To close out the regular season, the Knicks were mostly without five big men. But one guy was able to keep the team's interior defense in check during their winning streak: Kenyon Martin.
The rugged K-Mart has carried that do-whatever-it-takes approach to the first-round series against the Celtics, stepping up in more minutes with Tyson Chandler still working through conditioning issues. After two wins, Martin is averaging 6.5 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes per game.
Martin's impact in New York has sent shock waves throughout the NBA. Even Jason Kidd has felt them, saying after Thursday's practice that Martin "saved our season."
"I think he probably would say he's smarter, but he's the guy that brings toughness and understands he can play above the rim," said Kidd, Martin's former teammate in New Jersey. "I'm just happy that he's on our side and that we got him, because he shouldn't have been out of a job."
Martin helped the Knicks finish off the Celtics both times in the fourth quarter. In Game 1, he stripped Jeff Green down low and then connected on an and-1 layup. That put the Knicks up 71-70, and they never relinquished the lead. Then in Game 2, he had two big blocks down the stretch, even surprising Kidd with his vertical leap.
"Yes, and also with the surgeries he's had," he said. "He reminds me of the younger K-Mart that was in New Jersey."
Mike Woodson said he didn't think Martin would have the stamina to play extended minutes; he just knew the veteran would play hard. Now, Martin is showing off both.
"To have somebody that can come in the game like a K-Mart and take the slack off of Tyson, to try to go out there and try to do everything by himself on the defensive end, set screens on the offensive end, that says a lot about K-Mart," Carmelo Anthony said.
CHANDLER'S CONDITIONING: Chandler, who's minutes went up from 20 in Game 1 to 22 in Game 2, said his wind is getting better and expects to play more on Friday night.
"I think coach is just kind of monitoring me right now ... seeing how active I am," the starting center said. "When I start to taper down, he brings me out. He's doing an excellent job of rotating me and Kenyon. I hope to play a little more in Game 3 because I feel like I'm going to play a little better."
Woodson said Chandler is still regaining his strength after losing a "little weight." Anthony suggested Chandler had been battling an illness.
"In Game 1, he said he felt a little bit weak," Melo said. "I think that was from being sick over the past couple of weeks. It looked like he's back."
"Absolutely," he said. "In Game 2, I was a lot more lively, my legs a lot better, so I was able to set some picks and get Raymond to the cup late in the game. I feel like I’ll be even better in Game 3, to start sprinting the floor and start creating some second-chance opportunities."
As for his neck, Chandler said it's a "little sore," but not a concern.
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