POSTED: Apr 19, 2013 6:54 AM ET
Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett are veterans of the Knicks-Celtics rivalry.
Sometimes, first-round playoff series between 2 seeds and 7 seeds don't have much intrigue. This one has plenty.
Playoff Series Preview: Knicks vs. Celtics
There is no love lost between the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, two bitter Atlantic Division rivals who played two contentious games this season, featuring some on and off-court fireworks between All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett in early January. And a playoff series that both teams desperately want to win promises to be even more intense.
The Knicks haven't won a playoff series in 13 years. The Celtics haven't lost a first round series in the Garnett era. And the Celtics would certainly love to prove that the regular season division title means nothing.
Of course, how much these two teams dislike each other probably won't affect the final outcome, unless someone loses his cool at a key moment. What will determine the series are jump shots. Lots of 'em.
NBA Playoff Picture
New York attempted just 38 percent of its shots from the paint this season, by far the lowest rate in the league. Boston, with two jump-shooting bigs, also took a below-average rate of shots from the paint. Neither team gets to the free-throw line much.
It can be a make-or-miss league. And in this series, one team -- New York -- has the ability to make a lot of shots, while the other -- Boston -- has the ability to force a lot of misses.
It's offense vs. defense. And it's New York vs. Boston.
Bad blood, great basketball.
1. Which team is healthier? We won't really know the answer until Game 1, because both teams were cautious with their key big men down the stretch of the regular season. Tyson Chandler (bulging disc) missed 16 of New York's final 20 games, while Kenyon Martin (sprained ankle, sore knee) missed seven of the final eight, and Pablo Prigioni turned an ankle in Game 82 on Wednesday. For Boston, Kevin Garnett (left ankle inflammation) missed 12 of the final 17 games, while Paul Pierce (sore ankles) missed three of the final eight.
2. If Anthony is healthy, isn't that all that matters? Probably. Chandler is arguably the Knicks' second-most important player, and they went 12-4 without him in March and April. As long as they have Anthony and a couple of shooters, they're better offensively than their opponent.
3. Can the Celtics play big against the small-lineup Knicks? They're going to try. Their latest starting lineup, with Paul Pierce and Jeff Green at the wings, has played just 38 minutes together. But it will be on the floor at 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, making for some interesting matchups if the Knicks start two point guards, as they have most of the season.
Bob Ryan: East Playoff Preview
4. Haven't we learned that the Celtics' regular-season numbers don't matter? Well, yeah. Over the last three postseasons, they've won three series that started on the road. But this is, by far, the worst they've played on the road in the KG era. They went 14-27 and were outscored by 4.6 points per 100 possessions away from TD Garden this season. Of course, one of those 14 wins was in New York on Jan. 7.
5. Isn't it now when they'll really miss Rajon Rondo? He certainly had some big games in the postseason over the last few years, and he seemingly played more aggressive on the big stage. The Celtics were 8-2 when he recorded a triple-double in the playoffs. But they've learned to play without him over the last few months, and we may not have seen the emergence of Green if Rondo didn't tear his ACL.
Knicks and Celtics Rivalry
Anthony led the league in usage rate and was assisted on just 39 percent of the shots he made, so there will be some iso-ball. But the Knicks complement their star with seven guys who hit at least 50 3-pointers this season, and Anthony trusts his teammates. Taking care of the ball may be the most important aspect of New York's efficient offense, and if Chandler is healthy, the Knicks have a more potent pick-and-roll game to help open things up for Anthony and their shooters.
Garnett and Avery Bradley are the Celtics' best defenders, but Jeff Green may be the most important in this series if Doc Rivers gives Green the Anthony assignment. Only one team (Sacramento in one game) held Anthony to a lower true shooting percentage than the Celtics did this season. But the Knicks still got enough offense from their role players to win three of the four games.
Without Rondo, the Celtics' offense has no focal point, and that can be a good thing. Pierce's scoring and assist numbers have picked up since Rondo's injury, but the ball doesn't stick. Boston will look to run, and then keep running pick-and-rolls and move the ball from side to side until they find a good shot.
The Knicks regressed defensively this season, and Chandler hasn't been quite as active inside as he was last year. New York will switch most pick-and-rolls, which could allow Boston to get Pierce into some favorable one-on-one matchups.
The Knicks have two guys who can get their own shot at any given moment, and J.R. Smith has attempted almost as many shots (65) in clutch time (the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with a score differential of five points or less) as Anthony has (69), hitting two game-winners with Anthony injured. Jason Kidd has also proven he can hit shots from beyond the arc when defenses leave him open.
No team has played more clutch minutes than the Celtics this season, but they struggled offensively in those minutes, with the league's fourth-worst clutch offense. The ball will most likely be in Pierce's hands, but Doc Rivers isn't afraid to draw up a misdirection play, with Green emerging as another potential late-game weapon in the second half of the season.
The phrase "wild card" has fit J.R. Smith perfectly throughout his career, but the Sixth Man of the Year candidate has been rather reliable over the last couple of months. Still, he's part of New York's 3-point shooting crew that could make or break the series. The Knicks were 37-8 in the regular season when they made at least 11 threes, and just 17-20 when they hit 10 or fewer.
Jason Terry's effective field goal percentage (52.9 percent) was higher this season than it was in any of his final three seasons in Dallas. Yet his production was inconsistent and he struggled in the clutch. The Celtics are a team desperate for offense, and they will need Terry to make shots if they're to have a chance in this series.
The Celtics will not go down easily. They will be able to slow down the Knicks' offense about as well as any team can. But they just don't have the offensive firepower to win this series. Knicks in 7.
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