Will J.R. Smith be the missing "piece to the puzzle," as Mike Woodson likes to say, to help the Knicks close out the series against the Celtics? The sixth man will play in Game 5 after serving a one-game suspension for throwing an elbow into Jason Terry's chin in Game 3. The Knicks also return to the Garden, where they've only lost 10 games all season.
Here are three things the Knicks need to do on Wednesday (7 p.m. tipoff) to move on to the second round.
1. Get the Celtics in early foul trouble. While Carmelo Anthony has shot 31 percent in isolation during the series, that doesn't take into account all of the times he's drawn fouls. In Game 2, he was 10-for-11 from the line, and in Game 4, he was 16-for-20.
Kevin Garnett is the key guy to attack. Case in point: In Game 2, after the center picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter and took the bench, the Knicks capitalized more in the paint and built a big advantage in the period. The Celtics' defensive anchor played cautious the rest of the game, not exerting his usual physical defense.
In Game 5, the Celtics will leave it all on the line, knowing they're down 3-1 and that this could be the end of their successful run since winning a championship in 2008. Therefore the Knicks will need to be prepared for an all-out battle and take advantage of the added pressure by drawing fouls. The Knicks will be at a luxury down the stretch with the Celtics' bigs in foul trouble.
2. Contain Paul Pierce's penetration and Jeff Green's transition game. In Game 4, Pierce took advantage of his size matchup against Raymond Felton and backed him down into the paint and scored, or passed the ball out to open teammates. Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni were forced to guard Pierce more with Smith out of the lineup.
In fact, because of Smith's absence, Kenyon Martin had to stick Green during a stretch and was scored on a few times. With Smith back, that should benefit the Knicks' lineups because he can can match up with Pierce or Green.
While the Celtics haven't had Rajon Rondo, they've had a transition threat in Green. In Game 4, the Celtics scored seven more fast-break points than the Knicks (15 to 8) with help from Green. The Knicks need to be more aware of him when he's leaking out to the wing. In addition, the Knicks need to cut down their turnovers -- they had 15 in Game 4 -- to limit the Celtics' breakaways.
3. How about some 3s? The Knicks, who made the 3-pointer a thing of beauty in the regular season, have only shot 33.7 percent from downtown in the series. Give credit to the Celtics for running the Knicks well off of the 3-point line. A key for the Knicks is to continue to push the pace off of defensive rebounds, and there should be some opportunities for transition 3s. Those could be the dagger in Game 5.
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