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NBA Playoffs Preview: Celtics-Knicks Playoff History

Carmelo Anthony (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

At 3pm today, the seventh-seeded Boston Celtics will take on the second-seeded New York Knicks in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. This will be the fifteenth playoff series between the two teams, both of which were founding members of the Basketball Association of America back in 1946. Let’s take a look at the postseason history between them:

1951 Division Semifinals: NY won 2-0

In the first of Red Auerbach’s 16 seasons as head coach, the Celtics earned the number 2 seed in the Eastern Division, but were swept in the best-of-three first-round series by guard Dick McGuire and the Knicks, who won both games by 14 points. The Celtics’ best player was center Ed Macauley, a first-team All-NBA who averaged 20.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game that season and was the MVP of the league’s first All-Star Game earlier in the year. The Knicks would go on to win their first Eastern championship before losing game 7 of the Finals to the Rochester Royals.

1952 Divison Semifinals: NY won 2-1

For the second straight season, the second-ranked Celtics took on the third-ranked Knicks. Boston had higher hopes of eliminating the Knicks this year due to the improved play of second-year point guard Bob Cousy, who averaged 21.7 points, 6.7 assists and 6.4 rebounds to go with Macauley’s 19.2 points and 8 rebounds per game. The Celtics won game 1 at home 105-94, and the Knicks evened the series up with a 101-97 win at the old Madison Square Garden. The deciding game 3, at Boston Garden, was a hard-fought, low-scoring affair, with New York prevailing 88-87 after two overtime periods. Once again, the Knicks would go all the way to the Finals, where they lost in seven games to the Minneapolis Lakers.

1953 Divison Finals: NY won 3-1

The Knicks had home-court advantage for this series, having finished the regular season with the East’s best record. The Celtics had knocked off the Syracuse Nationals in the first round for their first ever playoff series win. Once again, Cousy (19.8 ppg, 7.7 apg, 6.3 rpg) and Macauley (20.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg) led the C’s this season, with help from first-time All-Star Bill Sharman and his 16.2 points per game at shooting guard. The home team won each of the first three games, but the Knicks closed it out in game 4 in Boston with an 82-75 win. For the third straight year New York would lose in the Finals, 4-1 against the Lakers.

1954 Round Robin: BOS won 2-0

The 1954 Playoffs featured a novel and short-lived format, with three teams from each division advancing to a double round-robin. Cousy (19.2 ppg, 7.2 apg, 5.5 rpg) and Macauley (18.9 ppg, 8 rpg) helped the Celtics twice beat the Knicks, who were led by season rebounding leader Harry Gallatin and guard Carl Braun. The Celtics were later swept in a best-of-three division final by the Nationals.

1955 Division Semifinals: BOS won 2-1

Cousy (21.2 ppg, 7.8 apg, 6 rpg) and Sharman (18.4 points per game) helped the Celtics prevail over Gallatin and the Knicks, with a decisive 116-109 victory in game 3 in New York. In the division finals, Boston would once again lose to the eventual NBA champion Nationals. This was the fifth consecutive playoff meeting between the Celtics and Knicks, and the last until 1967.

1967 Division Semifinals: BOS won 3-1

In 1967, the Knicks returned to the playoffs after a seven-year drought, led by big man Willis Reed. The Celtics, for their part, had won the last eight, and nine of the last ten NBA championships. 1966-67 was Bill Russell‘s first season as player-coach, following Auerbach’s move to general manager, and the C’s finished second in the Eastern Division, with Russell’s 13.3 points, 21 rebounds and 5.8 assists leading the way alongside Sam Jones‘s 22.1 points per game. While the Celtics had home-court advantage, the visiting team won three of the four games in the series. The Celtics’ championship run would come to an end in the division finals, as Wilt Chamberlain would lead the Philadelphia 76ers to win his first title.

1969 Division Finals: BOS won 4-2

In his final season, Russell still averaged 19.3 rebounds to go with his 9.9 points per game. John Havlicek added 21.6 points, 7 rebounds and 5.4 assists, and Satch Sanders (11.2 ppg, 7 rpg) helped make the Celtics one of the NBA’s best defensive teams. However, they only finished fourth in the East and had to knock off the 76ers before meeting the Knicks for a place in the Finals. Havlicek, Russell and Sanders prevailed over Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier and Reed, with Havlicek hitting the series-winner in a 106-105 game 6 victory. The aging, underdog Celtics would upset the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games to close out a run of 11 championships in 13 years.

1972 Conference Finals: NY won 4-1

Havlicek (27.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 7.5 apg) helped the Celtics to the best record in the Eastern Conference and a first-round win over the Atlanta Hawks, but DeBusschere and Frazier prevailed in the Conference Finals by winning two games in Boston. They would end up losing 4-1 to the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

1973 Conference Finals: NY won 4-3

The Celtics dominated the regular season, going 68-14 as Tom Heinsohn was named Coach of the Year and Dave Cowens had a breakout year, averaging 20.5 points and 16.2 rebounds en route to the MVP Award. Havlicek was still going strong with 23.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game, and Don Chaney and Paul Silas were both named to the All-Defensive Second Team. Once again, DeBusschere and Frazier teamed up to upset Boston in seven games, then prevailed over the Lakers to give the Knicks their second (and, to date, last) NBA championship.

1974 Conference Finals: BOS won 4-1

Havlicek (22.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 5.9 apg for the season) helped the Celtics get revenge by dominating the Knicks in the Conference Finals, ending the careers of Hall of Famers Jerry Lucas and Reed in the process. The C’s would go on to win their twelfth NBA championship over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and the Milwaukee Bucks.

1984 Conference Semifinals: BOS won 4-3

In K. C. Jones’s first season as head coach, Larry Bird earned his first MVP Award after averaging 24.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.6 assists. Kevin McHale (18.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg) was the Sixth Man of the Year and Dennis Johnson was named to the All-Defensive Second Team alongside Bird. Bernard King helped take the series to a decisive game 7, which the Celtics won easily, 121-104. Boston would have a much easier time in the Conference Finals, eliminating the Bucks 4-1, before beating the Lakers in seven games for the NBA title.

1988 First Round: BOS won 3-1

A young Knicks team, featuring Patrick Ewing and Rookie of the Year Mark Jackson, was just able to sneak into the Playoffs, where a much more seasoned Celtics team, led by Bird (career-high 29.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 6.1 apg) and McHale (22.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg) had no problem knocking them off in four games. Boston would then eliminate the Hawks in seven games before losing to the Detroit Pistons in six in the Conference Finals.

1990 First Round: NY won 3-2

Ewing got his payback over Bird (24.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 7.5 apg in 1989-90) and McHale (20.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg), as the Knicks came back from being down 2-0 to eliminate the aging Celtics in the best-of-five series, winning the final game 121-114 at the Boston Garden. That was as far as the Knicks would go, however, as they lost to the eventual champion Pistons in the next round.

2011 First Round: BOS won 4-0

After a long layoff, the Celtics and Knicks met again in 2011. Amar’e Stoudemire helped guide the Knicks to their first playoff appeareance since 2004, and Carmelo Anthony was acquired at the trade deadline. For the Celtics, Kevin Garnett (14.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg) and Rajon Rondo (10.6 ppg, 11.2 apg) both made the All-Defensive First Team. Boston won its two home games by a total of just five points, before sweeping the Knicks with two more comfortable wins in New York. The Celtics would lose to the Miami Heat in five games in the next round.

Breaking down the numbers

Five takeaways from the Celtics-Knicks playoff history:

1. The Celtics have a slim 8-6 advantage over the Knicks in playoff series. That advantage is 33-27 in postseason games.

2. In best-of-seven series, the Celtics are 4-2 versus the Knicks.

3. Of the eight times the Celtics have eliminated the Knicks, they went on to win the championship three times (1969, 1974, 1984).

4. Of the six times the Knicks have eliminated the Celtics, they reached the Finals five times, winning only once (1973).

5. Only seven players currently on the teams’ rosters took part in the 2011 series (five Celtics, two Knicks).

About Nick García - @N_A_Garcia

Nick is the Celtics and college sports editor at Sports of Boston. He writes about basketball, football and anything else that comes his way. Follow him on Twitter @N_A_Garcia

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