After almost giving up a huge 26-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 6, the New York Knicks managed to hold on for an eight-point victory to close out their opening-round series against the Boston Celtics. This series was about as ugly as you can imagine. The Knicks played horrendous basketball by running way too many isolation plays in an attempt to bully the Celtics and show their superiority. The Celtics played horrendous basketball because they were without Rajon Rondo, who happens to be their only player capable of dribble penetration into the heart of a defense.
The result ended up being the Knicks not taking a wounded Celtics team seriously enough and blowing the chance to give themselves some rest to get healthy before their second- round series against the Indiana Pacers. The Knicks were up 3-0 in this series and just assumed the Celtics were going to lie down after three pathetic showings in the first three games. But Jason Terry finally woke up from his two-year slumber and carried the Celtics to victory in Game 4.
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Eventually, the Knicks righted the ship, which is big for them. It's their first playoff series victory since they beat Tim Hardaway's Miami Heat in the second round of the 2000 playoffs.
Raymond Felton. I'm as shocked to write this as you are to read it. Felton was the most consistent Knick in this series and probably had the best stretch of six games of anybody on the team. He gave them 17.1 points per game on 46.8 percent from the field. He also had 32 assists and just 13 turnovers in the six games.
Carmelo Anthony is the sexier pick because he scored so much, but Felton's steady hand kept the Knicks steady and pushed them through the series. New York was -17.2 points per 100 possessions when Felton was on the bench and +10.6 when he played. The Knicks fell apart without him playing.
Carmelo Anthony. Anthony was frustrating in this series. He did a great job of maximizing the way he scored in key stretches during the second halves of Games 1 and 2 in this series. But shortly after those games, his attack just fell apart and he became the old inefficient scorer his detractors often argued against. He averaged 29.2 points in the series but needed 26.7 shots to get it. He made just 38.1 percent of his shots. The thing that saved his scoring average was getting to the free-throw line 8.2 times per game.
The reason he's the X-Factor for this series is because he was instrumental in taking down the Celtics in the first two games. He nearly matched their second-half totals in those games. He could have played a lot better, and will need to in the next round, but he was enough of a suffocating scorer early on for the Knicks to take control of the series.
The series was over when ...
The Knicks figured out how to not blow a 26-point lead in nine minutes. Iman Shumpert made a shot with 9:48 left in the game to put the Knicks up 75-49. Over the next 4:39 of play, the Celtics went on a 20-0 run to cut the deficit to six points. Shumpert then scored again to end the scoreless run. The lead got down to as little as four points before Anthony scored seven straight for the Knicks as New York pushed it back to the neighborhood of double digits. It was an incredible run fueled by Avery Bradley and Jeff Green that showed the Celtics can always find one last push to make things interesting.
The Game 5 shenanigans. Between J.R. Smith not knowing who Jason Terry is, to Jason Terry daring the Knicks to bring Patrick Ewing back, to Kenyon Martin saying the Knicks would dress in all black for the Celtics' funeral to the Knicks actually dressing in all black when they showed up for Game 5, the fifth game of this series seemed to have all of the unnecessary drama. After the Celtics won the game, Boston's reserves (Jordan Crawford, D.J. White, and Fab Melo) got into a bit of a verbal altercation with Anthony and some of the Knicks' players. It was a great way to pump life into a weird series.
Looking ahead for Boston
What do the Celtics do this offseason? That seems to be the big question in Boston. They have Rondo recovering from a torn ACL and he'll hopefully be ready to come back around the start of the 2013-14 season. But is that enough reason to try to bring this band back together one more time? Will Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce be too old to properly give support to Rondo as he works his way back to his old form? Will the bench be deep enough? Is it time to restructure the roster and rebuild around Rondo?
The Celtics have tough decisions to make on Pierce and KG. Pierce can exercise his player option for 2013-14 but it's only guaranteed for roughly $4 million. If the Celtics want to cut ties with him, they can save about $11 million. But is it worth it from a sentimental standpoint to keep him around so he retires a Celtic? Can they convince Garnett to be traded to another team so they can get assets in return? Will he just retire anyway? Are the Celtics prepared to get rid of their Hall of Fame veterans to give way to Rondo and Jeff Green as their younger core?
The Celtics will also pick 16th in the draft, which is their lowest pick since 2007 when they drafted Green with the fifth pick in the draft and traded him to the Seattle Supersonics for Ray Allen. They also have the 45th pick in the draft. They are way over the salary cap and into the luxury tax. They may try to move Brandon Bass (two years, $13.3 million), Courtney Lee (three years, $16.3 million) or Jason Terry (two years, $10.6 million) to alleviate some roster flexibility.
Looking ahead for New York
If the Knicks thought dispatching the Celtics was a pain in the Knickstape, what are they going to think of trying to beat the Indiana Pacers in a seven-game series? The Pacers were the best defensive team in the NBA this season, giving up just 96.6 points per 100 possessions. The Pacers were also the best team at defending the 3-point shot and any field goal in the NBA. They gave up just 32.7 percent from downtown and 42.0 percent from the field.
That means the Knicks have to be even better at what they did all season long to get their attack from the perimeter going. The Knicks' passing has to be crisp and they can't allow the offensive to get stagnant. They have to attack Roy Hibbert in high pick-and-rolls. If they're going to go small and have David West matched up against Anthony at times, they have to get Melo moving to lose West, instead of just slow isolation plays that bog down the flow.
The two teams split their season series 2-2 and will be reigniting an old rivalry that dates back to when Spike Lee was still making good movies. They last met in the playoffs in 2000 when the Pacers won 4-2. The Pacers and Knicks are 3-3 in six playoff series against each other. And we all remember those great series from the '90s when Reggie Miller was demoralizing the Madison Square Garden faithful.