Tyson Chandler, looking rusty after missing a lot of time with a bulging disc in his neck, wasn’t himself. The New York Knicks count on him to be a defensive force that owns the paint and get a few points off pick-and-rolls, but he wasn’t really doing either.
So Mike Woodson turned to his bench and found Kenyon Martin, who the Knicks picked up off the NBA free agent scrap pile a few weeks before. Martin provided the presence in the paint the Knicks needed (two blocked shots), capped off by stopping a Jeff Green layup late then catching a pass from Carmelo Anthony at the other and making a dagger layup.
Doc Rivers needed help from his bench as well and he got 0-of-7 shooting. He got arguably Jason Terry’s worst game as a Celtic. Which is saying something.
That was a key difference in Game 1 — a New York win — that could become the story of the series.
While we all had a good time poking fun at the Knicks age on the bench, enough of those senior citizens came though to help fuel the Knicks playoff win. That bench gives Mike Woodson options that Doc Rivers just didn’t have in the other locker room.
The age of the Knicks bench has shown this season — they let 40-year-old Kurt Thomas go and 38-year-old Rasheed Wallace retired. Then there is 35-year-old rookie Pablo Prigioni who had started to play a key role for this team but is out with a sprained ankle.
But Woodson still had Martin and Jason Kidd he could count on for quality minutes. Kidd played 35 solid minutes off the bench, scoring eight points and making a couple big plays, particularly anticipating on the defensive end. Even Doc Rivers was singing his praises after the game, via John Schuhmann at NBA.com.
“He beats everyone with his brain,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said afterward. “If you think quicker than a guy can move, you’re still quicker. That’s why he’s there first, because he thought what the guy was going to do before he did it. He’s just a valuable player to have on a basketball team.”
Rivers could have used a guy like that.
Rivers only went to three guys off his bench — Courtney Lee, Jordan Crawford and Terry — and none of them produced. They had four points, all on Lee free throws. They had six rebounds, zero assists and one turnover. And notice there is not a big man among that group — Rivers had to go small. He misses Jared Sullinger (out for the season with back issues) a lot.
Rivers simply doesn’t have game-changing options off the bench. Woodson has a few guys who could step up on any given night.
And that may be the key difference in this series.