As far as Eastern Conference round one Playoff matches, this is the only one with some real juice. Obviously, the Carmelo-Garnett history rhetoric is there (and quite played out), but this series signifies the Knicks’ first legitimate shot to get out of the first round in over a decade. It won’t be easy. Boston always comes to play in the postseason, and despite being ravaged by injury, this year will be no different. Despite the Knicks’ strong finish to the season, that included two easy victories over the Celtics, New York will have their hands full with the Celtics. With Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and KG at the helm, the Celtics always pose a threat in the spring.
But this Knicks team is different than last season’s. With a group of veterans leading the way, New York boasts a deep roster that provides a ton of matchup problems for Boston. Carmelo Anthony has been playing the best basketball of his career and looks primed for a deep run in the Playoffs. Can the Knicks finally get the monkey off their back and get out of the first round? Or, will the Celtics play the spoiler role and end the Knicks’ season, proving that they are still a force to be reckoned with in the East?
Only time will tell.
*Note: Since both of these teams have been changing their lineups pretty much every day, these are what I think will be the key matchups as opposed to the starting fives.
Point Guard: Raymond Felton (13.9 ppg/5.5 apg/2.9 rpg) and Jason Kidd (6.0 ppg/4.3 rpg/3.3 apg) vs Avery Bradley (9.2 ppg/2.2 rpg/2.1 apg/1.3 spg)
The Knicks have to be feeling way more confident in their point guard situation heading into the Playoffs with Felton and Kidd (along with Pablo Prigioni, if healthy) compared to last season’s debacle once Jeremy Lin went down. Kidd provides Championship experience and has been much better after a mid-season slump when he saw his minutes increase with Felton out due to a hand injury. Coach Mike Woodson will rely on Kidd to keep the team in check on the court.
Felton will be an important piece to the Knicks’ Playoff puzzle and they will need him to play at a high level. After a career-worst season in Portland last year, Felton bounced back and put together a nice ‘12-13 campaign. Felton is one of the few Knicks who can get to the rack (his ability to split the double-team is also wild underrated), and as long as he plays within himself, he will be fine in the series.
Avery Bradley doesn’t pose a huge threat offensively, but he has shown the ability to get to the rim and bang on people. On defense, though, he is an animal. He is one of the top perimeter defenders in the League and can lock down an opposing team’s guard for four quarters. But who will he guard? With JR Smith on the court, he will surely have to D him up, right? Then who slides over to guard the one spot? Jordan Crawford? JET? Courtney Lee? As good as Bradley is defensively, he can’t be everywhere and he doesn’t bring enough to the table offensively at this point in his career to give the Cs an advantage at the point.
Forward: Iman Shumpert (6.8 ppg/3.0rpg/1.7 apg) vs Paul Pierce (18.6 ppg/6.3 rpg/4.8 apg)
After tearing his knee up in the first game of the 2012 Playoffs, Shumpert made his return to the Knicks lineup in January and got off to a slow start. While he has improved and definitely looked more confident toward the end of the season, showing flashes of brilliance and athleticism that had Knicks fans and management psyched last season, he is still recovering and won’t be 100 percent until next season. He draws a tough matchup in Paul Pierce—one of the all-time great Knick killers—and while he may hold Pierce in check during spurts, the career Celtic is too crafty and will ultimately find his spots.
The Truth lives for this time of year and will certainly bring it from the get-go. Pierce has been very versatile for the Celtics since Rondo went down, playing every spot on the floor except center while taking over the reigns offensively as the Celtics top facilitator. Doc Rivers will continue to find ways to get him the ball in spots where he can succeed.
Forward: Carmelo Anthony (28.7 ppg/6.9 rpg/2.6 apg) vs Jeff Green (12.8 ppg/3.9 rpg/1.6 apg)
At 6-9, 235 pounds, Jeff Green has the size to matchup with Melo. But the way the Knicks star has been playing the last month, you could put just about anyone on him and he’s going to get his—even if it takes 30-plus shots to do so. What has really impressed lately is the way Melo has attacked the boards. In April, Melo has put up rebounding numbers of 14, 12, 19 and 14 while playing exclusively at the 4. Let’s be real—the Knicks thrive when STAT is out and Anthony is playing in the frontcourt, there is irrefutable evidence that this is a fact. Melo wanted this spotlight and this year it’s put up or shut up time. No time for excuses, the scoring champ knows the window is closing fast and his first step toward championship glory is getting through Jeff Green.
Green is no slouch. He is more than capable of putting up 30-plus points and 10-plus rebounds while locking up Melo defensively on any given night. The problem with Green is consistency. Don’t be surprised if one game he is the best player on the floor and in the next, you don’t even notice him out there.
Center: Tyson Chandler (10.4 ppg/10.7 rpg/1.1 bpg) vs Kevin Garnett (14.8 ppg/7.8 rpg/1.1 spg)
This is the most intriguing matchup of the series. Both players went down with injuries late in the season and proved just how vital they are to their respective teams. With Garnett out due to an ankle injury, Boston was abysmal defensively and lost to the Knicks by double-figures on separate occasions. The C’s are obviously a different team with KG in the lineup and will need him to be healthy enough to stir things up inside. Kenyon Martin did an admirable job filling in for Chandler before going down with an injury of his own. But just like the Celtics, the Knicks are a different team with their big man holding down the paint. In all honesty, it’s tough to tell who has the upper hand in this matchup prior to Game 1 since both of these guys are limping into the Playoffs. For now, this is a push.
Sixth Man: JR Smith (18.1 ppg/5.3 rpg/2.7 apg/1.3 spg) vs Jason Terry (10.1 ppg/2.5 apg)
Over the last stretch of the season, JR Smith has been playing like one of the top guys in the League. He has been getting to the rack at will and with a potential big contract looming, this series will be huge for him. Remember how much money Steve Novak lost last offseason because of his performance in the first round against the Heat? Expect the complete opposite with Smith. Outside of Avery Bradley, Boston really has no one who can check Earl and he should have no problem scoring. What the Knicks do need to worry about is him getting carried away and playing one-on-five whenever he’s on the court. New York has been dealing with that all season, so nothing changes in that regard. Terry has arguably been the worst defensive player in the League this season and has really been a big disappointment for the Celtics. This series will give him a chance to redeem himself. Also, don’t sleep on Chris Copeland, who will likely take Novak’s rotation spot. Dude can flat out score and will be an important piece for the Knicks in the Playoffs.
Prediction: On paper, the Knicks should win this series handily but you can never count out the Celtics in the postseason. Expect a hard fought series as Boston tries to make up for their inferiority on the court by winning the mental aspect of the game by getting into the heads of the volatile Knicks stars. If KG is healthy and can bring an impact on the defensive end, and the Knicks go cold from the perimeter, the Celtics have a shot to pull the upset. I just don’t think the Celtics have enough gas left in the tank for a run and I know that’s said every year, but without Rondo, who can win at least one game a series by himself, the Cs don’t have the depth. The Knicks are playing so well right now and no one on the Celtics’ roster will be able to stop Melo with the way he is playing. New York advances to the second round for the first time since 2000.
Knicks Win 4-2.