One day after the second of the Boston bombers was captured in a city-wide lockdown, The Boston Celtics pulled into Madison Square Garden to take on The New York Knicks. Likely to be the highest-rated matchup of the first-round, the teams did not disappoint, opening the series with an electric back-and-forth first half. The Garden was uproariously loud, erupting every time the Knicks hit a gut-punching 3. Each time New York took momentum, the Celtics seized it back, taking a 53-49 lead into halftime.
Boston came out sluggish in the 3rd quarter, which proved to be a slow, tedious foul-fest in which The New York faithful (I use that term loosely) angrily booed every call against them. The Celtics seemed to be pulling away late with a 7 point lead, but New York came back to cut the lead down to 3 going into the 4th.
The Celtics opened the 4th with stifling defensive pressure but gave up several offensive rebounds, letting NYC back in. Kenyon Martin, who Danny Ainge passed up on mid-season, was huge in the 4th, fueling the Knicks with aggressive rebounding to steal back the momentum. In the end, Boston gave the game away with 5 4th quarter turnovers, carelessly digging an inescapable hole. Jason Kidd had some timely steals and Carmelo Anthony pulled through late, hitting a long 2 and finding Kenyon Martin for the dagger in the last minute, sealing the win.
Carmelo Anthony came into the first-round under more pressure than anyone in The NBA. Of players who've logged more than 15 playoff games and averaged more than 20 ppg, Melo has the worst win-percentage at .315. He's lost in the first round in 8 of 9 appearances, including an embarrassing Celtics sweep and 5 game loss to Miami in his first 2 years as a Knickerbocker. With past failures weighing heavily on his conscience, the star small forward came out scorching, knocking down his first 4 shots for 12 points. However, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass stepped up their physicality and held Anthony to putrid shooting in the middle quarters. Unfortunately, Melo got going again in the 4th, knocking down big shots to finish with 36 points.
Tyson Chandler, who was hampered by neck pain down the stretch, was surprisingly absent in this one. He did not block a shot or even score a point, sitting the entire 4th quarter. With Amare Stoudemire injured and 28 year-old Chris Copeland completely untested, New York needs Chandler to bring his trademark defensive intensity if they hope to topple The Celtics.
Jeff Green was the star of the first half with 20 points, but he struggled in the second and made way too many turnovers (6). Still, I'll take 26 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks from Iron Man.
One of the biggest question marks coming into the postseason, Avery Bradley displayed the good, the bad, and the ugly. He knocked down multiple jump shots and tore the Knick defense apart with his cuts to the basket, but made 4 boneheaded turnovers on nonchalant passes and missed a wide open layup. He settled down in the 2nd half and finished with a strong line of 15 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Most importantly, he was able to find a fine balance between aggression and restraint to manage his fouls.
Having sat out 12 of the last 17 ballgames, Kevin Garnett put our health concerns to rest (for now), moving freely, playing great help-defense, and facilitating from the post with 4 assist. He also threw down a sweet alley-oop slam. He shot poorly at 4-12, but I'm sure Doc is just glad he's healthy.
Brandon Bass was quietly effective. Though he only took 2 shots for 4 points, he pulled down 10 boards and played stout defense on Carmelo.
Paul Pierce struggled with his shot but did a great job setting up teammates with 7 assists. He also hit a sweet in-and out-and in 3 to put The C's up by 7 late in the 3rd, hit 2 late jumpers, and drew 3 critical charges. Alas, he had 6 turnovers, including 2 down the stretch to derail Boston's chances at a road win.
There's no other way to say it: The Celtics bench was downright horrible. Courtney Lee, Jordan Crawford, and Jason Terry shot 0-7 from the field. The Jet was most disappointing, missing 3 crucial 4th quarter 3s. Boston's depth was its achilles heel last year, and could end up costing the team this series.
This was a devastating loss for Boston. The Celtics were in control late in the 3rd but collapsed in the 4th, scoring only 23 in the second half to fumble away the game. The Knicks now have breathing room in Game 2 while Doc Rivers' ball-club know they need the win if they want to have any margin for error through the rest of the series. This loss reminded me of the 2011 series against Miami. The Celtics started strong but just ran out of gas down the stretch, losing every loose ball to the more energetic Knicks. The Knicks took a huge step towards shaking their playoff demons while Boston missed an ideal opportunity to take control of the series.