Posted Apr 22 2011 12:01PM
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- When it comes to chemistry, the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks are on opposite sides of the spectrum.
Kendrick Perkins is gone and the Boston bench is almost entirely new, but the five Celtics who played the most minutes this year -- Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Glen Davis and Paul Pierce -- have been together for four seasons. They've been playing the same system under the same coach since October of 2007, and they have a wealth of shared experiences.
The Knicks are a different story. Only Toney Douglas has been on the roster since the beginning of last season. And every lineup they've used in the first two games of this first-round series has included at least one player who wasn't with the team before the All-Star break.
The lack of chemistry, especially between their two stars, is shown in the Knicks' plus-minus numbers. In 710 minutes with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire on the floor together, the Knicks have been outscored by 10 points.
Contrastingly, they've outscored their opponents by 39 points in the 345 minutes that Anthony has played without Stoudemire, and by 12 points in the 267 minutes that Stoudemire has played without Anthony. Simply, they've been much better with one All-Star on the floor than they've been with two.
One reason Anthony and Stoudemire haven't worked together is because they literally haven't worked together. They do a lot of their offensive work in isolation situations: Anthony from the wing and Stoudemire from the elbow.
That's also a reason for the Knicks' late-game struggles in this series. They scored on just two of their final eight possessions in Game 1 and on two of their final seven in Game 2, in part because isolations are relatively easy for great defensive teams like the Celtics to stop.
Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni was asked if it took long for Stoudemire and Steve Nash to develop late-game synergy in Phoenix. His answer was "no," because those two stars were a natural fit together.
"Our best thing we did was the pick-and-roll [with] the two best guys," D'Antoni said. "So you didn't have to choose."
D'Antoni would love to have a two-star pick-and-roll in his arsenal, and he believes he eventually will. But at this point, Anthony isn't a pick-and-roll ballhandler. When he has the ball, Stoudemire is usually on the other side of the floor, waiting for his teammate to make a move. When Stoudemire has the ball, Anthony is doing the same. In short, the Knicks just aren't making the most of their offensive talent.
But the biggest difference between the Knicks' two-star lineups and their one-star lineups is on defense. With Anthony and Stoudemire on the court, the Knicks are dreadful defensively. But with one of them on the bench, they're decent because New York's role players know they've got to defend to stay on the floor (and in the league).
Anthony and Stoudemire have played just 27 games together since the trade. Eventually, better chemistry (and maybe a pick-and-roll or two) will come. The Knicks are just trying to scratch out a win against the Celtics with whatever chemistry they've got. It's too late to wonder if they didn't have to give up so much in their trade with Denver, and it's too early to wonder about who they can add to their roster when a new collective bargaining agreement is settled on.
If they're going to make this series interesting, the Knicks need to win Friday's Game 3 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). Beyond making the series interesting, a win or two would give the Knicks some traction as they plan for season two of their revival, which will come after a full summer of game-planning and a full training camp of chemistry-building. Anthony and Stoudemire aren't going anywhere and the Knicks should have better days and better seasons ahead.
They might have to get that win without Stoudemire, whose status is unknown. He suffered a pulled muscle in his back before Tuesday's 96-93 loss in Boston, didn't play in the second half, and didn't practice on Thursday. The status of Chauncey Billups, who suffered a strained left knee in Game 1, is even more doubtful.
In time, with better synergy and more shared experiences to fall back on, the Knicks wil be able to make the most of their talent.
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