By John Schmeelk
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A big New York-Boston playoff series? Where have we seen this before? Except now it will be Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups playing the roles of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera. In Boston, it’s Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo subbing in for Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Dustin Pedroia and Jonathan Papelbon.
The Knicks and Celtics haven’t seen each other in the playoffs since 1990, when the Knicks won three straight, including a game five at the Boston Garden to knock the Celtics out of the first round. This series has the potential to offer another changing of the guard scenario, signaling the beginning of the end of this Celtics run.
I don’t think it’s going to happen, not yet. The Celtics have slept through the last month and a half of the season, making people believe that they have lost it because of the Kendrick Perkins trade at the deadline. If it sounds familiar, it should. The Celtics went only 10-11 in their last 21 games last season, finishing with just 50 wins. They still made it to the finals, and would have beaten the Lakers if Derek Fisher didn’t turn into Oscar Robertson in the 4th quarter of Game 3. Anyone forecasting the Celtics demise is being very premature.
I’ll get into the individual player matchup details later in the week, but there are overall strategy points from the two coaching staffs that will control this series. The most important one is pace. Boston will want this to be a slow it down, grind it out, half-court, defensive oriented war that will come down to which team is more physical and tougher. The Knicks can’t win a series like that with Boston. If there was ever a time to push the ball and set a good pace, this is the series to do it.
Boston will push it and execute in the full court thanks to Rondo, but the Knicks should welcome that. The Knicks need to get in transition to keep the Boston defense from getting set. It would negate Boston’s greatest strength, their half court defense. Easy shots will only come in transition and semi-transition opportunities, especially open threes. The Knicks need to get them and make them.
If the Knicks do get bogged down on the half-court, which is bound to happen in at least a couple games in the series, they cannot fall in love with isolation plays. Even though they don’t have any shot blockers, the Celtics play excellent help defense, and won’t let Stoudemire or Carmelo get to the basket. Their isolation plays will turn into contested jump shots or forced drives into double and triple teams.
The Knicks have to really buy into Mike D’Antoni’s system by spreading the floor and moving the ball quickly. That’s how you beat a great half court defense, not playing isolation basketball. Everyone needs to remember what the Celtics did to LeBron James when he tried to beat them by going one on one. It didn’t work out well for King James.
There are some things that tilt the series to the Knicks favor. The Celtics, like the Knicks, are not a good rebounding team. They also don’t have a ton of size down low, especially if Shaq doesn’t get healthy. Those are two Knicks weaknesses that the Celtics will not be able to exploit due to their own deficiencies. Also, due to the Celtics style, many of these games will be close in the 4th quarter, and the Knicks have arguably the best closer in the game in Carmelo. He will make big shots at the end of close games and is the best player in the series.
Finally, it will be great to wake up on a Sunday morning and be psyched for a Knicks playoff game. It has been ten years, but it feels like twenty. What makes it even better, there is a legitimate hope that this team gets hot and makes some noise. Hope… a word that hasn’t been associated with the Knicks in a long time. Enjoy it, Knicks fans, I know I will.
You can follow me on twitter throughout the playoffs for everything Knicks and NBA Playoffs: twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk
What’s your prediction for Knicks-Celtics? Let Schmeelk know in the comments below!