A Tale of Two Games: Knicks Hold Home Court in Opener. Knicks 85, Celtics 78

In a tough to stomach 4th quarter, the Boston Celtics wore down.

In late February, Danny Ainge was considering signing Kenyon Martin to fill the big-man void that the Celtics had been coping with all season.  After Darko Milicic’ early season departure, and Jared Sullinger’s season-ending back surgery, the Celtics have been grasping at proverbial straws.  Those straws were named Chris Wilcox, Jarvis Varnado, D.J. White and Shavlik Randolph.  White and Randolph, in addition to Terrence Williams, were all Chinese-League additions, all coming in January and February. Randolph has given the Celtics surprisingly beneficial moments of energy rebounding and team defense.  But Ainge may be punishing himself for passing on Martin.  With the Knicks front-court in similar disarray, following Amare Stoudemire’s lingering knee issues, and Tyson Chandler dealing with a nagging neck injury. Martin played 28 meaningful minutes last night, and Celtics fans watched the ugliest offensive quarter in postseason franchise history, as the Knicks outscored the Celtics 18-8 in the final 12 minutes, thanks to the physical play of  former Nets teammates Martin and  Jason Kidd.

The Celtics played two games on Saturday afternoon, though the box score lists one typical four-quarter contest.

In the game’s first 35 minutes of play, Boston built a 70-63 lead, forcing Carmelo Anthony into hurried and off-balance shots, keeping J.R. Smith out of his comfort zone, and denying Raymond Felton penetration.  Boston was led by Jeff Green’s blistering 20-point first half (7 of 10 from the field and 3 of 4 from distance) as well as Green’s excellent defense.  Paul Pierce was able to find Avery Bradley on smart cuts through the paint, taking advantage of Chandler’s absence.  After a hot start, Carmelo was cooled off by Brandon Bass’ brilliant in-your-jersey defense, and Jeff Green’s long arms.  The Celtics took advantage of Chris Copeland’s defensive ineptitude.  However, Mike Woodson adjusted and gave Kenyon Martin those minutes as the game progressed.

Game #2 begins with 1 minute remaining in the 3rd quarter.  New York gets a Carmelo pull-up from the right baseline to trim the lead to 5.  Garnett misses a contested five-footer.  Jason Terry fouls the wily, ageless Jason Kidd.  Kidd hits both free-throws.  The lead shrinks to 3, 70-67.  An ugly possession results in a Jeff Green 26-footer that misses badly.  The quarter ends.

In the 4th quarter, the Celtics were a tired team.  Jeff Green’s heroic first half turned turned into a nightmare 4th quarter.  Kevin Garnett’s legs looked wobbly and rusty, as he couldn’t find his shooting rhythm.  The offense stopped running through Garnett at the elbow, which keeps things spaced for Pierce and Green to find penetration lanes.  Instead, the harassing Knicks defense forced Boston into an unseemly eight turnovers and allowed only 11 field-goal attempts, five of which (all misses) were top-of-the-arc three-point attempts from beyond 24 feet.  To put it simply, the Celtics couldn’t get a shot off, and when they did, half of them were very low-percentage shots.

Fans analyzing the box score will see that Boston’s three-man bench (Terry and Lee played 20 minutes each, and Jordan Crawford got 11 minutes), went o of 7 from the field, and contributed a measly four points.  Terry went 0 of 5 from distance.  It’s true that they desperately need more balance from the offense.  On the other hand, as good as Jeff Green’s first half was, his 4th quarter performance was equally atrocious, including three crucial turnovers in the game’s final 6 minutes.  Was Green tired?  Maybe.  Was he asked to make decisions?  Yes.  Against Jason Kidd, he made a few terrible decisions and paid for them.  These crucial minutes are the ones in which Doc Rivers needs Kevin Garnett facilitating the offense.  Why wasn’t he?  As we know, KG missed the last two weeks of the season in an attempt to heal his foot.  The sharpness that playoff basketball demands limited Chandler to only 20 minutes.  On the opposite bench, Garnett played 37 minutes.  Those 4th quarter minutes were heavy-legged for everyone on the Celtics team. Pierce and Green finished with six turnovers each.

Heading into Game Two on Tuesday night (8pm EST, TNT), Celtics fans will know that they missed an opportunity to steal home court from New York, and they should be cautiously optimistic that Garnett’s stamina will gradually return as the series progresses.  Let’s just hope it’s all the way back in time for Game 7, at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, May 5.  What’s that you say?  How can I expect seven games from a 2 vs 7 series?  I’ve been watching these Celtics too often over the last six years to believe anything less.  Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin can play like it’s the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals (Nets vs. Celtics) once or twice, but every fourth quarter won’t be dominated by their defense.  Instead, it will be dominated by Garnett and Avery Bradley, hounding the Knicks into a few memorably bad final periods.  And the Truth will take them home.  At least that’s how I see it.

Game 1: Knicks 85, Celtics 78 | 
Game 2: at NY, Tue., April 23, 8:00 p.m., TNT
Game 3: at BOS, Fri., April 26, 8:00 p.m., ESPN
Game 4: at BOS, Sun., April 28, 1:00 p.m., ABC
Game 5: at NY, Wed., May 1, TBD*
Game 6: at BOS, Fri., May 3, TBD*
Game 7: at NY, Sun., May 5, TBD*

For the entire playoff schedule, click here:

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