Because there might be a little rivalry between the two cities when it comes to sports, we’re rooting for — and could see — a New York/Boston first-round matchup. Boston is deadlocked with Chicago for first, and New York is comfortably in the seventh spot, with no reason to believe that the team will be climbing much higher, given its recent slide.
It was fitting, then, that the two teams clashed for an extremely physical battle that felt like playoff basketball on Monday at MSG. The only problem for the Knicks: very few teams have what it takes to play a physical 48 minutes against this Celtics team, and Boston was cool down the stretch as New York collapsed.
The Celtics came from 15 points down in the third, and nine points down with just over seven minutes remaining to win in typical Boston style, 96-86.
The physical play on both ends led to a star from each team being bloodied in the second half. Ray Allen caught an inadvertent elbow to the head from the Knicks Jared Jeffries late in the third quarter as the two both went up for a rebound. Allen was bleeding profusely, and headed to the locker room to get patched up. He returned to the game in the fourth with no stitches, just a big bandage above his right eye covering the wound.
Late in the fourth quarter, Carmelo Anthony went down near half court while bleeding from over his left eye, after colliding with Rajon Rondo while trying to steal a pass.
Physical basketball comes easy to this Celtics team, and while the Knicks tried to play that way for most of the night, they couldn’t sustain it in the fourth quarter when Boston kicked things into another gear. And, the Knicks had no answer for Paul Pierce down the stretch.
Pierce scored 13 points in the final quarter, and did so without missing a shot. He was a perfect 5 of 5 from the field, while converting both of his free throw attempts, and hitting his only attempt from three-point land. He also added two rebounds and two assists in the period.
While Boston went to Pierce time and again late — and shot 70 percent as a team in that final period — the Knicks struggled to get their shots off. Good looks were nonexistent against Boston’s choking defense, and New York managed to hit only four of its 16 shots in the fourth. Overall, the Celtics ran the Knicks out of the gym in the second half, outscoring them by 24 points (59-35) over the final two periods.
It was an epic collapse from the Knicks, but one that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Boston is a championship-caliber team, one with both the talent and the experience to close out games like this. When things got tight, the Knicks had no idea who to turn to as a stabilizing force, and looked completely lost when the Celtics turned up the pressure.
The loss was New York’s sixth in its last seven games, and for a team that thought it was ready to take a step forward after trading for Anthony, it now seems as though they’ll only be able to barely slide into the postseason.
Once they get there, Boston will be waiting to show them a very early exit.