The Knicks have certainly made the first games of their series with the Boston Celtics interesting.
In Game 1, the Knicks were able to take the Celtics to the wire thanks to the stellar offensive play of Amar’e Stoudemire. In Game 2, back spasms limited Stoudemire to four points in only 16 minutes of play, but the game still came down to the final few possessions thanks to a virtuoso scoring performance from Carmelo Anthony.
Carmelo recorded a game-high 42 points and 17 rebounds in game two, and he was an absolute monster from everywhere on the floor. Carmelo shot 8-17 on shots outside of the paint, with four of those shots coming from beyond the arc. Anthony had a few catch-and-shoot opportunities, most of his jumpers were of the tough, contested variety, which makes his shooting performance extremely impressive. Anthony was also able to work inside effectively and crash the offensive glass, and kept constant pressure on the Celtics with his blend of athleticism, shooting touch, and toughness around the basket on offense.
It was a reminder of why the Knicks gave up so much for Carmelo — even with Stoudemire and Billups on the sidelines and no other real scoring threats on the floor for the Knicks, Anthony was able to give the defending Eastern Conference Champions a scare because of his ability to score from anywhere on the floor at any time.
The Celtics were able to overcome Anthony’s onslaught thanks to the play of Rajon Rondo and late-game execution. Game 2 illustrated a fundamental philosophical debate in NBA coaching — after missing a shot, should teams risk giving up a fast-break and crash the offensive boards, or should they give up the chance for a second shot and get back on defense? The Knicks opted to do the former, and outrebounded the Celtics 53-37 despite a lack of size up front.
The Celtics opted to do the latter, and were able to absolutely burn the Knicks in transition. Every time the Knicks turned it over or missed a shot that led to a long rebound, Rajon Rondo and company were off to the races. Rondo was absolutely unstoppable in transition, and was able to get to the basket over and over again — Rondo scored 30 points despite shooting only 1-6 on shots outside of the paint, and 7 of his 13 field goals came in the first seven seconds of a Celtics possession. When the Knicks did manage to stop Rondo in transition, the mismatches the Celtics’ fast tempo created led to easy shots on the secondary break. Mike D’Antoni may be the most well-known advocate of fast-break basketball in the league, but he watched his team get torched in transition in Game 2.
In the final moments of the game, the Celtics’ superior execution proved the difference once again. After Carmelo Anthony hit an impossible three to put the Celtics up three points with 2:36 remaining, Doc Rivers called a time out and instructed the Celtics to double team Anthony whenever he touched the ball, wherever he was. His gambit worked, and the Knicks came up empty on their next three possessions.
With 19 seconds to go, Jared Jeffries was able to get open off an Anthony double-team and lay the ball in to put the Knicks up one, but Rivers again had an answer. He called a post-up for Kevin Garnett, who went right at Jeffries and took and made his first go-ahead field goal in the final seconds of a game since becoming a Celtic. The Knicks then forced the ball out of Anthony’s hands on the ensuing possession, rotated to Jeffries when he caught the pass, picked off a pass intended for Bill Walker, and took a 2-0 series lead.
The Knicks now find themselves in the same position as the Pacers — they played extremely well and gave the favorite a scare, but will still need to win the next game to keep any realistic hope of advancing. One advantage the Knicks will have is that Madison Square Garden will be a madhouse if the game goes anything like the first two games of the series did — if the Knicks can get healthy and play a full 48-minute game against the Celtics, they’ve shown they’re capable of tying up the series before it goes back to Boston.