Round One: #2 New York Knicks (53-28) vs #7 Boston Celtics (41-39)
As the people of the city of Boston rally around each other after Monday’s tragedy, the Celtics will rally as a unit. The Celtics begin their playoff series with the New York Knicks this weekend at Madison Square Garden. Though these games mean little in the grand scheme of birth, life, and death, the way in which we connect to our city and the way in which the games and our teams enable us to connect, citizen to citizen, that is what matters.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but throughout NBA history, only Wilt Chamberlain (twice), Michael Jordan (six times), and Shaquille O’Neal (once) have led the league in scoring and won NBA titles in the same year. The last three years, Kevin Durant has won the league’s scoring title (30.1, 27.7, 28.0), but only last year did Oklahoma City make the Finals (losing to Miami in five games). This year, Carmelo is edging out Durant, 28.7 to 28.1. The title will most likely be meaningful to Carmelo, as he has always been in LeBron’s shadow since entering the league, and only since moving to New York, has the spotlight really been on Anthony.
Kirk Goldsberry’s recent Grantland piece examines the rise of Carmelo’s scoring and the Knicks offense. In short, Anthony is taking shots from all over the court, in the flow of the offense, which is designed to take shots off of ball-movement, rather than the dribble or isolation plays. The Knicks have a new cast of unselfish players (Kidd, Felton, Prigioni) who are excellent and willing passers. Mike Woodson’s system has enabled Carmelo and J.R. Smith to flourish because all they have to do is whip the ball around the perimeter and be ready to shoot. Passing is contagious, and though the Knicks still depend too heavily on the three-ball to be considered a legitimate threat to Miami, the types of threes they take are generally good ones. Having players like J.R. Smith and Steve Novak enable Carmelo to find open space within the offense. Having Stoudemire anchored at the elbow restricts that fluid offensive movement, which is a significant reason the Knicks play better without Amare. However, the fluid ball movement of the Knicks and Rockets works best against weak defensive teams who have trouble communicating and rotating. Can this offense survive a high-quality defense? The Celtics will hope to provide the question in Round One.
Teams rarely win in the playoffs because of one player. J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton will be called on to provide the biggest shots when the game is on the line and the ball is forced out of Carmelo’s hands. But for the first three quarters, Boston needs to keep the ball in Carmelo’s hands. If Bradley can bottle up Smith, and the Celtics get the offensive balance they desperately need from Jeff Green, Jason Terry, and Lee/Bradley, the Celtics will take this series. However, the momentum New York carries into the playoffs will be difficult to stifle. Game 1 may very well determine this series.
Looking at the Celtics awful road record, it would be easy to dismiss any chance of beating New York in the first two games at Madison Square Garden. However, these post-Rondo Celtics did manage a meaningful road win at Indiana, they haven’t been fully healthy for most of the regular season, and, though this isn’t the Rondo-Allen-KG-Pierce Celtics, it’s still the KG-Pierce Celtics. These are legitimate reasons the Celtics will come in with confidence, unafraid and unintimidated by the MSG crowd. On the flipside, the Knicks have a ton of momentum built up as they head into mid-April, but with one home loss, that momentum would evaporate, as would home court advantage. Something tells me this series will be filled with tight games, and at least one overtime session. The contributions of everyone surrounding KG and Pierce will outweigh the contributions of everyone surrounding Carmelo and Chandler.
Darko Index Predicts: Celtics in 7.
After taking a 3-1 lead, the Celtics come back and win the final three games, the pressure mounting on the Knicks with each game. Carmelo doesn’t get enough help from Smith or Felton. Jeff Green and Avery Bradley combine to form one incredible role player: Avery Green, who displays Bradley’s incredible defensive instincts and Green’s flair for the dramatic dunk. Jeff Bradley, their newly-formed other half, becomes an assistant coach and helps convince Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox they can be useful if they remain confident.
James says…Either Celtics in 6 or Knicks in 5. I think it all depends on the Celtics defense. If Bradley, Lee, and Green can be effective on the perimeter and KG can be effective in the paint, they’ll win. If not, we’re screwed. I think we’ll know after Game 1.
Eric says…Celtics in 6. Jeff Green and Jason Terry show up big while Carmelo scores a lot of points to no avail.
Chris says…Celtics in 6. Kidd=old, Felton=sucks, Amare!=injury, Carmelo=ballhog, KG=insane, Pierce=Truth.
Ryan says…Celtics in 6. The loss dismantles the whole Knicks organization and web of players. Anthony continues to be seen as a selfish player and someone who can’t lead a team to playoff victory (unfortunately he’ll get this image if he loses in the first two rounds).
Nat says…Celtics in 6. No cake walk, but the Celtics, even in these conditions, have more depth, heart, raw talent, and camaraderie than the Knickerbockers. The Knicks posted more W’s, but the proof will be in the pudding- they just aren’t as stable when tested as the C’s who are battle weary and ready for the next meal. Ultimately, the Knicks won’t be as hungry.
Mike says…Celtics in 6. Carmelo ends up on his back 3-4 times in Game 1, settles for jumpers and awkward shots while being doubled. Everyone else on the Knicks sucks for the duration. MSG crowd realizes what’s happening long before anyone else.