By Joe Giglio
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Over the last week, New York has gone from having complete confidence in the Knicks to having legitimate concern about finishing off a Celtics team that look finished after scoring 78, 71 and 76 points, respectively, over the first three games of the series.
Of course, it’s not over yet. Not after a J.R. Smith elbow led to a suspension, Carmelo Anthony went into a shooting funk and the team looked more interested in pageantry than performance on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Nine years ago, New York and Boston conducted a similar dance between rivals on a grand stage. While the parallels are growing between what the Red Sox accomplished in becoming baseball’s first team to overcome an 0-3 deficit and what these Celtics are halfway to matching, the entire storyline is rooted more in narrative and coincidence than actual fact.
Outside of the cities that the respective teams represent, there is little that connects the 2004 Yankees and Red Sox to the 2013 Knicks and Celtics.
In fact, a Boston comeback right now would be more shocking, considering the talent on the rosters.
What has been lost over the years, seemingly adding to the cult story of the “Idiots” in Fenway Park, is this: Going into the 2004 American League Championship Series, Boston was, from top to bottom, a superior team to New York.
They had better starting pitching, played the mighty Yankees virtually even over the course of two consecutive seasons and the 2003 ALCS — nearly 50 games worth of head-to-head baseball — and had a manager in Terry Francona who was perfectly suited to match wits and demeanor with Joe Torre.
Furthermore, it was the American League Championship Series, not a first-round matchup between the No. 2 and No. 7 seeds. Those Red Sox won 98 games — the second most in the American League and the third most in the entire sport. They were only a Wild Card team due to baseball’s postseason eligibility rules.
From August 1 through the end of the regular season, Boston played to a 42-18 record, the best in baseball. Led my Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, Boston was peaking at the right time, hungry to get over the hump. In Game 6, they threw out Curt Schilling, who, despite being hobbled by an ankle injury, was one of the greatest big-game pitchers the sport has ever seen.
On the other hand, the present-day Celtics are a shell of their former selves. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce can’t get their own shots, Doc Rivers is mixing and matching with a rotation to find enough quality minutes to get him through the series, and the team limped into the postseason, losing 11 of 16 games to end the regular season.
Unlike those Red Sox, these Celtics have already crossed the finish line. They are champions, but not one progressing toward another ring, regardless of how this series with the Knicks turns out.
Coming into the series, and throughout the five games thus far, it’s hard to pick out a singular reason why they have the better roster or should win. Simply put, they need a miracle to complete the entire comeback from 0-3 down.
Unlike Schilling’s bloody-sock performance in Game 6, there is no miracle heading to Boston tonight. Rajon Rondo, the best player on the 2013 Celtics, isn’t making a miraculous return from a knee injury to drop 15 assists.
Instead, the final two games will be about talent and execution.
In 2004, Boston had those things on their side, along with the momentum and belief that anything was possible. Heading into Games 6 and 7 at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox were in a building in which they had won many games over the last two seasons.
In 2013, the prideful Celtics might believe it can happen, but they don’t likely boast the roster to pull off the feat. Heading into a potential Game 7 on Sunday, Boston has a 16-28 road record thus far this season.
History may be on the verge of rewriting itself with the Knicks and Celtics, but it’s far from repeating.
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