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Boston-New York Rivalry Hits The Hardwood: Celtics-Knicks Series Preview

Kevin Garnett and Amar'e Stoudemire battle for a loose ball in their tough matchup on March 21, 2011 (Jeyhoun Allebaugh/NBAE/Getty Images)

It’s not Jets versus Patriots and it’s definitely not Yankees versus Red Sox, but when the Knicks (42-40) take on the Celtics (56-26) in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, it’s going to be yet another chapter in the war between Boston and New York. Two of the greatest sports cities in the country, who absolutely loathe everything about the other, will take their rivalry to the hardwood in the most intriguing first round playoff matchup.

So, what is it that makes this series so interesting? Well it could be the fact that these two historic clubs are heading into the playoffs in two totally different ways after some midseason reconstruction. The Celtics, as we all know traded away five players in multiple deals, most notably their defensive anchor Kendrick Perkins. The Knicks on the other hand traded away six players in two deals to acquire superstar Carmelo Anthony.

The Knicks are coming into the playoffs having gone 7-3 in their last 10 games. The Celtics in that same stretch are 5-5. I know, I know, the last two games of the season featured a whole lot of backups for Boston, but they still have struggled down the stretch and are backing their way into the playoffs.

The Regular Season Matchups

Boston and New York faced off four times in the regular season and the Celtics won every single time, but here’s the kicker. Aside from the final game of the season that featured mostly backups, the Knicks have played the Celtics well.

The first two matchups of the season were decided by four points or fewer, including a game on December 15 when the captain Paul Pierce capped a 32 point night with a fadeaway over stoudemire for the win. When the two teams met at MSG on March 21, it was the first time they met since the trades and the Knicks lead for most of the game but let things slip away in the fourth. It’s THAT game from late March that I believe is the most candid example of what we should expect in this series.

The game was a bloodbath so to speak. Three players ended up leaking in what looked like a streetball game at New York’s famous Rucker Park. The Celtics would flip the switch and up their defensive intensity late to lead them to a 33-17 advantage in the fourth quarter and a win.

Keys to Series

It is that defensive intensity that will make the difference in this best of seven series. If the Celtics can play defense like we have come to expect from then and maintain that defensive intensity they’ll be just fine. The Knicks had the second best offense this season with a 106.5 points per game average. Their coach Mike D’Antoni is an offensive minded coach as we’ve seen from his days in Phoenix and he loves the run and gun style of play. The Celtics will need to slow things down and limit the opportunities for the Knicks to get out and run to spark the offense.

As far as the Celtics offense goes, they should be able to score. The other side of D’Antoni’s system is that you’ll never see any of his teams leading the league in defense. The Celtics should be able to get to the basket and get relatively easy points if they keep attacking the paint.

Finally the Celtics are going to have to win the in-between game. They’re going to have to win the hustle game. That should go without saying because once you get to the playoffs, it’s the little plays that make the difference and talent will only get you so far. The Celtics haven’t won many of those battles late in the season and will need to recapture a sense of urgency and desire to fight for loose balls. It was a superman dive from Kevin Garnett back in that game on March 21 that helped fuel the Celtics to a victory. More of that will be just what the doctor ordered.

Players to Watch

  • Rajon Rondo – The Celtics are 36-6 when Rondo has 10 assists or more in a game. His energy and intensity will be key to a Celtics win. How Rondo goes, so go the Celtics. If he’s not in diva mode and is distributing the ball and keeping everyone involved, expect things to go Boston’s way.
  • Jeff Green – Since the trade of the beloved Kendrick Perkins, Jeff Green has been under a microscope. C’s fans are waiting to see what this guy can do and if he was worth losing part of the team’s foundation. Now is his time to rise to the occasion. If he can have himself a series and perform under the bright lights of the playoffs, maybe some will be able to let go of Perk and embrace the new forward.
  • Carmelo Anthony – This one’s pretty obvious. He was brought to New York after the “Melo Drama” and everyone is looking for him to lead the Knicks, alongside Amar’e Stoudemire, deep into the playoffs. “Melo” is one of the top offensive players in the league and is perfectly capable of hitting the big shot. Finding a way to limit his scoring would be in Boston’s best interest.
  • Chauncey Billups – All I have to say is “Mr. Big Shot.” Billups has plenty of playoff experience and is always capable of hitting that big shot to break your back in a playoff series. Expect his leadership and veteran presence to come into play.

The Prediction

This series should be very interesting and I wouldn’t be surprised with either team winning. There will plenty of fighting, clawing and intensity. We should see some old school basketball in this one, but in the end I think the Celtics do enough on defense to get them past the new look Knicks.

Celtics win the series 4-2 and move on to the second round.

About Brian Moller - @Brian_Moller

Hi I'm Brian Moller and I am addicted to sports. I love everything that involves my Boston sports teams. I'm pursuing a career in sports journalism. I've been lucky enough to have done internships at Comcast SportsNet New England and WHDH 7 News in the sports department. During those internships I've been in the locker room and on the field talking to some of Boston's biggest stars. I also host my own ridiculous sports talk show on my town's local access channel called Sports Ch@t. Hope you enjoy my writing and hopefully I'll be coming through your TV someday.

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