NBA Playoffs: The Celtics survive the Knicks

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Well, it’s been an interesting first round so far, hasn’t it? The Knicks were the latest underdog to give the home team a lot more than it bargained for in the series opener, and they were probably one shot away from stealing a game in Boston on Sunday. Unfortunately for them, poor late-game execution cost them game one, but they were still able to show the Celtics that they are more than capable of making this a very tough series for Boston. Some quick takeaways:

The good news for the Knicks: Amar’e Stoudemire was the best player on the floor for much of the game. The Celtics couldn’t stop Stoudemire’s inside-out game, which was nearly perfectly balanced: Stoudemire made 6 of his 9 jump shots and 6 of his 9 shots inside the paint. The bad news? The Knicks apparently completely forgot about that late in the game, and Stoudemire wasn’t touching the ball or involved in any way on the Knicks’ final possessions.

Boston was essentially the polar opposite of the Knicks down the stretch — while the Knicks relied on off-the-dribble jumpers and basic isolation play, Boston won the game thanks to two straight well-executed sets out of time-outs. The first set got Kevin Garnett a quick alley-oop dunk to cut the lead to one with 37 seconds to play; the second got Ray Allen a clean look at the go-ahead three with 11 seconds remaining when New York had no timeouts. There aren’t many ways around it: Mike D’Antoni was flat-out outcoached.

The Celtics should have two main worries coming out of this game: Rajon Rondo’s ineffectiveness and their lack of depth. Ray Allen was the only member of the Fantastic Four that shot well, but you can forgive off shooting nights from Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett since they rely on jump shots so much. Rondo isn’t a jump shooter or a volume shooter, but he’s historically been one of the most efficient scoring guards in the NBA. It’s no secret that the Celtics are an entirely different animal offensively when Rondo is on his game than they are when he isn’t — a 5-14 night isn’t how you want to see Rondo start the series off.

What may be even more troubling is Boston’s lack of depth. Glen Davis is Boston’s only reliable bench player, and he went 1-8. Jeff Green has been a disaster. Injuries have prevented Delonte West from getting into any kind of a groove this season. Nenad Krstic played for four minutes, missed a wide-open mid-range shot badly, and was promptly asked to sit down again. New York’s bench outscored Boston 23-8, and New York isn’t supposed to have a bench. That’s something to worry about for the Knicks.

The Knicks had a great shot to win a road game, and they let it slip through their fingers. Those losses are never easy to bounce back from, especially if the injury Chauncey Billups suffered at the end of game 1 will have an impact on his status for the rest of the series. Still, they now know that they can hang with the Celtics for 48 minutes, and they just might be able to give them a real run for their money in this series.