I guess the good news about these next two games is the Knicks won’t have to face .500-ish struggling to make the playoffs and playing their hearts out to beat a more talented team. Instead, they just have to play elite teams who are cruising to the playoffs and play their hearts out to beat a less talented team. Oh, crap.
Still, I’m as excited for these next two games as any since the Melo trade because now, finally, we get to find out what we really have with this team. I’ve talked incessantly about their ability to flip the intensity switch to suddenly morph themselves into a playoff winner; we’ve seen it in patches lately – like the third quarter yesterday – but never over a whole game. I wasn’t a supporter of the Melo trade but I’ve adamantly stated that these new Knicks have the power to turn it on when necessary. Well, now we get to find out if I’m right. If the Knicks still don’t defend, if Carmelo keeps reacting to screens like he’s velcroed to Kevin Garnett’s chest, if Ray Allen comes open time and again with the closest Knick wearing warm-ups and sitting in a folding chair, we’ll know the truth about this team. We can call the coroner and make an appointment for late April.
If they can’t bring it tonight, they can’t bring it at all. They have responded before in these situations – and not just with energy, but with ball movement, defense and discipline – but that was before the trade, and after watching these last few games, it’s possible this new group can’t cultivate the chemistry the old team had. I think they’ll respond, but it’s anyone’s guess.
Tonight’s game starts at 7:30PM, and you can catch it on NBA TV if you’re not local. My cable company tragically took away my NBATV last week and I am thus forced to watch the CSN New England feed with Mike Gorman, whose disdain for other parts of the country is so casual you almost miss it, and Tommy Heinsohn, who is raising his third generation of young Bostonians who are convinced that the referees are biased against the Celtics, all in the name of schlocky cranky-old-man commentary. They’re celebrating 30 years behind the mics together, and all I can say is if they worked in New York – the only place where you can’t call players by their first names no matter how in love with Glen Davis you are – they wouldn’t have made it 30 days.
Boston’s projected starters are Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett and Krstic. I remember Krstic from his days with the Nets; I’m mostly unfamiliar with the other guys but I don’t think we should take them lightly.
It appears both teams are catching each other at the right time, as the Celtics recently suffered an embarrassing loss to Houston and then needed a furious comeback to defeat New Orleans, totaling just 166 points over the two games. As a team they look a little tired and appear to have packed it in to prepare for the playoffs. Of course Boston is an elite team, so by that I mean “They’ve still trying really hard to win every game and actually have to stop themselves from overexertion.” As opposed to the Knicks, who appear to define “pack it in” a little differently.
Like the Knicks, the C’s are facing some rotation questions of their own. Boston’s New Big Three of Carlos Arroyo, Sasha Pavlovic and Troy Murphy all registered DNP-CD’s against the Hornets, and still the Celtics managed to win. They’re either being rested for the playoffs, or they’re all horrible – you get one guess.
Speaking of Troy Murphy, I love talking to people from Boston who think their love for Brian Scalabrine had nothing to do with the fact that he was white. No city is in more denial about its love for white athletes than Boston – there’s a lot of living vicariously through them out of some white underdog fantasy – and the way they’ve adopted Murphy (sorry, “Murph”) as their new white American hero has been hilarious to watch. They’re basically reenacting scenes from An Officer and a Gentleman together. Seriously, listen to the Boston crowd next time Troy Murphy shoots a three. It’s the sound you would hear if the Patriots and Red Sox were about to win championships at the same time. And then, when it rims out, the groan sounds like Danny Woodhead accidentally ran over Dustin Pedroia.
Finally, what I’ll be watching for tonight is the contrast in defensive styles. About the only thing these two teams have in common defensively is that their shot-blocking is inversely proportional to their overall defensive ability: the Celtics won’t block many shots but allow the fewest points in the league by simply staying long and contesting penetrators at the rim. They also show hard on high screens and make offenses start from as far away as possible, burning up as much of the shot clock as they can. They also don’t crash the offensive glass in an effort to put the clamps on opponents’ transition games.
As you can see, I hate the Celtics. This post could’ve been a thousand words longer with all things I despise about them. I guess it’s just my way of saying how much I respect this team and the way they play. This is a great litmus test for our Knicks, and one way or another, I think tonight will be highly informative. Enjoy the game, if possible, and Mike will have the recap for you this evening.