NEW YORK -- When Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett decided to join Paul Pierce in Boston in 2007, they were sacrificing their padded All-Star stats for perhaps the final opportunity to compete for a championship.
Going into the Christmas Day opener against the Celtics, Mike D'Antoni is confident that his own Big Three -- Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler -- have come together with the same veteran intentions. D'Antoni said the only thing they're concerned with is winning, being that they're in the later stages of their careers.
"Nothing else matters," D'Antoni said after practice on Friday. "As you get older, you get more mature as a player and you understand that really the only thing is about winning. Probably in the league at some point, it should be not a surprise that guys come together and do whatever it takes to win. When it doesn't happen, you should be surprised. Boston does a great job and our three are doing the same thing. They're focused on winning. Whether you score 20 points or 28, it doesn't really matter. It matters at the end of the day how many wins you've got."
Even with Pierce doubtful for Sunday with a bruised right heel, Carmelo Anthony is not prepared to take the Celtics lightly then or at any point during the season. Melo said they still have the Knicks' number until his guys can beat them in a regular-season and playoff series. He's aware that some critics are already writing off the C's, mainly because the trio's older knees will be facing a crammed 66-game schedule, but he's heard the aging reference before. With Melo, that talk goes in one ear and out the other, because he knows their Atlantic Division rivals always find a way to bounce back toward the end of the season.
"Man, they're still the Celtics, a very experienced team," Anthony said. "I think Doc Rivers does a great job with that squad over there. And they're veterans, they know how to play, they know what to do. For us, we really want to focus on ourselves and what we've been getting better at in practice, in the preseason games, and go from there."
Melo said the Knicks battled well in the first two playoff games in Boston last season, and they could've made it more of a competitive series. Unfortunately, injuries to several members of the starting five -- Stoudemire, Chauncey Billups and Toney Douglas -- dismantled their chances. That forced their inexperienced playoff bench, headlined by Bill Walker and Shawne Williams, to fill big shoes.
Now the core of the team is 100 percent healthy, and experience is riding higher than ever. Training camp and the first two preseason games have proven to Melo that the team is "well on their way" to take out Boston and forge forward in the East.
"We have a chance to do some big things," Anthony said. "I think we're more experienced. [In the playoffs], we tried to compete with what we had. There were a lot of distractions, injuries, not knowing who was going to play, who was not going to play. That stuff takes a toll on you. Guys had to step up and take on a bigger challenge than they had to take on the whole season. I think now our focus is different. We don't have anything to be worried about, no distractions. We're just worried about playing ball."
In order for the Knicks to have a chance against the Celtics, they'll need to bring back that defense they displayed in Games 1 and 2 in Boston. While they lost both games, the Knicks held the Celtics under 100 points (87 and 96, respectively). But that wasn't a common occurrence during the season, and assistant coach Mike Woodson was hired to ratchet up the defense. Melo said his presence is already paying off.
"He's been great, man," Anthony said. "The focus day in and day out is harping on defense every day in practice and in 30-, 45-minute film sessions. That's our focus now coming into practice. That's what we work on for the most part at practice, at the beginning of practice. We're enjoying that right now, just listening to Coach Woodson. We're all on the same page."
Sunday's game will be interesting to watch because it will be like a big brother-little brother matchup. The big bro (the Celtics) proved that All-Star veterans can collectively raise a banner; the little bro (the Knicks) is trying to prove it can do the same thing. Maybe this time the bullying will reverse course. Whatever the case, expect a battle -- and blood -- just like when they faced each other last season.
"It should be a great game," D'Antoni said.
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