The New York Knicks, defensive juggernaut?
You certainly wouldn't have used those words to describe Carmelo Anthony & Co. in the regular season. But on Saturday, they applied.
The Knicks suffocated the Boston Celtics in the second half at Madison Square Garden, propelling them to a Game 1 win 85-78. New York held Boston to 25 points after halftime, and just eight points in the fourth quarter.
"We were as solid as we’ve been all year from a defensive standpoint," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said.
And the timing couldn't have been better.
The Celtics torched the Knicks for 53 points on 53 percent shooting in the first half. Jeff Green in particular had his way, pouring in 20 points to give Boston a four-point lead after two quarters.
So what changed in the second half? "We just manned up," Knicks forward Kenyon Martin said.
Really, the second-half dominance was a result of the Knicks taking away the paint and taking advantage of sloppy play from the Celtics. Boston scored 22 points in the painted area in the first half, but just eight points in the second half. And the Celtics committed eight of their 21 turnovers in the fourth quarter.
"It was just a matter of us wanting it. We willed our way," Anthony said.
The Knicks, you might remember, were a middling defensive team in the regular season. They were tied for 16th in the league in defensive efficiency, a measure of points allowed per 100 possessions.
And it seemed like they would play to that level on Saturday -- especially after Green set his career playoff high in the first half alone, hitting 7 of 10 shots.
"He’s a young talent, man," Woodson said. "He gets in the open court and puts heat on you there."
But Green cooled off in the second half, thanks in part to Anthony. The Knicks' star guarded Green for large stretches and helped limit him to six points on 1-for-5 shooting.
"That's not who we are, and that's not how we play," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after watching his club shoot 7-for-27 in the second half.
The Knicks bothered the Celtics on the perimeter and disrupted their passing lanes. They had 11 steals in the second half, including two from Jason Kidd which led to four key points in the fourth quarter.
"I think we all believe or understand that championships are won by playing defense," Kidd said. "This was a perfect example."