The New York Knicks are relevant again, making the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2004. Amar’e Stoudemire helped put them back on the map by signing with them in the offseason and then Syracuse’s own, Carmelo Anthony, solidified that claim after being traded from Denver in February.
Back in the playoffs, New York faces the Eastern Conference’s representative in last year’s NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics.
In the regular season, The Knicks-Celtics matchups possessed an old-school feel to them, with tightly-contested battles. However, the Knicks came away from the four-game season series with no wins to show for their efforts. Anthony has only played in one game of the series so far. And Boston has had a bit of an identity change since the trade deadline as well.
Going into the playoffs, question marks surround both teams. For me, the series will come down to two things:
THE MELO FACTOR
The Knicks are just 14-14 since trading for Anthony. On top of that, the Knicks have not found their groove since dismantling their roster to get Anthony and Chauncey Billups. However, in the playoffs, teams can ride a hot superstar to a series victory. Anthony can put a team on his back and allow them to advance. During a seven-game win streak at the end of the season, Melo averaged nearly 31 PPG. If Melo can find a way to dissect the Boston defense, New York has a chance to get out of the first round. Furthermore, the Knicks go into this series with the best two players on the floor in Anthony and Stoudemire. Can the two of them and the playoff experience of Billups override a thin bench and Boston’s championship pedigree?
WHAT DOES BOSTON HAVE LEFT?
Last season, we saw the Celtics limp to a 27-27 finish to the regular season before finding their mojo and taking the Lakers to a Game 7 in the Finals. This season, the Celtics were efficiently meandering their way through the regular season, despite injuries to a slew of guys. Then, the trade deadline hit and completely changed the makeup of the roster. Danny Ainge traded away tough guy Kendrick Perkins and sparkplug Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green.
Perkins was the defensive rock in the middle for Boston. Intangibly, he brought a nastiness to the Celts that fit right in with the likes of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Krstic and Green aren’t going to do that for them.
While Green and Krstic may provide a little more offense than Perkins, Perkins leaves a void behind him of being able to defend the playoffs’ best big men one-on-one. With defense being a staple of Boston’s teams the past few years, the Celtics players (and fans) were wondering what the identity of their team is at this point.
Luckily for Boston, while the lack of an interior defender like Perkins may come back to haunt them at some point in the playoffs, it will not play much of a role in the series against New York. The Knicks are very perimeter-oriented, leaving Boston very capable of flexing their defensive muscles without Perkins in the paint.
It worries me that the Knicks have played well against the Celtics this year, but haven’t been able to crack the win column. The addition of Anthony and Billups will help, but Boston knows how to get through series like this, even without their best stuff. The Celtics have been to this rodeo before. The Knicks as a team have not been here in a long time and the players on this new-look team have not had enough time to gel.
Celtics in 5.
Matt Dagostino is a Senior Columnist for The Juice Online. He is also a host on the “Young Guns” on Sports Talk 790 The Zone in Atlanta. See more at http://www.790thezone.com/youngguns/