Arbella Game Preview: Game 4 - Celtics at Knicks

Arbella

NEW YORK – The Boston Celtics are one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and the New York Knicks are one win away from ending their seven-year playoff drought with a clean sweep out of the playoffs.

That is the stage that has been set after Boston knocked off the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, 113-96, on Friday night. The C’s can advance to the next round and end New York’s playoff stint with a win during Game 4 at 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

The Celtics have put themselves in position to move on thanks to a dominant performance in Game 3 on Friday night. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen combined to score 70 points in that contest and made all 14 of Boston’s 3-pointers. The reason those two sharpshooters were able to light the Knicks up, Doc Rivers pointed out, was because the big men freed them up for good looks.

“I thought it was one of our best jobs setting picks maybe this year,” Rivers said after the game.

That’s not something Boston has been great at over the past couple of months, as evidenced by Allen’s drastic decrease in shot attempts as the regular season came to an end. However, on Friday night, the picks couldn’t get any better.

Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal and Glen Davis were the key cogs in freeing up Allen and Pierce for their combined 37 shot attempts. Once Boston’s bigs were able to pick off New York’s defenders, it was up to Rajon Rondo to get the ball in Allen and Pierce’s hands. Rondo couldn’t have been more successful in making that happen.

Boston’s All-Star point guard finished the night with a triple-double that included 20 assists, which was two more than the entire Knicks team totaled in the game. He knew his shooters were hot, and he took advantage of that all night long.

The trio of Allen, Pierce and Rondo led the way for the Celtics and helped them to dominate the contest from start to finish. Boston came out of the gates to take an early 22-5 lead, and that opening punch set the tone for the remainder of the game.

New York did fight back to cut the Celtics’ lead down to five on several occasions, but this game was a no-doubter. The Knicks were taken completely out of their game and did not have any of their stars perform at a high level. Carmelo Anthony, who scored 42 points in Game 2, scored just 15 on Friday night, while Amar’e Stoudemire gimped around the floor with his injured back and Chauncey Billups watched from the sidelines with his injured knee.

Stoudemire injured his back prior to Game 2 and simply hasn’t been the same since. He scored only seven points in nearly 33 minutes of play on Friday night and probably hurt his team more than he helped it by being on the floor. With his struggles at both ends of the floor and Anthony not having the power to replicate his performance from Game 2 in Boston, the Knicks had no shot at pulling out a win.

That could be the case again on Sunday, because the Knicks might be the ‘Melo show yet again. Stoudemire talked openly about his inability to perform after Game 3 and said, “There is no way I will be 100 percent by Sunday.” Even worse, he may not even play.

Stoudemire spoke to the media at Saturday’s practice and made it clear that there is a very strong possibility that he will not play in Game 4. He said that his back “has to be better” in order for him to participate in Sunday’s do-or-die game for New York, and the likelihood of that happening can’t be high.

Pulled muscles tend to take weeks to heal, and Stoudemire is just removed from playing in an intense NBA Playoff game on Friday night. He had about three full days to treat the injury between Games 2 and 3, and that time frame didn’t even yield much of a positive result. Now he will essentially have only a day to treat the pulled muscle prior to the afternoon tip off on Sunday.

If Stoudemire doesn’t play and Billups continues to rest his injured knee, Boston might be able to slam the door on New York’s playoff party in just four games. The Celtics have gotten some breaks with the injuries to the Knicks’ stars, but you have to play the cards you’re dealt. Boston has played those cards well, and that’s why it’s on the verge of advancing to the Conference Semifinals.

Finish the Job

Boston has an opportunity to close the series out in Game 4, and the last thing it wants to go is give a glimmer of hope to the Knicks of making a comeback. The Celtics have not done a great job of finishing the job in the playoffs when it has had an opportunity to do so in the past few seasons.

Believe it or not, Boston hasn’t swept a team out of the playoffs during the current Big Three era. As recently as last season, the C’s did not close out series’ against the Orlando Magic (Eastern Conference Finals) and Los Angeles Lakers (NBA Finals) on the first opportunity to do so, and Orlando made a run at becoming the first team to ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in a seven-game NBA Playoff series.

The odds of New York becoming the first team to do that is highly unlikely, but the Celtics would love to finish the job in Game 4. The quicker this series ends, the quicker Boston can prepare for the next series with rest, scouting and practice.

Atmosphere in MSG

One word can sum up the atmosphere that was present in Madison Square Garden prior Game 3: electric. One word can also sum up MSG’s atmosphere after the game tipped off: underwhelming.

New York’s basketball fans had waited seven years for playoff basketball to return to the World’s Most Famous Arena, but they did not bring it during Game 3. The crowd was strong prior to tip off, but once the game began the Celtics lulled the Garden to sleep with their dominant play.

“You come out and hit them first (and) you don’t give them a reason to get the crowd going. From there we were comfortable,” Pierce said after Friday’s big win. “This is a pretty raucous crowd. It was pretty intimating at first but we did a great job of taking them out of the game.”

The crowd was relatively tame on a Friday night, which means it will likely be even more tame on Easter Sunday. If New York’s fans are taken out of the game by Boston early on in Game 4, the C’s will be breaking out the brooms for a sweep.

Waving the White Flag?

New York hasn’t been in the playoffs for quite some time, and it certainly isn’t handling the postseason festivities very well in its return. The Knicks have failed to win two close games down the stretch, have suffered two huge injuries and gave a no-show on their home court Friday night.

Now, down 3-0 in the series, one of their stars is already talking about preparing for next season and beyond rather than Game 4.

“I just don't want to further injure the injury," Stoudemire said on Saturday. "We understand how bright the future is here with the organization... We want to continue that success out here in the next few years, so we don't want to damage anything by overdoing it."

In other words, Stoudemire doesn’t want to sacrifice the future by playing in Game 4 if he isn’t feeling substantially better. With the injury almost guaranteed to not heal itself in less than two days’ time, Stoudemire and the Knicks might wave the white flag in Game 4 by sitting their star power forward. They'd have a tough time forcing a Game 5 if Stoudemire isn't available in Game 4.