Knicks’ Playoff Return Will Start With Celtics

KnicksThe Knicks will mark their return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-4 season with a first-round matchup against the heavily favored Boston Celtics.

On Monday, the Knicks (42-38) clinched the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed when the Philadelphia 76ers fell to the Orlando Magic and the Washington Wizards beat the undermanned Celtics in overtime.

The Knicks will conclude the regular season with back-to-back games against Chicago and in Boston, beginning Tuesday. The Celtics lead the season series against the Knicks, three games to none.

The Miami Heat (57-24) clinched the conference’s second seed with a win over Atlanta on Monday, coupled with Boston’s loss. Boston (55-26) all but conceded the spot to Miami after a 100-77 loss to the Heat on Sunday. Against Washington, Boston trotted out a makeshift lineup and rested the starters Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The Celtics’ second string still managed to take the Wizards to overtime but Crawford’s playoff-clarifying 3-pointer handed Boston a 95-94 loss.

The Knicks’ series with the Celtics will probably open on Sunday in Boston. Games 3 and 4 will be played at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks were swept by the Nets in 2004 and have not won a playoff game since 2001, when they beat the Toronto Raptors twice in the first round, but lost the series, three games to two.

They will be looking to expunge that mark, although the Knicks routinely struggle against Boston. All of this season’s games were close, with the veteran Celtics like Allen and Garnett taking over by the end of the games. The Knicks lost, 105-101, to Boston, in their second game of the season. In another loss in December, Amar’e Stoudemire’s would-be game-winning 3-pointer was ruled to have come after time expired.

Only the last matchup featured the teams in their current form: the Knicks with Carmelo Anthony and Boston without Kendrick Perkins, their talented and perpetually scowling center. He and Nate Robinson were traded to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic.

In that third game, Boston scored the final 10 points to pull away for a 96-86 victory. But over all, Boston has struggled somewhat since the Perkins trade, although they also lagged last year in the second half of the season before reemerging in the playoffs and taking the Los Angeles Lakers to the seventh game of the N.B.A. finals.

At the moment, Boston has depth issues, chemistry concerns and injury woes, particularly concerning Shaquille O’Neal, who has missed 44 games with injuries to his right leg. Some have speculated that this may be Boston’s last stand with its current core. Meanwhile, the coach, Doc Rivers, has debated his return each summer.

The Knicks and the Celtics are part of the N.B.A.’s original franchises and their playoff matchups date back to the 1950-51 season, only a few years seasons after the birth of the N.B.A. The Knicks have met Boston 13 times in the playoffs, more than any other opponent. They have won six of those series.

However, this is their first playoff meeting in 21 years, with each franchise rotating between being at the bottom and top tiers of the N.B.A. in the past two decades. The Knicks won that last matchup, stunning the Celtics by capturing the fifth and final game of the first-round series in Boston, with point guard Maurice Cheeks playing all 48 minutes for the Knicks.

The Knicks appear to finally be adjusting to their trade for Anthony and have won seven straight games. The latest victory came on Anthony’s game-winner against Indiana on Sunday. A win against Chicago on Tuesday night would match their longest winning streak of the season.

However, Coach Mike D’Antoni may choose to rest Anthony and others, although he does want Stoudemire, who has missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, to play again before the regular season ends. It is not clear how much the key members of the Knicks and the Celtics will play in the regular-season finale against one another on Wednesday. But it probably will not be much.

The rest of the Eastern Conference matchups are: Chicago against Indiana, Miami against Philadelphia, and Orlando against Atlanta. But none of them resonate like the Knicks versus the Celtics, provided the Knicks can make a series out of it.

Published by: nytimes


One Response

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