the Celtics off, and while it's unlikely they win another championship, their comeback efforts against the Knicks proved they are still an elite-caliber of team.

Toney Douglas on Offense

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    Toney Douglas has long been considered an undersized 2-guard who looks for his shot before attempting to create for his teammates, but his offensive display in the Knicks' first win of the season was something few could have hypothesized.

    Not only did Douglas drop 19 points, but he attempted 19 field goals—about 10 more than he averaged per game last season.

    With Chauncey Billups in Los Angeles and Baron Davis sidelined, Douglas' role was bound to increase. That being said, most would have expected it to increase on the defensive side of the ball or in terms of running the offense, not in terms of creating for himself.

    Yes, Douglas has always looked for his shot first, but never so frequently or with so much aggression. He is a much more determined scorer, and has now exhibited a taste for putting up big-time points per game.

    Are Douglas' new methods of offensive execution what the Knicks are looking for out of him?

    The answer to that will prove to be another surprise in itself.

Amar'e Stoudemire as a Stretch 4

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    The Knicks were in need of a stretch 4, but not anymore.

    Amar'e Stoudemire has always had a love for the outside shot, and it seems he now has the team's blessing to take them. He made both of his three-point attempts, and also did not hesitate to put up long two-point field goals.

    New York had a clear need for an inside-out player who could battle in the low post and excel on the perimeter if needed. It had many Knicks fans clamoring for the pursuit of James Posey, but that is all in the past.

    While it came as a bit of a shock to watch him test the waters on the perimeter against the Celtics, don't expect this change.

    The stretch 4 role in New York is no longer vacant. 

Roster Depth

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    The Knicks bench did not put up staggering numbers, but it is clear the team is much deeper than advertised.

    Iman Shumpert and Jared Jeffries both provided huge sparks off the bench, but once those two went down, New York barely missed a beat.

    While the Knicks will sorely miss Jeffries' hounding defense and Shumpert's energy, the team has a few gems on its bench that will provide more than due for the interim. Bill Walker, Josh Harrellson and Renaldo Balkman are going to play key roles moving forward.

    Harrellson, Balkman and Walker did not put up impressive stat lines, but in limited action, the three held their own against an experienced Boston team. Walker provided pure energy while he was on the floor, Balkman worked hard on the glass and defensive end and Harrellson played efficient, smart basketball on both ends.

    New York's bench is not an experienced one, but it is not a shallow one either. 

There Will Be No Rest for the Weary

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    Prior to the start of the season, Amar'e Stoudemire toiled with the idea of having to take time off over the course of the season to keep his body fresh for the future. That may prove to be a pipe dream.

    While the depth off the team is fresh off a commendation, it has become clear that this 66-game season is going to become more of a roller coaster ride than expected. New York already suffered two key injuries, and every starter played 34 or more minutes for the game.

    The Knicks proved to be deeper than advertised, but their first victory has made it clear that rest is not an option for their key players right now. Mike Bibby is expected back soon—though back spasms are not something you rush to return from—Baron Davis' timetable is all over the place and Jeffries and Shumpert are now entering the injury fold.

    Time off didn't seem so far-fetched a couple of weeks ago. If the Knicks are serious about contending, though, it is now.

The Defensive Culture Has Officially Changed

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    The Knicks let up 104 points against the Celtics, which is nothing to write home about, yet we cannot neglect to acknowledge that the team's intensity on defense has changed.

    Tyson Chandler's presence in the low post is a clear commodity. He is extremely vocal and leads by example on that end of the floor. And it seems his new teammates are picking up on the groundwork he is laying.

    Anthony's two-way impact has already been praised, but the team has a whole appears much more confident on the defensive side of things. Again, New York allowed over 100 points, but they rose to the occasion and had numerous key stops down the stretch.

    That would not have happened last season. Once upon a time, the Knicks would have relied solely on their scoring potential to best Boston, yet defense is now at least a priority.

    And that's a great first step in a much needed new direction. 

The Knicks Have a Long Way to Go

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    While few expect the Knicks to win a championship this year, contention talk has run rampant throughout the newly renovated Madison Square Garden. Such talk is premature, though.

    Was New York's victory over Boston impressive? Definitely, but this team has a longer way to go than first realized to enter the realm of legitimate contention.

    Last season, the Knicks would have caved under the pressure of the occasion and handed the Celtics the game in the final minutes. While New York did anything but fall apart this time around, the team is not the dominant specimen many are making them out to be. Not yet anyway.

    The Knicks led by as many 17 points, but they allowed the Celtics to claw their way back and take the lead. Watching New York build such a lead validated the notion that the Knicks were one of the top teams in the East. That being said, while there was no shortage of accolades on New York's behalf, the team is still in limbo.

    No one expected the Knicks not to struggle, but with a star-studded roster, it was believed New York would finally start to put teams away.

    The Knicks are more exciting than ever to watch, but as Boston nearly proved, that's not enough.


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