I was going to do a pre game post until I read the always intelligent @Art_Rondeau‘s latest piece. Art as always delivered the goods so for today his piece will serve as the pre game have at it.
A few days ago, before the Eastern Conference teams were locked into their playoff positions, I told some well-respected Knicks bloggers that if I were the Knicks, I’d rather play the Celtics in the first round and the Heat in a later round. Both potential opponents have great players and many reasons why they’re tough to play regardless of when. But circumstances caused me to prefer the Celtics first.
As it turns out, the Knicks will play the Celtics in Boston on Sunday to kick off their first round series. And, for better or worse, they’ll also play the Celtics in Boston to end the regular season. As we’ll see, that regular season game might have some impact on the playoffs. Either way, it’s time to look at the business world for guidance in how the Knicks can best upset the Celtics in the playoffs. Because the next 5 quarters of basketball that the Knicks play may well determine who wins round 1.
The business saying that applies here is “Timing is Everything”. To understand how this applies, let’s first look at the Celtics. Why would anyone want to first play a team that’s won an NBA Championship in the past few years and have been dominant ever since? Because they’re not playing well consistently right now; they are unsure if they can win without recently traded Kendrick Perkins; and Shaquille O’Neal will either be out with an injury or just coming back from one. If there’s ever a good time to face the Celtics, now is that time.
Once the Celtics win a series without Perkins, they’ll no longer wonder if they can do it. They won’t remain in their current slump for long. And if Shaq doesn’t make it back for the first round, you can bet he’ll be ready for the second. To quote Thandie Newton in The Chronicles of Riddick, “Kill the beast while it’s wounded.” The Knicks could beat the Celtics in a later round but their absolute best chance is in the first.
What will give the Knicks their best chance to win the series is not only a game 1 win, but a game 1, first quarter assault. If the Knicks come out of the locker room, score a ton, swarm on defense, keep Boston from scoring, and dominate the boards, it’ll go a long way towards reinforcing the problems that are currently ailing the Celtics. Even though the Celtics may fight back, a dominant first quarter and, ultimately, a game one win will not only give the Knicks home court advantage for the series, it’ll do a lot of damage to the Celtics’ psyche.
Conversely, if the Knicks come out slowly and get buried by the Celts, it’ll go a long way towards giving the Celtics the evidence they need to know that they’ll be alright without Perkins. Of course, if the game is close, the Knicks MUST win. Otherwise, the Celtics won’t receive the same psychological boost that they’d get from blowing the Knicks out but they’ll get proof that they can survive the first round. And you don’t want to give a team that’s stocked with future Hall of Famers any reason to think that it’s all going to work out for them in the end.
All this being said, what will serve the Knicks best in the regular season finale in Boston? Either win, by a lot or a little won’t matter much since Amar’e is out, or lose while playing subs for major minutes.
The Wednesday regular season game will be best viewed as if it’s a pool shot. When you see the pros play on ESPN, they not only shoot the object ball into the pocket, they place the cue ball so that they’re set up for the next shot as well. Should the Knicks come out on Wednesday with their best available five playing major minutes and lose, it would give the Celtics some momentum going into the playoffs. But if the Celtics beat the Knicks bench on Wednesday, so what? And if the Knicks win… With any of those outcomes, the Knicks will have placed the cue ball in the best position for a game 1 playoff win.
“Timing is Everything” means that the Knicks will be best served by winning game 1. And “Timing is Everything” means that a dominating first quarter of game 1 will go a long way toward reinforcing the uncertainty that the Celtics currently feel.
It’s a rare opportunity for the lower seeded team to be seen as the favorite. The Knicks need to recognize this rare opportunity and do all that they can to take advantage of it. Knicks’ history points the way. Willis Reed only scored 4 points in game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Lakers. The fact that he scored them early in the first quarter after his heroic entrance to the Garden has long been credited with psyching out a strong Lakers team and inspiring the Knicks to the title. It wasn’t the 4 points, it was when he scored them that mattered.
Can the Knicks pull off a first round upset? The next 5 quarters of basketball will probably let us know. Film at 11.