For this fan, Saturday brought back memories of the mid-to-late 1990s. Even though I was just a kid back then, I remember vividly many afternoons watching the New York Knicks in knock-down, drag ‘em out playoff games. Back then, they won a lot of those games, while the past two playoff cameos by the franchise has been wrought with losses. What reminded me most about the 90s from Saturday’s Game 1 was the wild range of emotions contained in a three-hour span. Judging by the Madison Square Garden crowd (reminding the NBA that it’s the hands-down best in the biz) many Knicks fans were right there with me.
When Carmelo Anthony hit his first four shots and had The Garden off it’s rocker, I felt like the Knicks would never lose again. When Avery Bradley was canning jump shots and made a bunch of uncontested layups, I had convinced myself that I was about to give up this whole watching basketball thing because it was all nonsense.
But that’s what the NBA Playoffs are all about, swings of momentum and emotion. Teams play both poorly and badly within the same game. The Knicks did a bunch of good and bad in the game, as they will in every game as long as this playoff run lasts. Here were some of those from Game 1:
An uplifting thing – They won! No, really. The Knicks simply finding a way to get up 1-0 in this series is huge for obvious reasons. For the Knicks, it’s been over a decade since the team led in a playoff series. Winning Game 1 and holding serve at home means that the Knicks have to lose four out of the next five games in order to NOT get back to MSG for a Game 7. I’m not saying the Knicks want this thing to go seven, but if it does you know you’re in your own building. And the Knicks have been very, very good at home.
A disconcerting thing – The Celtics checked Melo well, and it destroyed the Knicks’ ball movement. Yes, he had 36 points, and made big plays down the stretch, but credit Doc Rivers for trusting Jeff Green and Brandon Bass to guard Melo one-on-one. Both Green and Bass did a consistently excellent job of forcing Melo to receive the ball much further out than he would have liked, and they didn’t send needless double teams. Melo has passed well out of doubles this season (with the supporting cast that makes teams pay for doubling him), but the Celtics trusted their one-on-one D on the Knicks’ top dog. Because they didn’t send doubles, the Knicks were very stagnant on offense, especially in the first three quarters. However…
An uplifting thing – Melo closed. He hit his last four shots and his lone assist of the game was a dagger, hitting Kenyon Martin on the block with a 45-foot laser, through a double team on a pick-and-roll. This is why you make the trade the Knicks made for Anthony a million times out of a million. Often times the playoffs comes down to which team has the best player in the series. The Knicks have that advantage with Anthony, and will have it against anyone in the East not named the Heat. On top of that, in close, tight games you need guys who are going to get you two points when you absolutely need it, and Anthony is as good as anyone in the league at that.
A disconcerting thing – Tyson Chandler looked either still injured or out of game shape. Hopefully it’s the latter. I think the Knicks can actually get out of this series without a great contribution from Chandler. You don’t want Martin playing too many minutes for fear his knee might disintegrate at some point, but Martin totally outplayed Chandler in Game 1. For some reason I’m not sure I can explain, perhaps Martin just works more for the Knicks when they play the Celtics. I don’t know. I do know that the Celtics are damn near impossible to run a pick-and-roll against when the two defending it are Kevin Garnett and Avery Bradley, and that’s where Chandler excelled this year offensively. They’ll need him healthy and playing well if they want to go far, though.
An uplifting thing – The Knicks allowed just 25 second half points, and eight in the fourth quarter. The Celtics had the same amount of turnovers in the fourth as they did points. When you do that, you’re not going to win too often.
A disconcerting thing – Even with that dominant defensive second half, the Knicks won by just seven. Boston, the least efficient offensive team in the playoffs, scored 53 points in the first half.
An uplifting thing – The Knicks allowed 26 points to Jeff Green, 15 to Avery Bradley, were coaxed into a slogged down, defensive game, withstood a bunch of crappy calls (which occurred both ways, yes), only scored 85 points and won. While a lot of the narrative coming from the Celtics side of things is that they can play a lot better, so can the Knicks.
Overall, the Knicks should obviously be content with a 1-0 series lead and holding on to home court advantage. But many expect this to be a close series, and if the Celtics win Game 2 the entire tenor of things changes.