3:07 pm Apr. 6, 20111
The Knicks have already accomplished plenty this season in their bid to regain relevance, and even a little bit of respect.
They acquired Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, they clinched their first playoff berth in seven years, and they are even showing signs of intelligence in attempting to bring back team president Donnie Walsh, who has managed to undo most of the damage that resulted from the disastrous partnership of Isiah Thomas with James Dolan.
The Knicks’ comeback will achieve a whole new level of significance, of course, if they can give a good account of themselves in the post-season by winning a series.
Entering Wednesday night's matchup with Philadelphia, the Knicks find themselves in the seventh seed, one-half game behind the 76ers. A similar logjam exists between their possible opponents, second and third seeds Boston and Miami.
Either way it shakes out, the Knicks will have to win at least once on the road in a seven-game series against one of the NBA's best teams.
The Celtics, of course, are the defending Eastern Conference champions, a team that ended last season just one victory short of an NBA championship. Boston defeated the Knicks in all three of their match-ups this year, with a fourth meeting scheduled as the final game of the regular season on April 13.
Of the three encounters, only one came after the Knicks acquired Anthony, and the result of that one wasn’t encouraging. New York played well in the first half and led 51-37 at the break. Boston closed to within six to start the fourth quarter, then overwhelmed the Knicks, 33-17, to pull out a 96-86 win.
The Celtics managed to shut down New York's attack late, scoring the game's final ten points.
In theory, the Knicks offense is now better integrated and smoother-functioning than it was when Anthony first arrived. Tuesday night's performance against Toronto—131 points, 58 percent shooting overall, and 56 percent from three-point range—is eye-popping, but also took place against a league bottom-feeder.
One area the Boston matchup should help New York is that the Celtics are even more rebounding-challenged than the Knicks are. New York ranks 22nd in rebounding league-wise, but Boston checks in at 29th. And the team's second-leading rebounder, Kendrick Perkins, got shipped to Oklahoma City in a deal earlier this season.
The Miami Heat, meanwhile, were on the wrong end of the Knicks’ best win of the season. The teams split four games, but only the final battle in Miami came after the Knicks completely revamped their roster. The game itself was a kind of mirror image of the Boston game. The Knicks trailed by 15 in the first half, climbed back with a late-half run, then shut down the Heat in the game's final minutes to pull out a 91-86 victory.
In the final moments, LeBron James drove to the basket with a chance to give Miami the lead. Anthony defended him well enough to allow Stoudemire to come over and block the shot. The “New York Is Back” stories soon followed, though a loss later that week to lowly Cleveland soon corrected the tenor of the coverage.
On paper, Miami is a more difficult matchup for the Knicks than Boston is. But Miami has struggled to close out games throughout the season, while Boston clearly knows how to do so. The natural advantage to Miami provided by Chris Bosh in the middle—the Knicks have no defensive answer—may be neutralized by Bosh's timidity going to the basket at times. And if LeBron James cannot muster the fourth-quarter heroics he’s supposed to have been providing since he signed with Miami, the Knicks might be able to win a game or two just by hanging around.
The Knicks would be facing long odds against either Miami or Boston. But that’s why it would be such a big deal—so much bigger than anything the Knicks have managed in years—if they finally exceeded expectations by beating one of them.