The New York Knicks (54-28) are the Atlantic Division champions and the second seed in the Eastern Conference, they’ll face the seventh seeded Boston Celtics (41-40) in a divisional battle during the opening round of the NBA playoffs. The best of seven series gets underway Saturday, April 20.
Game 1: Saturday, April 20, 3:00 pm ET @ New York – ABC
Game 2: Tuesday, April 23, 8:00 pm ET @ New York – TNT
Game 3: Friday, April 26, 8:00 pm ET @ Boston – ESPN
Game 4: Sunday, April 28, 1:00 pm ET @ Boston – ABC
Game 5: Wednesday, May 1, TBD @ New York (if necessary)
Game 6: Friday, May 3, TBD @ Boston (if necessary)
Game 7: Sunday, May 5, TBD @ New York (if necessary)
New York won the season series, 3-1. (Home team in CAPS)
January 7, 2013: Boston 102, NEW YORK 96
January 24, 2013: New York 89, BOSTON 86
March 26, 2013: New York 100, BOSTON 85
March 31, 2013: NEW YORK 108, Boston 89
The Knicks finished the season strong, winning 16 of their final 18 games to win their first division title since 1994. New York is 11th in the league in scoring, averaging 100 points per game. Carmelo Anthony led five Knicks in double figures with a 28.7 point per game scoring average and won the scoring title.
Only four of their five double digit scorers are active right now; Amar’e Stoudemire (14.2 points, 5 rebounds) is still out at the moment. J.R. Smith (18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds) is a terrific offensive weapon and Sixth Man of the Year candidate while Raymond Felton (13.9 points, team-high 5.5 assists) is solid if unspectacular at the point. Tyson Chandler (10.4 points, 10.7 rebounds) can be a force down low if he gets his touches.
With Stoudemire out, there is more pressure on players like Chris Copeland, three point specialist Steve Novak, the aging Jason Kidd, Pablo Prignoni and Iman Shumpert to produce. The Knicks frontcourt took another blow when Kurt Thomas injured his foot; he’s 50-50 at best to suit up for the playoffs as it stands. The Knicks were 7th in scoring defense, allowing 95.7 points per game.
The Celtics struggled down the stretch, dropping six of their last nine to end the season following a 114-90 walloping by the Raptors Wednesday. Boston finished 18th in the league in scoring offense, averaging 96.5 points per game. The loss of Rajon Rondo (13.7 points, league-leading 11.1 assists) has hurt the Celtics and taken away one of their double figure scorers. Including Rondo and Jordan Crawford (11.6 points per game this season, 9.1 in 27 games with Boston), the Celtics have six players that hit that mark. Paul Pierce leads the team, scoring 18.6 points and grabbing 6.3 rebounds per game. Kevin Garnett scores 14.8 points and grabs a team-high 7.8 rebounds. Green (12.8 points) and Jason Terry (10.1 points) are usually the first names off the bench for Doc Rivers.
Boston needs more production out of guys like Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee and Chris Wilcox. Boston is an aging roster that needs a youth infusion. The Celtics still are stingy defensively, ranking 12th in the league allowing opponents 96.7 points per game but struggle rebounding the ball, ranking next to last with an average of 39.3 boards a game.
Keys for the Knicks
- Hitting From Outside: The Knicks are one of the most perimeter oriented offenses in the league. Against Boston this season, they attempted 114 three point attempts, an average of 28.5 per game. That number was slightly lower than their average of 28.9 attempts per game over the course of the season. The Knicks knock down almost 11 threes a game; if you do the math, that equates to 17 two pointers to be ahead. Copeland, Novak and Shumpert all hit better than 40 percent from downtown, while Anthony, Felton, Smith, Kidd and Prignoni hit at least 35 percent. Those add up and have proven to be key to the Knicks’ success.
- Being Active Defensively: The Knicks average better than eight steals a night and have the personnel to harass opposing offenses into poor shots and turnovers. Against a veteran team like the Celtics, who aren’t easily rattled, the Knicks are going to have to force the issue by getting into passing lanes, filling the lane and taking charges. While the Celtics are not offensively inclined, you can’t play passively against a team that has Pierce and Garnett. The Knicks aren’t a shot blocking team, so they need to be aggressive.
- Staying Healthy: This has been an issue for the Knicks all season long. Stoudemire is still recovering from knee surgery and has no timetable for his return. Thomas is a tossup as to whether he’ll be back. Rasheed Wallace played four minutes in the second-to-last game of the regular season and retired. Chandler has a bulging disc in his back, while Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin haven’t been in the lineup recently either. The Knicks are running out of frontcourt bodies and can ill afford any other surprise injuries that take anyone out of their rotation. As it stands, Prignoni is questionable for Game 1 of the series with an ankle injury.
Keys for the Celtics
- Contain Anthony and Smith: This is easier said than done but nearly half of the Knicks offensive output (46.8 points) comes from Anthony and Smith. The majority of the time, it seems to be 2 on 5 when both are on the floor at the same time, with the other three players standing around trying to find a way to get the ball to one or the other instead of creating their own opportunities. If the Celtics force someone else to beat them, the series takes on an entirely different slant.
- Work the Ball Around: After the loss of Rondo to his knee injury, Boston floundered a bit offensively as there was no one to run the point. Bradley proved to be better suited as an off guard and Jason Terry is a shooter first, second and third. That meant Pierce became more of a point forward from his spot, alleviating the offensive set woes but the fact remains that Boston still struggled offensively. The Celtics need to find the open man and take quality shots instead of just firing them up at random.
- Garnett and Pierce Must Produce: This is another no brainer; a team that’s an underdog needs their best players to step up and produce. Pierce and Garnett are in the twilight of prolific careers that will probably eventually get them enshrined in the Hall of Fame. They can lead by example and help the young players like Green, Crawford and Bradley to elevate their games and challenge the Knicks. Without that leadership, the Celtics are doomed to be whisked away rather quickly.
Head to Head Series
This marks the 15th series between the Knicks and Celtics in the playoffs. Boston holds an 8-6 lead in series victories to date and a 34-27 advantage in playoff victories between the two teams. The Celtics swept the Knicks in four straight games in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, they hadn’t met since the 1990 postseason prior to that.
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