As the No. 2 seed in the East, and most of the squad healed up after a late season battle with injuries, the New York Knicks look poised to end their postseason drought against the Boston Celtics Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Boston swept New York in the first round in 2011, Knick forward Carmelo Anthony’s first playoff series with the club since he was acquired from Denver. New York’s last win over the Celtics in the playoffs also came in the first round, by way of center Patrick Ewing’s 31 points and 10 rebounds in the series clincher in 1990.
Anthony became the second Knick in franchise history to win the scoring title, despite sitting out the last two games of the season with a shoulder knock. At 28.7 points per game, Anthony propelled the New York offense, especially with his blistering performances in April. In the final month of the regular season, Anthony averaged 36.9 points on 53.8 percent shooting and 9.9 rebounds.
Sixth Man of the Year candidate J.R. Smith carried the offense when Anthony was out with a knee injury in March. Smith totaled 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.25 steals a game this year.
But the Knicks also rose to the top tier of the East with a defense that allowed 95.7 points a game, good for seventh in the league. Center Tyson Chandler assured he would be ready for the playoffs by sitting out the last six games of the regular season. A neck injury sidelined the first-time All-Star and Knick rebound leader for 16 games this season.
Along with Chandler, late season spark plug Kenyon Martin will make his return against Boston. The 35-year-old averaged 8.4 points and 5.5 rebounds in March, but played only three games in April due to a sprained left ankle. One Knick big still sidelined is Amar'e Stoudemire, who head coach Mike Woodson said may not return at all for the Boston series after knee surgery.
Like the Knicks, Boston has dealt with injury issues all season. Many pegged the Celtics season as over when point guard Rajon Rondo tore his ACL, and trade rumors swirled about team president Danny Ainge considering a reset, but Boston held its ground and picked up the No. 7 spot.
New York will need all the size they can muster against Boston’s Kevin Garnett and Jeff Green. The always-volatile Garnett averaged 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game this season, while Green showed glimpses of how he can take over games en route to 12.8 points and 38 percent shooting from three.
The one certainty in this series is an offensive battle between Anthony and Boston’s Paul Pierce. Now in his 15th season, Pierce continues to be the heart of the Celtics offense with a team-leading 18.6 points, and picked up a role as player maker with a career-high 4.8 assists per game.
In Rondo’s absence, guards Jason Terry and Avery Bradley were asked to step up. Terry has struggled in his first season with the Celtics, but Bradley has become one of the better defensive stoppers since returning from a shoulder injury from last season.
The game tips-off at 3 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast by ABC.
Betting Odds: New York is favored by 7 points.
Over/Under: 190 points
Prediction: Anthony and Smith could pour it on early to force the Celtics to tire from a comeback. But Boston does have enough perimeter defenders to hold down Smith, and chase down New York’s shooters in Steve Novak and Jason Kidd. The game will be closer until late the fourth and New York will pull away.
Predicted Score: New York 95, Boston 87