The New York Knicks will be heading back home regardless of today’s Game 4 outcome, but will the Celtics be making the trek too?
If the Knicks want to make things easier on themselves, then this is a must win. Their advancement to the Eastern Conference Semis is all but a formality, and with Indiana throwing away a game in Atlanta last night, a leg up can be had on rest. With the veteran New York roster, making sure everyone is fresh and ready to go next round will be crucial to a championship run.
Even without J.R. Smith, we know that the Knicks are a much better team at this point, but Boston is not going to roll over and die for New York. Doc Rivers and the Celtics are a mentally tough team and will no doubt be leaving everything they have left in their tank on the floor. No NBA team has ever come back after going down 3-0, but the Boston veterans will pretend that they’ve never heard that before.
So what do the Knicks have to do to wrap this series up? Seemingly, 81 points should do the trick, but I have a feeling the Celtics offense will pack a little more punch in this win or go home situation. Boston knows that they have a chance to keep up on the scoreboard in Smith’s absence, but they’ll only put up as many points as Paul Pierce allows them to. The trusty vet is shooting only 41% from the field through the first three games, which needs to come way up if the Celtics are going to get a win.
We preached all year about how important the Knicks depth is, and today’s game it will prove to come in handy even more so. Somebody is going to need to fill J.R.’s shoes, and while we’re on the topic, did J.R. Smith’s elbow really warrant a one-game suspension? I mean, wasn’t the ejection enough?
Smith’s absence means more time on the floor for Iman Shumpert, who showed flashes of his dominant rookie year in Game 3, tallying three steals in a defensive clinic. It also means extended time for the two point guard set of any combination of Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, and the rising Pablo Prigioni. The rhythm should be flowing offensively with this lineup on the floor, but today’s X-factor is Steve Novak. He has only been on the floor for an average of 10:24 per game, but today he’ll be relied upon heavily to spread the floor for the rest of the team. Look for Mike Woodson to try and get him going in the first half as he tries to account for some of the points lost through J.R.
Still, the NBA Playoffs always come down to defense and this game will be no different. If the Knicks can lock down the way they have through the first three games, then they won’t even notice that Smith is gone.