After Wednesday night, it’s easy to view this series as the basketball incarnation of the Red Sox/Yankees playoff series in 2004, where Boston famously overcame New York’s 3-0 lead to win 4-3 on their way to the World Series. Yet, it’s really quite different, in spite of the teams being from the same cities. The differences come from the core differences in the two games. In the series in 2004, winning game five was a crucial turning point for the Sox, because they had Pedro Martinez waiting to pitch game six and Curt Schilling ready to take the mound in game seven. As a result, the Yankees were going to be facing an even better team in games six and seven than they did in game five. The other big difference is that regular season results are much more meaningful in the NBA than they are in baseball.
In game six, the Knicks will be facing the exact same team they faced in the first five games, the Celtics talent isn’t going to be getting any better. In the first four games of this series, and most of the regular season, we had every reason to believe the Knicks were the far superior team. After taking game one by seven and game two by 16, we waited breathlessly to see if things would change in Boston. Yet, New York dominated game three even more thoroughly, though “just” winning by 14.
The momentum changer has been the ejection and subsequent suspension of JR Smith. Things were rolling for New York in game three when he was ejected and they might have won by more than 14 had he stayed in the game. Game four was a golden opportunity for Boston to finally win a game: Smith was out with a suspension, the Celtics were in “win or go home” mode, the Knicks were in “we’re up 3-0 and we’ve got this” mode, plus the game was in Boston. Despite these things and an epically bad 10-35 shooting night from Carmelo Anthony (it’s not merely that he shot 29%, it’s that he took 35 shots on a night that he was shooting 29%!), the Celtics still needed overtime to pull out their first win.
So, after four games, there still seemed little doubt about the outcome. The Knicks had won three games convincingly and the Celtics had managed to steal one game where the sun, the moon and the stars had aligned just right. So how did game five suddenly introduce us to the coming of the Apocalypse?
Unlike game four, this was a game the Knicks were supposed to win: the Knicks would learn from their mistakes in game four, Smith was back in the fold and they were back in the beloved basketball bastion of Madison Square Garden where the Knicks had seemed invincible all season.
The problem was the Knicks knew they were supposed to win. One only needs to look at their pregame trash talk and sartorial antics to see how clear it was to them that this game was theirs for the taking. The Knicks’ incredible hubris was rewarded with a 92-86 loss that wasn’t as close as the score might suggest.
Yet, to suggest that the cost of the Knicks’ hubris will extend to game six and possibly even a game seven is absurd. The reasons that the Knicks won the first three games so convincingly haven’t changed. There were psychological and strategic reasons why New York lost games four and five that just no longer apply. There is no Pedro or Schilling waiting in the wings to bail out the Celtics’ anemic offense. There is a reason why the teams that dominate the NBA regular season typically dominate the playoffs and it applies here. Baseball is all about streaks. If your bats are hot or your pitching is in a funk come October, you can throw out the regular season results in baseball. In the NBA, the coaching, talent and schemes that determined your success in the regular season typically are what will determine the outcome in the postseason.
I cannot imagine that this Knicks team is approaching game six with anywhere near the measure of the overconfidence that they were clearly suffering from in game five. I also can’t imagine we’ll see another game where both teams take 22 three-pointers, yet Boston makes an incredible 11 of them and New York make a mere five of them. The key to games one and two of the series were the defensive adjustments made by Coach Woodson at halftime of those games. After two straight games of miserable offense from one of the NBA’s elite offensive teams, I expect to see Woodson make meaningful adjustments to the New York offense which will be enough to end this series in game six.
Of course, if I’m wrong, this is going to be a long offseason…
Saturday afternoon was one of, hopefully, many joyous occasions at Madison Square Garden in the coming weeks.
The Knicks began their playoff run with a solid 85-78 win over the Celtics to take a 1-0 lead in the first round, best of seven series.
New York was able to pull out the win, despite allowing Boston to shoot .415 from the field, compared to their own .405. The Celtics were also a +7 from the free throw line.
How do you go about making up that difference?
You create more possessions and hit three pointers. The Knicks were a +12 from behind the arc and put up 14 more shots than Boston. According to NBA.com, New York rebounded 88.2% of the available defensive boards, 21.7% of the offensive boards and turned the ball over on 14.7% of their possessions. The Celtics turned the ball over on 23.2% of their possessions. The Knicks cleaned up the boards and turned the ball over less, precisely what was expected going into the series.
The Knicks’ defensive improvement in the second half was also a huge part of the victory. The Celtics ORtg in the first half was 108.3, compared to a ORtg of 60.4 in the second.
New York’s offense suffered a similar fate. The first half ORtg was 105.3 and the second was 85.6.
The numbers across the board make it look like New York played better offensively the first half than the second half. In the first and second quarters, the Knicks shot 46.2% overall and 60% from three. In the third and fourth quarters, they shot 35% from two and 20% from three.
That shooting percentages, plus difference in ORtg, paints a picture that New York’s offense was better in first half than it was in second half. Despite what the numbers say, I believe it was the opposite.
The Knicks adjusted in the locker room and got back to what made them one of the best offensive teams in the league after 24 minutes, featuring a stagnant offense with no ball movement.
Before halftime, the Knicks averaged 1.67 passes per possession in half court sets. That number looks better than it actually was because of a stretch with Felton, Shumpert, Novak, Cope and Martin when they totaled 3.6 passes per possession. In the time Melo was on the court, New York tallied 1.35 passes per possession. Melo’s usage % in the first half according to NBA.com was an unseemly 48.4%, up 13% from his regular season number of 35.3%. The numbers from Synergy Sports show Anthony isolated on 15 possessions.
As a team, the Knicks assisted on 8.3% of their two point makes and all five of their three point makes.
In the second half, despite the numbers taking a drop, New York got back to moving the ball side to side and relied less on isolations, or more importantly isolations that killed ball movement.
In half court sets after halftime New York averaged 2.47 passes per possession.
Melo’s usage dropped from 48.4% to 29.1%, he took three of his four spot up shots in the second half and he only isolated five times.
If J.R. Smith hit catch and shoot jumpers at comparable rate to his regular season percentage instead of going 0-5, New York would have won by double digits.
The Knicks assisted on 36.4% of their made twos in the second half and 66.7% of threes. The monster jump on the twos is what jumps out the most.
For New York to sustain offensive success against the Celtics building on the formula they used in the second half will be imperative.
There is no doubt the Knicks need to rely on Melo and Smith in isolation situations at times — they can be effective plays, but there use needs to be associated with shot clock and specific match up advantages. It is much easier to attack a defensive player when he is on the move instead of squared up and balanced – this is what ball movement creates. The majority of the iso shots the Knicks were taking in the first half, specifically Melo, can be had at almost any time in the shot clock. He can wait until the first and second options of the set are run before the offense digresses into a one on one situation. This is exactly what happened in the second half for the majority of the sequences. If New York builds on what they showed offensively after the break, it will show up better in the numbers than it did in Game One going forward.
“Ah, the Knicks, Boston’s little brother in basketball. Keep your chin up guys, you’ll get us next time.
The smug cockiness jumps right off the page.
It isn’t just the Celtics fans that are disrespectful, though. Heading into a regular season meeting in 2010-2011, while both teams were playing at a high level, Paul Pierce had some honest, true, and disrespectful words for the Knicks:
New York wasn’t even on Boston’s radar…
When the two teams met in the first round later that year, a series that featured injuries to two of New York’s top three players in Amar’e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups, Melo’s supporting cast included the likes of Toney Douglas, Landry Fields, Billy Walker, Shawne Williams, Sheldon Williams, Roger Mason, Anthony Carter and Jared Jeffries.
This was New York’s first playoff appearance since 2003-2004 and despite getting swept, two moments of the meeting will always stick out to me.
1. Game One will go down as the last time we saw Amar’e Stoudemire play at his peak.
Simply put, Stoudemire was incredible. Heading into Game Two, he screwed up his back doing some sort of pre-game dunk. It took months for him to recover and he has yet to regain the form he was in prior to the injury. In a perfect world, this is how we should all try to remember Amar’e.
2. With these extreme circumstances facing the Knicks in the next game, the performance that Carmelo Anthony put together in a loss lives on as one of his best games in a Knicks uniform. With no Chauncey Billups and a useless Amare Stoudemire, Melo almost single-handily carried New York to a win and a 1-1 series.
Everything fell apart after the two tight loses in Boston and the Celtics completed the sweep.
However, times have changed since the two teams met in 2010-2011. At that time, Boston was the three seed with 56 wins, while the Knicks were 42-40 and a team in transition.
Now, though, the Knicks are the favorites and the Celtics are the underdogs. New York comes in as the two-seed with 50+ wins, while the Green & White struggled to finish above .500. The Knicks have constructed a different looking roster in the two offseasons since their playoff defeat at the hands of Boston. Instead of a poorly assembled, group of misfit place holders, Melo is expected to take the court with Ray Felton, Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tyson Chandler, Pablo Prigioni, Kenyon Martin, Chris Copeland and Steve Novak — a group of players that know and understand their roles.
For the first time since 2003-2004, the Knicks won the season series with the Celtics, taking three out of the four games. To put it simply, you might as well forget those four games even happened.
The Celtics took the first meeting, but Ronnie Brewer, Marcus Camby and Amar’e Stoudemire all played legitimate minutes. The second meeting featured Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, Stoudemire and James White. Tyson Chandler and Kevin Garnett did not participate in the final two matchups. Given all that information, there is nothing to be taken from these games.
Since Garnett has joined the Celtics, the team has not lost in the first round of the playoffs. Garnett has obviously always played a big role (outside of the one year he missed the playoffs with an injury) in this and that role will be expanded now that the post-season is here. During his six seasons with Boston, in the regular season, the man they used to call “The Big Ticket” has averaged 30.98 minutes. Come playoff time, Doc Rivers has boosted that number, on average, to 36.15.
This is significant because of the individual impact Garnett has on the entire Celtics team. This season, Boston has been a net +5.4 better when Garnett is playing, compared to when he isn’t. That number is on the low-end of his impact. His average net impact over the previous five seasons was +11.44. The extra five to seven minutes a night Garnett is on the court immediately makes his team better.
New York also has to deal with a nemesis that will go down in my generation Knicks fans’ brains with Reggie Miller and Michael Jordan. It’s an exclusive club that Paul Pierce is in. In 54 career games against the Knicks, Pierce has averaged 23.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 4 assists on 45.7% shooting, 38.6% from behind the arc and 82.2% at the line. All of those numbers are slightly higher than his career averages.
Here are some unfortunate memories:
That was a big game, too — New York was in the midst of an eight game winning streak and the Celtics had won 10 straight (the Pierce comments mentioned in the beginning of this piece, came from before this particular game).
I remember this one being extremely obnoxious. I truly thought the Knicks had it.
This season… I wish someone in the front row picked up his chair and chucked it at Pierce as he was showing his appreciation to the MSG fans.
The two players discussed above, along with Doc Rivers, are why I am worried about the Celtics, even though they don’t look as formidable as they have in the past.
When examining this version of the Celtics, though, you can’t look at the season as a whole (even though I will at certain points in the story…it’s impossible not too). There are 38 games featuring Rajon Rondo, and a section without Kevin Garnett towards the end of the year, which are useless.
The time frame I looked at was from January 27 to March 13. It isn’t perfect, but it is the closest you can get to the team the Knicks will see in the playoffs. The two major differences being the fifth most used line up featured Jared Sullinger and there is a limited amount of Jordan Crawford (I think this could be the case with Crawford in the playoffs also). When going into this, I honestly had no idea whether the numbers would be good or bad. I didn’t have a clue what their record was.
In this 21 game stretch, the Celtics were 15-6. They were a below average offense, but their defensive efficiency was at what would have been the league’s best average, if it were to be extrapolated over the entire season.
Boston’s turnover % was below average and its offensive rebound % was a league low. The Knicks should end up with extra possessions across the course of the game because of their league best turnover % and their steadily improving work on the offensive boards. New York’s defensive rebounding has also stayed at a top five level, despite being forced into playing ridiculous small line-ups for small chunks of the season, and being without Tyson Chandler for 14 games.
Because of the extra possessions the Knicks will get, and the poor offensive production (it will look better against New York’s slightly below average D), it takes Boston playing at an extremely high level, defensively, to defeat the Knicks.
The numbers below, which show Knicks shooting %’s and locations, are from NBA.com:
When you break it down, New York takes (excluding backcourt shots) 31.8% of its shots at the rim, 6% in the paint, 26.7% mid-range, 8% corner 3 and above the break three 26.5%.
According to Synergy Sports, the Knicks’ top three methods of offense are spot up jumpers, isolation and pick-and-roll. The ratings in all three of these areas were “excellent.”
Boston’s defense guarding mid-range, corner 3s and above the break 3s is at an elite level, going off of the numbers from NBA.com. Without a real rim protector in the frontcourt, though, they are vulnerable to teams attacking the hoop.
Against the Knicks’ top three methods of offense, Boston defends spot-ups “excellent,” pick-and-roll “excellent,” (the role man “average”) and isolation “excellent.”
It is a battle of strengths. Will the Knicks highly efficient offense win out or will Boston’s defense?
At the other end of the court, the Celtics are a team that relies heavily on mid-range jump shots, but are also towards the top third of the league in corner three pointers attempted.
This is the result of having an offense built around Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Pierce’s shot chart:
Garnett’s shot chart:
According to Synergy, the top three means of offense for the Celtics are spot-up (“very good”), transition (“poor”) and pick-and-roll (“average”). New York does not rate well defending those situations.
One of the Knicks’ biggest weaknesses this year has been defending opposing team’s guards who have the ability to break down a defense off the dribble. This is not one of the Celtics strengths, fortunately. They play a methodical offense that lacks individual player creativity outside of Paul Pierce and at times (more frequently recently), Jeff Green.
On the other hand, Kevin Garnett’s ability to pull Tyson Chandler away from the basket will hurt New York’s at the rim defense if Green, Pierce and, to a certain degree, Avery Bradley, are able to break down their man in one-on-one situations.
It will be interesting to see how the two teams go about matching up defensively. In three of the last four games, Rivers has gone with a Garnett, Bass, Green, Pierce and Bradley starting line-up.
I didn’t see anywhere if this was something Doc was planning on rolling with in the playoffs or if it was just an experiment at the end of the season. However, If that’s the lineup, Woodson has an interesting decision to make: Does he continue to start Felton, Prigs, Shumpert, Melo and Tyson? With those groups, Woody might be forced to hide Ray or Prigs on Bass and the other on Bradley. Melo and Shump would have to defend Green/Pierce in some form. I’m not sure I like those matchups, defensively, but the balance of this team winning with offense and not worrying about who guards who is a delicate balance. In this situation, J.R. Smith will have to come off the bench extremely early (probably will anyway) or you could move Jason Kidd back into the starting line-up for Prigs. Putting Kidd on Pierce intrigues me in a weird way.
If Rivers goes back to a more traditional starting line-up, moving Green or Bass into a sixth man role and swapping one of them with Terry or Lee, the matchups get simplified. You would think Pierce and Melo don’t defend each other at the start of the game, so they can both save energy for offense. Shump takes on the Pierce challenge, Melo works on Bass or Green, Tyson stays with KG, Ray defends Terry/Lee and Prigs gets the Bradley assignment. That puts New York in a more comfortable situation.
Finally, we come to the question, “are the Celtics a team that gets in Melo’s head?”
Everyone remembers this:
This season against Boston, Anthony has averaged 25 points, on 35% shooting from the field and 30% from three in four games. Conversely, in the same amount of games last season, he averaged 30.8 points with a 49% FG and 41% 3P FG.
While with the Knicks, Melo has obtained both success and failure against a terrific defensive team in the Celtics. I don’t believe Boston is magically in his head. However, the Celtics happen to defend Anthony’s strengths well, which will lead to him having a more difficult time scoring against them than against most teams. It doesn’t mean Anthony isn’t capable of performing at a high level, but it’s not going to be easy.
I don’t expect anything in this series to be easy for the Knicks. Boston is a veteran savvy team that knows how to execute in playoff situations. They are well coached and have two players, in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who understand what it takes to win playoff games.
Unlike the last time these two teams played, though, New York also has a squad equipped for a legitimate playoff battle.
New York proved more capable of dealing with the rigors of an 82 game season than the Celtics. It was the first time they were able to do that since 2006-2007. Now, we find out if it translates to playoff success.
Prediction: Knicks in 6
Tonight, in their second pre-season game, the New York Knicks defeated the Boston Celtics by a score of 98-95, in over time.
The team continued playing without some of their rotation players, this time playing without JR Smith who was nursing a sore ankle, and again playing without Amare Stoudemire, who was held out of the game as a precaution. The lack of JR Smith and Amare Stoudemire freed up some playing time for some reserves, most notable Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni.
The Knicks earned a season split against the Boston Celtics with a 118-110 win tonight at Madison Square Garden. Carmelo Anthony had his second career triple-double, pouring in 35 points along with 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Paul Pierce led all scorer’s with 43 points in a losing effort.
In what turned out to be a scrimmage before their nationally televised matchup with the Miami Heat on Sunday, the Knicks completely destroyed the Washington Wizards Friday night at MSG, 103-65. J.R. Smith led New York with 23 points and six assists off the bench. The Wizards were led by Jordan Crawford’s 17 points.
Apparently, there is a script that this new Knicks squad led by Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony must adhere to when they play the Celtics in Boston. Take a double-digit first half lead, blow it in the third quarter and then lose in heart wrenching fashion in the fourth quarter.
The Knicks did something on Sunday they couldn’t do on eight separate occasions last season: beat the Boston Celtics. But, despite the win, there are some things the team needs to clean up, in order to contend for a championship this season.
Let’s get it on!