The NBA playoffs return to the heart of New York, to Madison Square Garden Friday night after seven long years away and will be welcomed back like the prodigal son.
Celebrities will ring the court — including Spike Lee in some all-orange disaster of an outfit — and profanity-laced chants will rain down on the Celtics. There will be real energy, real passion, real optimism, a real New York feeling that the NBA playoffs have sorely missed. Carmelo Anthony bullied his way out of Denver to be here for it and told ESPN New York this will be, um… well, he can’t use the word he wants to for a description.
“I’m pretty sure it will be crazy,” Carmelo Anthony said. “I think crazy is an understatement but that’s the word I’m going to use right now.”
The only thing this hyped and with this many injuries in New York in the last seven years was Spider-man the Musical. New Yorkers are just hoping they like Friday night’s show better.
The Knicks have landed two solid punches on the Celtics in the first two games, one from Amar’e Stoudemire in Game 1, another from Carmelo Anthony in Game 2.
In both cases the Celtics staggered, found their footing, then executed better at the end and got the wins. The Celtics played like a team with a ring — getting Ray Allen a key late-game shot — the Knicks closed out games like a team that has missed the playoffs for seven years. When Jared Jeffries is taking your clutch shots in the final minutes, you’re doing it wrong.
To do it right, the Knicks need to get healthy.
Stoudemire is expected to go, although don’t expect him to do any pregame dunks this time. That would help, although at some point he and Carmelo need to play together and not next to each other for the Knicks to truly evolve. Chauncey Billups seems unlikely but is officially a game-time decision. (Shaquille O’Neal is a no for Game 3 for Boston, there is a slight chance he plays on Easter.)
Expect the Celtics to be physical with Stoudemire early — they are physical with everyone in the paint but they will step that up a little to test Amar’e early. Also, Carmelo Anthony can expect hard double teams early as Boston does not what him to get going — make someone else beat them.
Where the Knicks need to beat them — where this game will be decided — is in the paint and on the glass. The Knicks were the better, stronger team inside in Game 2 and that as much as ‘Melo’s heroics was the reason the Knicks had a shot at the end. A shot Jeffries had to take, but a shot nonetheless.
If you’re looking for a Knicks killer, watch Ray Allen. He is 7-of-9 from three in this series, he has his stroke back. Expect Rajon Rondo to get him the ball more… well, you should expect that. But Rondo has been a little unpredictable lately. Which is another thing to watch.
Kevin Garnett has to be big, but he needs to get some help. Jermaine O’Neal was a huge factor in Game 1 and a ghost in Game 2. They need him to control the paint, they need to turn the Knicks into jump shooters.
Toney Douglas and ‘Melo can get hot and drain those jumpers, and when then do Madison Square Garden will explode. But it is not a sustainable way for the Knicks to win.
The Knicks have to win. It is must win, and desperate teams often find a way. Or, this could be Spider-man the Musical.
The only thing we know for sure is that in a series that has been crazy and loud, the volume is about to go up.