Welcome to our two-part breakdown of the New York Knicks/Boston Celtics round one series. Joe Caporoso and Chris Celletti decided to talk out their concerns, the match-ups and ultimately give their predictions on what will happen starting this Saturday. Read on for part two and click here for part one
CC – Before we get to Melo, you make a great point about composure in this series. It wouldn’t shock me if the Celtics, knowing that they’re the underdogs, try to go full on with the mind games, with Garnett of course being the ringleader.
But yes, this all comes back to Melo. There isn’t a player in the league with more pressure on him this postseason. The media and some “Knicks fans” are waiting with bated breath for him to fail so they can be all “See, I told you so”. But it’s a little warped in that the farther the Knicks go, I think the pressure on Melo lessens. Because of that the spotlight on him this round is going to be blinding. Putting it simply, the dude has to find a way to get out of this round. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have had better careers than him, but Melo is the reigning scoring champion and the best, in-prime player in the series and it’s not really close. Often times in the NBA it’s enough to just have the best player, and Melo needs to make the fact that the Knicks have it mean something.
Anthony really should have plenty of opportunities to dominate on offense. Nobody on the Celtics can check him one-on-one. If they try, he should be able to score at will. Doc Rivers knows this, so he’ll likely throw double and triple teams his way, which is something Melo has seen all season and had done a fine job adjusting to. When the Celtics do double, it will be up to the Knicks’ perimeter shooters to continue what they did in the regular season, knock down threes. While things will revolve around Melo as they should, I think the shooting of J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Steve Novak will be nearly as important. The open looks have to be made.
What are you expecting out of our fearless leader this series?
JC - I think you said it well, Carmelo MUST get out of this series. He had a pass the previous two years because of the crap supporting cast around him (Shawne Williams? Roger Mason? Mike Bibby? Anthony Carter?!) but this season the Knicks are a well-rounded, deep team that has the necessary supporting weapons for ‘Melo. There is no reason to think he won’t continue his recent torrid streak of offensive output. Yes, the Boston defense can be tough but if Anthony plays the way he has played all year, which is patient and correctly assessing when to pass out of the double team in the post, the Knicks offense will be fine led by him. Anthony is the best player out there and isn’t really close right now. He has home-court advantage. He is playing the best basketball of his career and would be a viable MVP candidate if LeBron wasn’t around. Get the job done, don’t get frustrated by the officials or Kevin Garnett’s head games and get your team into the second round.
I have more concern about Anthony’s supporting cast in this series, Raymond Felton has been a barometer of the team’s success this season and the Knicks can’t afford him to have an ice-cold series. JR Smith has been a revelation this year but if he starts out struggling, will he go into the tank? You like to think the presence of Jason Kidd will always be able to help calm things for the Knicks offense and that nobody will go off the rails too much but I always worry about a team who lives and dies by three as much as the Knicks do.
I think if the Knicks even get a solid “B” effort out of Felton and Smith, they win in 6 games. Outside of ‘Melo who do you think could make or break this series for the Knicks?
CC – I think Smith is a bit of an x-factor. If he plays like he did during most of the 15-2 season-ending stretch, he’s nearly as tough a cover for the Celtics as Anthony is. Remember back on March 26 when the Knicks handled the Celtics easily in Boston, Smith dropped 32 points on an efficient 13-of-24 shooting. He’s proved to be a tough matchup for Boston.
Smith proved late in the year that if he wants to get to the basket, he will, and I think that will be available to him all series if he so chooses. If you’re Mike Woodson, you have to be drilling into Smith’s head that he has to take the ball to the hole and be aggressive right from the get-go of this series. The Celtics are well-coached enough and will be focused so much on Anthony that there will be a few games in this series where Melo doesn’t completely go off. Whether or not the Knicks can win some of those games may very well rest on the shoulders of Smith. So you said if the Knicks get a solid “B” effort from Felton and Smith, they’ll win in 6. Can we book that as your official series prediction?
JC - That would be it. It is immensely critical that the Knicks take care of business at home to start this series. You don’t want to head back to Boston tied 1-1. The Knicks have the talent to make this a 5 game series but I certainly won’t bank on them making it that easy and relaxing for all of us. This has the feel of a 6 game series, where the Knicks grab a couple of 7-12 point wins, Boston steals a couple of close games, the Knicks win a tight one and then ultimately put the hammer down before being forced back to Madison Square Garden for a game 7. It would be a major disappointment to lose this series. There is a reason the Knicks are a 2 seed and Boston is a 7 seed. Do you share my confidence or I am just a delusional homer who is discounting the magic of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett’s UBUNTU?
CC - You’re definitely not a delusional homer (except for maybe in some of your Jets coverage). I’m going with Knicks in 7. I think home court advantage will be a factor in this series. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that the home team wins every game in the series. I’m not saying that’s likely, but I think it’s possible, and the Knicks went 31-10 at home this season. They’re comfortable shooting at those MSG rims. Ultimately, I think the Knicks go as far as Anthony takes them and I expect him to put up a few really big games. If he can win them two games by himself, I think the Knicks’ three-point shooting has been consistent enough all season to the point where it should win them another two games.
But it’s not going to be easy. These games are going to be close. Doc is a great coach, and Pierce and Garnett are tough SOBs who would love nothing more than to knock the Knicks off. I fully expect at least a few Pierce daggers that make us all want to put holes through our respective walls. The Celtics will be tough to beat in their building, but so will the Knicks.
The past two seasons it’s been nice to have playoff basketball back at MSG. Now, however, it’s about winning.