Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Updated: April 17, 3:25 AM ET
Bockers to beat Boston? Fat chance
By Stephen A. Smith
Here's what we've learned about the New York Knicks in the past two weeks: Carmelo Anthony has lived up to the hype. With him and Amare Stoudemire, there are two stars in New York who want to run this town. The Knicks, as a result, are heading to the playoffs, having registered their first regular-season record above .500 in a decade -- yet it all might not amount to a hill of beans because, by the time any of us is able to enjoy it, their postseason exit will have already arrived.
Anthony is not about to say as much. Neither is Stoudemire, nor any professional athlete with a modicum of respect for himself. But the truth is the truth: The Boston Celtics are championship-tested. They play defense, and they play together. So the last thing they are worried about is a franchise, one rife with novices, trying to spoil their shot at a coveted second NBA title in four years.
"We know we'll have a tough matchup," Stoudemire explained before he knew the Knicks would be facing Boston in the first round, uttering the understatement of the week. "We'll have our work cut out for us. But we're here in the playoffs. That was goal No. 1. Now it's time to make some noise."
In the interest of being open and candid, there's a drug test waiting for anyone who preferred Boston in a first-round playoff match versus New York instead of the Miami Heat. Regardless of the departure of Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City, the injuries to the O'Neals (Shaquille and Jermaine) or Boston's late-season struggles, to deny that the Knicks are custom-fitted for a meltdown against these Celtics is tantamount to saying the Kardashians have an aversion to the limelight.
Have ya watched television lately?
Although the Knicks are second in the league in scoring (106.8 points per game), it's the Celtics who boast the league's best scoring defense (91 ppg allowed). It's bad enough the Knicks are 19th in field goal percentage but even worse that the Celtics are third in field goal percentage defense.
Oh! Did I forget to mention that Boston, led by Rajon Rondo, is also third in the league in steals per game and sixth leaguewide in limiting opponents' shooting from beyond the arc? Meanwhile, the Knicks are still 27th in league defense (105.7 ppg), at a time when the Celtics are the league's best in field goal percentage, making nearly one shot for every two they take!
"None of that matters, really," Boston coach Doc Rivers said weeks ago, after beating the Knicks at the Garden. "The Knicks are tough for anyone to play. They play the way they play, and when they make shots, look out. It'll be a long night for anybody."
A round of applause for the coach with a championship and two NBA Finals berths on his résumé. He has learned the value of saying the right thing, even when he doesn't mean a word of it.
Pause for a second and contemplate how many times we've watched these Knicks this season, witnessing a brand of defensive basketball reminiscent of H-O-R-S-E or layup lines, where grandparents are allowed to ponder whether they could score 20 points on this crew. Then think about three Hall of Famers in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen being told their aspirations will have to be put on hold because of the Knicks. Yes, these Knicks!
Be nice! Stop laughing!
Unlike the Heat, blessed with three stars in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- but matched up well by New York with Chauncey Billups joining Stoudemire and Melo -- the Celtics bring an entirely different dimension to the playoffs.
Their trio already jells. They have length in Garnett and Nenad Krstic. Their collective defensive prowess has the ability to take away the interior, relegating the Knicks to nothing but a bunch of jump shooters, which happens to be the only style we can tell Mike D'Antoni actually prefers.
Rivers knows better than most that defense wins, which is why he's not about to provoke change with these Knicks. As we speak, while D'Antoni is devising ways for the Knicks to continue making the most of the 26.5 points and 6.8 rebounds Anthony has averaged in his 26 games with New York entering Tuesday night, Rivers is designing ways to exploit it.
Rivers knows Anthony, who shot 33 percent from beyond the arc in Denver, is shooting better than 43 percent on 3s in a Knicks' uniform. He also knows that, albeit slightly, Stoudemire's numbers have dipped since Melo arrived. So if you take away Melo's perimeter game and force him into the teeth of Boston's defense, turnovers will happen. Chemistry issues will follow. And everyone appears to know this but the Knicks.
"Shhhhh," one Celtics player mimicked just the other day. "Don't help them out."
Evidently, someone needs to help the Knicks.
Unless, of course, Melo decides to come to the rescue, as he has in the Knicks' recent seven-game winning streak, when he has averaged 30.9 points.
A one-man wrecking crew has ruined quite a few hearts in NBA history.
It's probably not happening here, though. Not against these Celtics.
As my rotund friend is famous for saying in his commercials:
I may be wrong, but I doubt it!