I know Game 3 of the Knicks-Celtics playoff tilt is less than 24 hours away and the focus of fans and the media has shifted away from the events of Games 1 & 2. I was lucky enough to attend those two contests at the TD Garden in Boston and I wanted to share some of the experiences I had covering the games. I’ll try to spare you analysis of the games themselves as they are sort of old news at this point and Michael and Will already did such a bang up job combing through the details.
When I arrived at 100 Legends Way (A.K.A the grimy back lot behind Boston’s North Station where the the satellite trucks make their home) on Sunday afternoon prior to Game 1, I was struck by how nondescript the arena’s exterior was. For all who haven’t been there, it is essentially a big, brown rectangular block that rests over Boston’s northernmost commuter rail station. In that way it is similar to Madison Square Garden, which hovers above Penn Station. That is about where the similarities end aesthetically speaking.
As the clock moved closer to gametime, the buzz around the TD Garden began to grow. I know I am biased, but it didn’t compare to the energy I have felt covering big events at MSG. Boston is a great sports town, but I obviously feel like nothing touches New York when it comes to the buzz that is created. When me and my reporter finished our pre-game live shots and finally headed inside to get the lay of the land, I was equally unimpressed with the interior of the building as I was with the exterior. Being that the arena was opened in 1995, I really didn’t expect anything different though.
After we found our media seats about 800 miles up from the court the players took the floor – the Knicks followed by the hometown Celts. One thing I immediately noticed was that there was a severe lack of blue jerseys in the raucous crowd. Usually, there is a huge presence of Knicks partisans at away contests, which MSG network so often points out via their crowd shots and through the banter of their broadcasters. Not here though. Despite the close proximity of the two cities, I am sure Knicks fans were hard pressed to acquire tickets from the rabid Celtics fan base. For that, I say god bless the Boston sports public. It’s the way it should be.
As far as the in-game experience, I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere. I’ve been to a lot of other arenas and stadiums where it just doesn’t seem like the fans are that into the game. That was not the case at the TD Garden. They clung to every play and possession. The nervous murmur that rippled through the Celtics faithful when the Knicks took a 12-point lead to the locker room was palpable. Clearly, as the 17 banners that hang from the arena’s ceiling indicate, this fan base has seen some high level hoops over the years and have a healthy hatred for their blue and orange brothers from down I-95. The hatred shined brightly in the 2nd half as the crowd seemingly willed their C’s to victory in the final minutes (with a little help from a few atrocious calls – or non calls as the case may be – from the awful referees).
While covering the Knicks midday shootaround the next day, I had one of the coolest moments I’ve had in the 10+ years covering sports. Following the media availability, where we found out from Mike D’Antoni that Chauncey Billups was “very doubtful” for Game 2, the NY scribes and TV folks lives out what was probably a childhood dream for most of us. The Knicks had retreated to the locker room so the handful of us lingerers grabbed some basketballs from the rack and started hoisting up jumpers in an empty TD Garden. It was mesmerizing. You could hear every bounce of the ball on that unmistakable parquet floor. The sound of a rare swish from the many awful attempts being fired at the rim could be heard from yards away. I almost got lost in euphoria staring up at the rows of championship banners and retired numbers that lined the ceiling. The thing that stuck with me the most about the experience was just how far and NBA 3-pointer is. I know this has nothing to do with the two hoops contests, but it was too cool not to share.
Game 2 on Tuesday brought many of the same range of emotions from the fans and media types taking in the action. When Amar’e Stoudemire went out in the 2nd quarter and Carmelo Anthony started doing his thing, everyone started looking around at each other knowing they were witnessing something special. Personally, having watched Michael Jordan scorch my Knickerbockers more than a time or two, I had a feeling I knew what the Celtics fans were going through. I’d seen Jamal Crawford score 50 points at MSG and witnessed LeBron James’ 50+ point explosion in the Mecca but this performance topped both. Carmelo and a bunch of what seemed like third-stringers fought like hell and almost stole one from an incredulous Celtics squad. It was quite an exhale the crowd let out after Jared Jeffries fumbled the ball out of bounds and allowed Boston to escape embarrassment.
All hope is not lost for the Knickerbockers in this series. I fully expect them to take at least one game at what should be an electric MSG on Friday night. This basketball-starved city deserves a show and it clear to me Carmelo Anthony is capable of being the lead actor on most nights. The performance he logged on Tuesday night shut most of the naysayers up for good I hope. Here’s to hoping another one of those efforts leads to a second trip up to Boston for me, one in which I’ll see the ball (and the balls) bounce in the other direction this time.