Knicks-Celtics Playoff Preview

It feels right that the Knicks will have to go through the Celtics on the road back to NBA prominence. Though the Knicks won 54 games, this season means absolutely nothing if they flame out in the first round of the playoffs. The Celtics may not be the the same dominant force we’ve seen been in recent memory, but they are certainly not a team to take likely. We’ve seen unlikely playoff runs before from Doc Rivers’ group in the past, and with the third ranked defensive in basketball another deep run is certainly possible. With all the chaos and tragedy that struck the state of Massachusetts over the last week, you know the Celtics are going to come out fired up and ready to play. All that being said, the Knicks are the much better team and should win this series handily.

Mike Woodson has been a very pleasant surprise this season – re-inventing his previously ball-sticky isolation oriented offense into a spread pick and roll attack that finished third in the NBA in offensive efficiency thus inserting himself into the conversation for coach of the year. Carmelo Anthony had the best season of his career after a wildly disappointing 2011 campaign. JR Smith is going to win Sixth Man of the Year, having transformed himself from an inconsistent long range gunner to an efficient multi-faceted scorer over the last two months of the season. This was the best Knicks season I’ve seen in my basketball watching lifetime, and it’s not close. It’s time for them to take the next step.

I divulged into hours of film and stat work in breaking down Knicks-Celtics this week and I have to say I feel good about this series. Taking health out of the equation, assuming Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin are close to full strength and nobody else goes down, the Knicks should win this series in 5 or 6 games. They’re far superior to the Celtics offensively and I feel good about their defense despite some schematic flaws. However, as the week has progressed I’ve felt less and less enthused about having to play the Celtics. I still have nightmares of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett constantly torturing Knick fans in close game after close game. As I’ve had more time to sit and think about the series, the more the nightmarish visions pop back into my mind. But this is the life of a Knick fan. I’ve been let down by this team time and time again and I think there will always be doubt in the back of my mind until the Knicks actually win a playoff series. Having said that and as nervous as I am, I do believe the Knicks are better than Boston by a wide margin and I think they’ll win this series in 5 or 6 games.

A few thoughts on the series:

  • While I hate to see any players go down with injury, I’m very happy to avoid Rajon Rondo in this series. The former Kentucky product has long been a Knick killer and by far the Knicks’ biggest weakness defensively is their inability to keep quick guards out of the paint. Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee make up a very sub par Celtic backcourt offensively, especially Crawford and Terry who are borderline NBA players at this point. Even if the Knicks play the worst defense in the world, and hey they just might, I can’t see any of those four guys scoring consistently over an entire series. 
  • I think the Knicks are going to shoot the ball well. I don’t have any data that says they will. In four games against Boston this season they didn’t shoot the three particularly well and the Celtics are good in running teams off the three point line. That being said, I just have a good feeling that Kidd’s going to come up big, we’ll get good JR and Shumpert will continue his post all-star break sharpshooting.
  • Now is the time for Carmelo Anthony. I’ve been as critical on him as anyone, but I think this is the year he gets back to a conference final. Much has been made about his struggles in the playoffs over his career, but he has a team this year that can and should make a run. He’s the best player in this series and he’s going to have every opportunity to shine. I will say, I’m worried about his chasm with Garnett. The one thing Melo has struggled with this season, apart from help defense, is keeping his cool when things don’t go well or when the game gets rough. Garnett obviously was one of the big perpetrators of this, provoking Melo to go out to the team buses for some reason. Boston’s instigator will no doubt try and get in Anthony’s head again and Melo must be able to shake that off and focus on his game. This applies to the whole team. If Boston gets in the Knicks heads and you have Tyson and Melo and  JR getting T’d up left and right, the Knicks are going to be in trouble.
  • Boston’s lineups will be interesting. They’ve been toying with a bigger lineup with Pierce and Jeff Green at the 2-3 spots and they’ve been doing well. However I don’t see that big lineup matching up with the Knicks small ball attack with Melo at the 4. It’ll be interesting to see what Doc Rivers decides to do if the Knicks have early success against that lineup. Boston can slide Green to the four spot and play small with the Knicks, which I would do. Maybe Doc’s bigger lineup will work well. I don’t think it will, but we’ll see.
  • I’m intrigued by Jason Kidd. His shooting was overly meh after the first two months of the season, but I have a feeling he’ll be quite good in the postseason. Boston isn’t super athletic on the wings, so his defense shouldn’t be as much of an issue as it usually is either. I love Kidd as an off-ball quarterback/shot up shooter, a role he’s played quite well this season. I imagine Boston will often be flashing extra defenders at Anthony in isolation situations at the elbows and in the low post. The Knicks are going to have to be decisive and quick in swinging the ball around the perimeter and I trust Kidd in that area more than anyone. I think he’ll have a good series.
  • I’ll write this now and I’ll write it again if the Knicks get past Boston and I’ll write it again if they get past Indiana in the second round. Amar’e – I love you and what you’ve done for this organization, but please stay away until next season. With Melo and STAT on the floor together, the Knicks just cannot survive defensively. It’s been that way ever since the two came together in New York. The Knicks have a great thing going and in Kenyon Martin they have a much better fit at that 4/5 spot due to his defensive prowess. Stoudemire should get as healthy as possible for next season when the Knicks will have to figure this thing out anyways. I want no part of him on this team in the postseason and I think they’ll be worse off if he does come back at some point.
  • Felton and JR are absolutely invaluable in this series. It’s likely Boston is going to hone in on Melo and force the Knicks secondary scorers to beat them. Felton’s got to be on his game in the pick and roll, and he’s likely going to have to hit a few open shots. Smith has to do what he’s been doing the last two months. He’s got to stay aggressive in attacking the rim and continue to hit his outside shots in spot up situations.

I was super down on the Knicks coming into the season and they’ve proven me wrong. I think they get to the Eastern Conference finals, and in saying that I obviously think they win this series. Boston is great defensively, but they’re not a good offensive team. The Knicks aren’t going to win by 20 points each game, but I think they’ll find a way to outscore the Celtics and I think they’ll be good enough defensively. I like the Knicks in 6, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they took it in 4 or 5. Let’s go Knicks.

Follow Taylor on Twitter @tarmosino