By John Schmeelk
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No one should have any doubt which team is more talented in this series — not with the way the Knicks have dominated the Celtics for two consecutive second halves. With that being said, Friday night will prove to be a unique challenge for the Knicks as they head into hostile territory against a great home team in a game they have to win to keep their season alive.
Basketball aside, this will also be the Celtics’ first home game since the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon. Emotions will be flowing and the crowd will be as into a basketball game as can be imagined. The Celtics will be ready to play this game, and will have no lack of motivation. Unless this thing goes back to Boston for a Game 6, this will easily be the toughest game for the Knicks to win in this series. Talent is one thing, but these other more intangible things can impact a game just the same.
It will be up to Mike Woodson and the Knicks to weather the early storm, keep things together and be competitive in the first half. More times than not, games like these result in very hot starts but then a lull as the adrenaline recedes. It gives the road team a chance to work back into the game, something that the Knicks should have a lot of confidence doing considering how they have routinely dominated second halves in the first two games.
At times this season, the Knicks have shown to be a somewhat mentally-fragile team. When teams get physical with them, calls don’t go their way and they aren’t playing well they have had the tendency to implode. Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Ray Felton and evenWoodson have to keep themselves level and not get sucked into the heavy emotion that will be flowing through the arena.
The Knicks are still the better team, and the Celtics are still going to have trouble scoring points. It’s also important to note that the Knicks haven’t even come close to playing their top offensive game. At some point in this series the Knicks are going to start getting their offense going. They’ll get hot from behind the arc and play the same type of invincible basketball that they played in April. When that happens, the Celtics will have no chance. A true blowout is in the making in one of these games, even if it is not in Game 3 on Friday night.
When the series started, this was the game I expected the Knicks would lose before wrapping the series up with consecutive wins in Games 4 and Game 5. A loss would, however, make Game 4 an ultra-important one that the Knicks would feel a lot of pressure to win. That type of game would build character, as would a win on Friday night. The Pacers look like they are cruising to the second round, and the Knicks need all the fortitude they can get to be ready for that series. Friday night will be an excellent test.
- There are a few strategic things that the Knicks must continue to do on Friday night. They need to continue to run the pick-and-roll with Felton. With the Celtics focused on slowing him down, I think this is the game that Chandler and Kenyon Martin get a lot of good lucks rolling to the basket. Collapsing on Felton might also open up some three-point looks for guys like Steve Novak and Chris Copeland. The team needs them to get better.
- Anthony should run some screen-and-rolls at the top too, and I really like it when he is the screener. It puts the Celtics in a horrible predicament. They either have to give the ball handler room to get to the hoop because they are afraid to leave Anthony, or they have to attack the ball handler and leave Anthony open. This play worked a number of times in Game 2 and I want to see more of that.
- Finally, two of these three players must be on the floor at all times: Smith, Anthony and Felton. The offense in this series has been historically bad when Jason Kidd has been the primary ball-handler on the floor. I would prefer for Felton or Pablo Prigioni to be out there with him, but if Woodson insists on Kidd being the only point guard in the game, then Anthony and Smith both have to be in the game to help him. Otherwise the offense is stagnant and nearly unwatchable.
- By the next time I write, I fully expect the Knicks to either be up 3-1 in the series or be preparing for the second round. Then there will be a long, excruciating wait for the Pacers series to begin.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything on the Knicks’ playoff run, the NBA, the New York Giants, the NFL and all things New York sports.
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