It wasn’t easy, but the New York Knicks have advanced to the second round, winning their first round series with the Boston Celtics, 4-2. Consider it a bucket of holy water in a basketball exorcism, the demonic Celtics no longer controlling, possessing the Knicks. After failing to eliminate Boston when the Knicks had the Celtics against the ropes in Games 4 and 5, New York delivered a strong punch for a majority of the game, and even when the Celtics came roaring back, dwindling the Knicks’ lead to dangerously slim proportions, the Knicks came up with the answers: more stops, and more big buckets, just as they’ve done all season.
Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith each came up with some important baskets down the stretch, but it was a team effort, one surely not possible without almost immeasurable contributions from the likes of Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, Tyson Chandler, and Pablo Prigioni. New York’s staunchy defense (they had only given up 49 points through 38 minutes of the game) collapsed at a terrible time, and the crisp offense that wore the Celtics thin through three quarters came to a halt. Boston raged back like only they can, cutting the lead to four, but as displayed throughout the season, this New York team is different. This New York team sewed it back up, plugged the holes, and rode out the victory for the final four minutes of the game.
Here’s a look at the individual performances:
Carmelo Anthony – 40 minutes, 21 points, 7-23 FG, 1-6 3FG, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 3 TOs, +5
In the heat of the Celtics’ furious comeback, with the Knicks desperate for a bucket, Anthony was going to have the ball, and he was going to shoot it, narratives and common sense be damned. ‘Melo misfired rather woefully for a good chunk of the game, and in crunch time it wasn’t very different. The trend was so painfully obvious, too. When ‘Melo worked off the ball, running on little curls to the elbows, launching on clean catch-and-shoots, cutting to the basket, he was scoring successfully. Isolating to the waning moments of the shot clock against a great isolation defense… not so great. However, shooters will shoot, and shoot this Knickerbocker did. After missing some lay-ins and committing some egregious turnovers to fuel the Boston fire, Anthony drew some heady fouls for free throws, hit a typical pull-up jumper from midrange, and later sank a huge three-pointer (off a drive-and-kick, mind you) that put the Knicks up nine in the fourth quarter. Good, but goodness gracious, why must it be so difficult?!
Final Grade: C+
Iman Shumpert – 38 minutes, 17 points, 6-9 FG, 3-3 3FG, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block, +14
Shumpert’s growth in the playoffs has been an absolute joy to watch, and it’s even earned the praises of Doc Rivers. All game long, Shumpert was sniper-like from beyond the arc, at one point nailing a trey in Jason Terry’s grill and then doing the Terry JET back down the floor. He was aggressive on the dribble-drive, too, which made Boston’s defense collapse and allowed other shooters more room. Furthermore, Shump’s sudden re-invigoration on defense provoked perhaps the most critical play to the Knicks’ saving their series: picking a pass and going end to end for a layup that put New York back up by six.
Final Grade: A+
Pablo Prigioni – 23 minutes, 14 points, 5-9 FG, 4-6 3FG, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 TOs, +11
Prigioni flat-out deserved minutes down the stretch when Jason Kidd nearly stumbled the game away with a bevy of mistakes. Prigioni opened the game launching from downtown and connecting at a considerable clip. His defense was a little less pesty than usual, but it was made up for with clever backdoor cuts and the sweetest set shot stroke on the club. We didn’t see Prigioni past the 9:43 mark in the fourth quarter, but a round of applause for his dynamite play until that point.
Final Grade: B+
J.R. Smith – 31 minutes, 13 points, 5-13 FG, 1-3 3FG, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 3 TOs, +2
Smith’s stretch as an indispensable member of the rotation has been temporarily discontinued. For most of the series, Smith’s entrance into the game (especially as the cost of Shump or Prigioni’s playing time) and subsequent poor play was met with a lot of angry SMHs and frustrated hand-tossing. It took three-and-a-half more quarters for Smith took get untracked, and after initially laying down the welcome mat for the Celtics’ comeback with some obliviously lazy passes-turned-turnovers, Smith came up with the big bucket. Following Anthony’s three-pointer to push the lead to nine, Smith came up with a driving and-one to put New York up 12, and effectively seal the game. Still, get your act together next round, J.R.
Final Grade: C-
Raymond Felton – 40 minutes, 11 points, 5-14 FG, 1 rebound, 7 assists, 2 steals, 3 TOs, +13
Felton’s worst game of the series came at a bad time, but honestly, the numbers look worse than the performance did. Felton continued his aggressiveness, and if there was a biggest fault in his game (other than having a hand in the Knicks’ late-game meltdown), it was not shoving Anthony and Smith away from the ball and calling Chandler for more pick-and-rolls. His accuracy on jumpers waned as the Celtics mostly went under screens, but when he pressed into the lane, good things happened. Just please, more pick-and-rolls in the next round, Ray.
Final Grade: B+
Tyson Chandler – 33 minutes, 9 points, 4-8 FG, 12 rebounds, 9 off. rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks, +12
Chandler has gradually worked himself back into the paint-roaming monster he usually is. Unfortunately, Boston covered up most lob opportunities to get Chandler slammin’. This didn’t prevent Chandler from regaining his tap-out stroke on offensive rebounds, or just collecting them himself and finishing on second-chance opportunities. Nothing came easy in the paint for Tyson, and even though it took him a few games to get his playoff legs, he out-played Kevin Garnett in almost all aspects. He has another sizable challenge waiting for him next round in Roy Hibbert (get it? Sizable!).
Final Grade: A-
Kenyon Martin – 17 minutes, 3 points, 1-2 FG, 0 rebounds, 2 blocks, -4
After dominating the early games of the series, Martin has become almost a total non-factor off the bench. Perhaps it was the matchup, perhaps it was Doc Rivers’s ability to exploit Martin’s weaknesses, but the Knicks were usually pounded on offense and non-threatening on defense when Martin took the floor. Zero rebounds in 17 minutes about sums up Martin’s listless effect on this game.
Final Grade: C-
Jason Kidd – 16 minutes, 0 points, 0-1 FG, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 3 TOs, -9
Jason Kidd: What the hell, bro?! It seems that Kidd has yet to have a positive impact on any of these games, and this one may have been the worst. In a game the Knicks mostly led by double-digits, Kidd was a team-low -9. Furthermore, his awful fourth quarter stint played a large hand in the Celtics’ comeback. At this point, if Kidd’s best quality is rebounding, just play Prigioni or Shumpert instead, please.
Final Grade: D+
Marcus Camby – 2 minutes, 0 points, 1 rebounds, -4
Camby is getting minutes over Chris Copeland, which is weird. Who knows how Mike Woodson thinks these days. Oh well, if it means Camby is a healthy option at this point, that’s some nice reassurance.
Final Grade: C
The Knicks will move to the second round for the first time since 2000. Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers is Sunday. AHHHHH!!!!!