Posted Apr 25 2011 6:19AM
NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks hadn't won a postseason game since 2001, and the Boston Celtics hadn't swept a playoff series since 1992. So something had to give when the two teams met for Game 4 of their first round series at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon.
With the Knicks banged up and the Celtics playing better each game, New York's streak will live on for at least another year. Meanwhile, Boston moves on to face the Miami Heat or the Philadelphia 76ers in the conference semifinals, thanks to a 101-89 victory that completed a four-game sweep.
When the series began a week ago, it was about a rivalry, six All-Stars, and a battle between a great offense and a great defense. But with the passing of each game, it became only about the Celtics' ability to get themselves into playoff form in preparation for what should be an epic series with the Heat, who still have some business to take care of after dropping Game 4 in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Simply, the Celtics were the better team in this series. As long as they played like it, they were going to move on -- no matter how healthy the Knicks were.
There were some scary moments for the Celtics in the first two games and a big Knicks run near the end of Game 4. But for the most part, the defending Eastern Conference champs kept the Knicks' high-octane offense in check, allowing New York to score more than 24 points in a quarter just once in each game.
Offensively, the Celtics were inconsistent, as they had been for the season's last two months. But they exploded in Game 3 and were cruising offensively until late in the third quarter of Game 4 on Sunday. That should be considered progress.
"What you saw is how our season went at times," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said afterward. "We are playing well ... we are playing well, and then we go away from it for awhile. Fortunately, we came back to it."
It wasn't a perfect four games for sure. But over the two days in New York, the Celtics took a step forward in their quest for banner 18.
Where the Celtics were strongest was in their late-game execution. They finished Game 1 on a 9-3 run. They finished Game 2 on an 8-2 run. And when the Knicks cut the Celtics' lead down to four in the fourth quarter of Game 4, Rajon Rondo orchestrated a stretch of five buckets on six possessions to put the game away.
Rondo is perhaps the Celtics' most important player, especially with the way teams try to defend him. And he has seemingly awaken from his late-season slumber, playing aggressively and averaging 19.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 12.0 assists in the series.
"When he plays with that type of energy, we are almost unstoppable," Paul Pierce said. "He has to carry a lot on his shoulders, but we know he is capable of that. Tonight, you see me and Ray [Allen] didn't shoot the ball particularly well. Rondo you see was rebounding, scoring and getting assists. That shows you how important he is to our team."
With Rondo playing well, Rivers' primary concern going into Game 4 was his bench. And he finally got a strong performance out of them on Sunday. They built on the Celtics' lead in the first half instead of letting it slip away, with Glen Davis scoring 14 points on 6-for-8 from the field.
For the Knicks and their fans, this series was three years in the making. Season one of the New York NBA revival came to a frustrating end, with Chauncey Billups and Amar'e Stoudemire each getting injured in the first two games of the series. But in the end, the Garden was once again a place where fans had pride in the home team.
The Knicks still have a lot of work to if they want to contend for a title. They don't need to add another star, but they do need to get much better defensively. Whether it comes with a change to the coaching staff or with changes to the roster, New York must improve on that end of the floor, or they won't be getting much further than they did this season.
The good news is that they've got more top-line talent than most teams in this league. And it's just a matter of building chemistry and adding the right complementary pieces around Anthony and Stoudemire.
"The sky is the limit," Anthony said of his on-court relationship with Stoudemire. "We're going to make it work."
The time for that will come next fall. Right now, the Celtics need to make it work against Miami or Philadelphia. That will require more consistency than they showed against the Knicks.
"We didn't play well for four games," Rivers said. "But we did play well Game 3 and we did play well in Game 4. We kind of figured out what we needed to do offensively and defensively, and we stuck to the game plans."
Knowing how inconsistent the Celtics have been this season, Rivers still can't tell you how good his team is. But he can't be too unhappy with how this series went.
"We do some things that drive us all nuts," he said, "but at the end of the day, they have a way to play together. They trust each other, and as a coach, that's all you can ask for."
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