At this point, you and I have read every preview and analyzed the series from every possible angle. Hell, we’ve been prognosticating about the team’s playoff chance since mid-February. You don’t need me or anyone else to tell you about the Celtics and how the Knicks match up.
There are, however, a couple of things I wanted to touch on before we settle in with our pillows, blankets and whatever comfort food gets you through a playoff game. As a begrudging resident of Boston I’ve watched almost as many Celtics games as Knicks games. Most of what I’ve seen is no different from their national reputation: they play incredible team defense, they are among the most unpredictable teams in the league in crunch time, and a big game from Rondo and one of Pierce/Allen/Garnett is usually enough for a win.
There’s only one thing I hear from the national media and even the Knicks blogosphere that I find objectionable, and that’s the idea that the Celtics are going to win this series “because they’re the Celtics and they know how to win.” That was true two months ago, but not today. Before the All-Star break I saw this team will its way to wins without its A-game – road back-to-backs, fourth in five nights, etc. They never lost the ability to lock down their opponents into a 15-point quarter to get themselves back into a game when they didn’t have the energy to get to their spots offensively. Never lost it, that is, until the Perkins trade. Since the trade deadline, they haven’t been winning those games that made you say, “Well, they’re the Celtics and that’s how they get to 60 wins every year.” I could point to maybe a half-dozen Celtics games I’ve watched since the trade where a win felt inevitable just because I’d seen it happen so many times…only it never came.
If the Celtics are going to win this series – and I’m not delusional, they are the heavy favorites – it’s going to be because Ray Allen exploded, or because Shaq came back from the dead, or because Billups broke out the air traffic control wands for Rondo, or even because Pierce got the better of Melo. But if you’re a Knicks fan lacking in confidence just because they’re the Celtics, I’m here to tell you these aren’t the Celtics you think they are. Yes, they turned it on last year in the playoffs, although you could argue the Cavs gifted them the Eastern Conference Semis. And yes, they may eke out a game or two on veteran savvy, but the Knicks aren’t losing four games to Boston because of it. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to worry; this isn’t one of them because this isn’t the same team.
Finally – and I think everyone around the net has done a great job with this – I hope we all remember what a reward this series is, that it’s the icing on the cake of a season that legitimized Knicks basketball once again. No one is getting fired over the team’s performance here, and no one deserves to be. (And actually, if they get swept it will probably lead to a nice buyout for Mr. Big Shot, which at least for me would be quite a silver lining.) So, even if the worst happens this week, let’s be classy in defeat and thankful for what we’ve got, and look forward to next season, when we won’t just be happy to be here.