By John Schmeelk
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Anyone who has watched a moment of this Knicks-Celtics series easily recognizes that the Knicks are the significantly better team. It has showed through all four games, with the Knicks losing last Sunday only because of a terrible shooting performance by Carmelo Anthony and a J.R. Smith suspension. It was an annoying loss because it created one more opportunity for someone on the Knicks to get hurt, or for some dopey extracurricular activity to derail the Knicks’ playoff run. They can’t afford to take any chances anymore. It is time to end the Celtics’ season on Wednesday night.
A Game 6 in Boston would be bad news all around. For one, it would not be an easy game to win. It would also reduce the number of days that this creaky-legged Knicks team would have to rest before the second round. It’s especially important for Tyson Chandler to gain back some strength and energy, which has been sapped from him by the flu-like symptoms that seem to assault him every year around playoff time. With the Celtics’ physical and chippy play, it is also one more chance for the Knicks to suffer an injury to one of their rotation players. Anthony, Ray Felton, Kenyon Martin, Chandler, Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni and Iman Shumpert have all missed games this year with injuries, and nothing hurts a playoff run like a bad one at the worst time. Ask the Warriors, Nuggets, Thunder and Bulls about that.
Finally, as Smith so ably displayed in Game 3, the Knicks would have one more chance to do something stupid that could hurt themselves in the second round. This team has been prone to bouts of immaturity (despite their age) and has been known to get mouthy. A suspension could be deadly to the Knicks’ hopes of getting to the Eastern Conference Finals, and Kevin Garnett has a way of drawing those. The easiest way to avoid that? Win easily on Wednesday night and never get into a high-intensity situation where something like that can happen.
A win on Wednesday night would mean that the Knicks have a minimum of four days off to prepare for their second-round opponent. While the Knicks are cruising to a first-round win, it looks as though whoever wins the Hawks-Pacers series will be coming out far less rested. Tied at two games apiece, odds are that the series will go seven games. The Knicks will have the rust factor to deal with, but I think rest is more important to them than overcoming a long layoff.
If there is any debate over who the Knicks should want in the second round, by the way, there shouldn’t be. If any Knicks fans have old Mookie Blaylock, Alan Henderson or Stacey Augmon jerseys at the bottom of their drawers they should whip them out. While the Pacers are a nightmare matchup for the Knicks with their top-ranked defense, the Hawks have been a middling team that the Knicks have handled fairly easily this year. The Knicks went 3-0 against Atlanta and won by an average of seven points. Anthony averaged more than 40 points per game in his two games against the Hawks, who don’t have a good matchup for him defensively.
The only issue that the Hawks present is their point guard, Jeff Teague, who represents the type of fast and quick penetrating point guard that the Knicks have struggled with all season. He averaged 21 points and 7 1/2 assists while shooting 56 percent against the Knicks. Beyond him, the Knicks match up well with Al Horford and Josh Smith, with the latter unable to take advantage being guarded by Anthony in their regular-season matchups. So yes, Knicks fans, root for the Hawks. It would be a series reminiscent of the Knicks’ four-game romp over the Hawks back in the second round in 1999. You don’t want to deal with a drag-it-out battle with the Pacers for seven games — that would not be a good experience before facing the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But in order to get there, it is time for the Knicks to get focused on Wednesday night and put the Celtics out of their misery. There can’t be any more fooling around here. Take a double-digit first-half lead and hold it for the rest of the game. This team is good enough to do it, and they need to make sure they are focused enough and put forth the effort to get it done. Put together a nice professional win with no injuries and suspensions, and the Knicks will be set up perfectly for their second-round series against the Hawks and Pacers.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
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