1: Who is the series’ X-Factor?
Steve Meza: Although the matchup at point guard scares me enough to almost pencil in Avery Bradley’s zany self here (I bet he hand-checks security guards on his way into TD Garden to rile himself up), I must concede to the piping hot J.R. Smith. If the 6th Man of the Year-to-be continues this “Good J.R.” streak, in that he continues to attack the rim, get to the free throw line, and take reasonably smart shots, he could serve as a boon for the Knicks against a confident opponent. Doc Rivers will more than likely stick his defensive specialist and end-game jump-ball condemner on The Bringer of Pipe for stretches. Bradley can potentially frustrate J.R. into some bad shots and unleash “Bad J.R.” upon Mike Woodson. Much skepticism still surrounds J.R. Swish and the jury is still very much out as he heads into the postseason. Will he be able to handle the increased pressure? Via basketball-reference, in 5 games and 175 minutes of playoffs action last year (granted, against a superior opponent and eventual champions), J.R. shot just 31.6% from the field, while tossing up 28 threes (making 5) and getting to the charity stripe a mere 8 times. Although he sank all 8 free throws and threw down the sweetest dunk of the series, that performance isn’t going to cut it.
Scott Davis: Both teams have a few players that are generally dependable night-in and night-out. The guy, I believe, who could make the Knicks’ lives a lot easier is Raymond Felton. Felton is a fairly consistent player for the Knicks (and a generally consistent average point guard), but if he can be better than average – dare I say, “good” – the Knicks could escape the series pretty easily. He’s New York’s best option in the pick-and-roll and can make Tyson Chandler or Kenyon Martin’s dives to the basket a liable threat Boston has to pay attention to. Similarly, his dribble penetration opens up most of New York’s options on kick-outs where their rapid-fire ball movement around the perimeter sets up open looks, and he’s capable of creating his own shots (in small doses, preferably). On defense, since Boston lacks a true point guard, if Felton can deny any penetration from Avery Bradley or whomever handles the ball for the Celtics, it will make their life even more difficult on that end of the floor.
David Vertsberger: Raymond Felton. The Knicks beat the Celtics like they do every other team, with the long ball. Melo will be attacking all series and creating opportunities for open shots, but it can’t just be him. Felton needs to run as many pick and rolls with Tyson as possible, and bulldoze his way to the rim with ferocity non-stop to create easy scores for the Knicks.
2: What will make or break the Knicks’ chances of winning the series?
Steve Meza: Efficiency on offense. Even with injuries, the Celtics still employ a stingy defense and excel at limiting the Knicks’ favorite weapon: the 3-point shot. The Celtics, by virtue of Bradley’s and Courtney Lee’s able bodies, have limited opponents to 33.9% from deep, a rate that marks 2nd in the league. They have also held teams to an eFG% of .481, 6th league-wide in that regard. Bradley alone has forced opposing guards to shoot roughly 40% FG and 31% 3PT this season. The Knicks will need to be in top form and continue the good habits that have manifested the efficiency of their brilliantly explained “selfish ball movement” — crisp passes along the perimeter to open shooters, timely buckets off good looks, ISO-Melo during single coverage, the occasional 70-foot buzzer-beater, and plenty of pick-and-roll action from the high post. And c’mon, Woody, how about a little bit more Cope?
Scott Davis: The Knicks’ passing will make or break their chances of winning the series. And their ability to pass consistently and whip the ball around is a reflection of their mental stability. When things don’t go their way, the Knicks are easily flustered, and too many players decide to try and make something happen on their own, thus negating the ball movement. In most of the Knicks’ most impressive victories this season, their passing in, out, and around the court made the nets splash, and furthermore, reflected a team locked in and unfazed by the other team or elements outside of their control.
David Vertsberger: It’s the defense. The Knicks will get their shots on Boston, and will likely make a lot of them. It’s up to New York to limit the three central cores of the Celtics’ scoring: Pierce, Green, Garnett. Tyson guarding Kevin will all but shut him down completely. Pierce can be neutralized by Shumpert. Green has exploded in the latter part of the season and when he goes to the basket with confidence he’s quite the force. Stopping him is a problem, with his height and athleticism being able to overwhelm most Knicks players. A lot of help will need to be provided here.
3: What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming series?
Steve Meza: Following the tragedy at the Boston Marathon on Monday, it’d be nice to see the Knicks organization offer their prayers and blessings during the Game 1 introductions. Beyond that, and after tip-off, I’m simply looking for Celtics torment. I know, I’m bitter, but I don’t care. After being unceremoniously dismissed by way of Broom in the 2010 playoffs, the Knicks have bumped and shoved and bow’d and waited for KG outside a bus and wrassled against Boston through 2 seasons since. There now appear to be shades of a legitimate rivalry. The addition of forehead-double-fist-bump enthusiast Quentin Richardson suggests the Knicks have no plans of getting Toney Douglas’d this time around. Carmelo Anthony has seemingly ascended his game to another degree of net-flaming tomfoolery. J.R. Smith appears to have morphed into a consistent and reliable option while scaring plenty of people in the process. Raymond Felton has been waddling into traps and doubles less frequently and has generally played heady basketball with that lovable bulldogish effort. The Celtics are ailing. The time to strike is now, Knicks. Exorcise these demons of Paul Pierce prancing about the Garden floor post-dagger-buzzer-beater and tauntingly hurling kisses at the Mecca’s denizens. If revenge is a dish best served cold, let’s see those ice veins in their full #KoldGame glory. Beat them. Sweep them. WHY CAN’T WE ENJOY A CHAMPIONSHIP PEDIGREE TOO HUH? Sorry for yelling, but yeah, kick someunprecedented butt, Knicks.
Scott Davis: The potential intensity of this series has rarin’ to go. The Hawks were the preferable matchup, but a sleeper, and if you put the Celtics in another city, in different uniforms, they’re probably not as scary. But the fact of the matter is Boston vs. New York, Paul Pierce, KG, Doc Rivers, and history of these teams amps up the intensity. Since two years ago, when the Celtics swept the Knicks, most people have forgotten how exciting the first two games of that series were. Heck, even that January game had its exciting moments. Every ‘Melo-3-to-the-dome, every Chandler smash, every three-pointer becomes even sweeter if it means burying the Celtics.
David Vertsberger: 4 wins, please.