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Knicks vs Celtics: Playoff Preview

April 17, 2011 10 comments

The New York Knicks are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. As the sixth seeded team in the Eastern Conference the Knicks will face off against the Boston Celtics who earned the three seed with a 56-26 regular season record. The Knicks finished the regular season with a 42-40 record. It was their first winning season since 2000. Boston swept the regular season series winning all four contests.

The two teams each made a significant trade late in the season. The Knicks dealt Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov to Denver for Carmello Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Sheldon Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman. Initially the team had a hard time gelling with the addition of a superstar player of Anthony’s caliber, but the Knicks finished the season strong going 7-3 in their last 10 games.

The Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic. Although Green is a promising young player, the trade was controversial because Perkins was very popular among his teammates. It can’t be good for team chemistry when players are crying and hugging each other in the locker room after hearing about a trade, which was the case in Boston when the Celtics learned that “Perk” had been dealt.

“It’s not even about a teammate. It felt like you lost a family member today,” Celtics veteran power forward Kevin Garnett said about the trade. “Tough day.”

Not only was Perkins an emotional leader off the court, he brought a lot of intangibles to the court. His pure size and bulk makes him tough for any team to deal with inside. His selfless role-player’s mentality was crucial to Boston’s success. And his toughness gave the Celtics a level of intimidation that seems to have dissipated, especially with their other centers, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal, battling injuries.

Whether or not the trade had anything to do with it, the Celtics stumbled to the finish line going 5-5 in their last 10. They will need to regain their intensity if they hope to get back to the finals in what is becoming an increasingly competitive Eastern Conference.

THE STARS:

Each team has a core of proven veteran superstar players. For the Knicks Amar’e Stoudemire and Anthony provide the one-two punch. Stoudemire averaged 25.2 points per game, and 8.2 rebounds per game and Anthony finished the year at 25.6 PPG and 7.3 RPG. The offense shouldn’t be a problem for the Knicks, if they are going to win this series though they are simply going to have to play better defense than they have the entire season. Amar’e can be a factor on the inside defensively with his freakish athleticism. He averaged nearly two blocks per game on the year. He will have to make sure to stay out of foul trouble because the Knicks really cannot afford to have him lose any playing time. Many have suggested that Anthony steps up his defense in big games; well it’s time to see if that is true.

The Celtics still have their ballyhooed “big three” of Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. The triumvirate led Boston to a championship in 2008 and they were back in the finals last year where they fell to their longtime arch rivals the Los Angeles Lakers. The most impressive aspect of “the big three” is how each of them was able to alter their games to fit what the team needed to be successful. Something that is not easy to do as was proved by the Miami heat and their “big three” this year.

KEY MATCHUP:

It is no secret that Chauncey Billups isn’t the player he was during his prime years playing for the Pistons. Billups is still smart and tough, and willing and able to hit a big shot, but he has certainly lost a step. That being said, he will have a hard time matching up with the Celtics lightning fast point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo set a career high with 24 assists against the Knicks in the teams’ first meeting of the season. He showed what he is capable of last year in the playoffs when he had two triple-doubles including a 29 PTS, 18 REB, 13 ASST and 2 STL performance against the Cavaliers.

Though he is not mentioned in among “the big three” for Boston, at this point in all their careers Rondo is certainly in the same tier as them. In fact, he is probably the single most important player for the Celtics because as the point guard he runs their entire offense.

Rondo has publicly stated that Perkins was his best friend on the team and he has not seemed to be the same player since the trade.

X-FACTOR:

The Knicks might consider starting Toney Douglass at point guard because he has the speed and defensive ability to better matchup with Rondo. Douglass has shown the ability to change games with his three point shooting ability; however, he will also go through long cold streaks. For the Knicks to be successful, Douglass needs to make smart decisions on when to shoot and when to pass. In addition, the rest of the Knicks are going to have to compensate for the energy that is lost from having Landry Fields get less playing time.

PREDICTION – CELTICS IN 6

Honestly, the Knicks will be lucky to gut out two wins in this series. The Celtics are a championship caliber team. Don’t read anything into their late season swoon. Many teams that are successful year after year lose interest in the weeks leading up to the playoffs when their fate is pretty much written. Boston will flip the switch back on they will be at the top of their game right out of the gate.

The Knicks are starting to put the pieces in place. They have the superstars, which is the hard part. In the coming years they will have to surround Stoudemire and Anthony with some better role players, particularly big men. The biggest hole on the Knicks roster is their lack of a true center.

Expect all the games to be close. The Knicks can score with anyone and they realize they have an incredible opportunity in front of them. Their energy should be unbelievable and as long as they can stay focused they should be in every game. In the end the depth and experience of the Celtics will be enough for them pull through.

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