Knicks out to prove they're the better team
Just last spring the Knicks were eliminated in five quick games by the Miami Heat, but for Knick fans that feels like a decade ago, as the team had their best regular season in nearly twenty years. In a short few months fans have all but forgotten about Linsanity and barely recall two Aprils back where the team was quickly swept by the Boston Celtics in the first-round.
That season the Knicks snapped a six year playoff-drought behind a recently acquired Carmelo Anthony and somewhat healthy Amare Stoudemire. But, they ran into the defending Eastern Conference Champion Celtics and their trio of proud future Hall of Famers.
Mike D’Antoni’s group believed they could challenge Boston’s “Big Three,” but Chauncey Billups was lost for good after straining his left knee in the final minute of Game 1, Stoudemire was never the same after hurting his back dunking during warm-ups before Game 2 and as a team they shot a woeful 34 percent for the series.
However, the tides have seemingly turned and this spring the Knicks are a completely new team, with a complete new set of aspirations. Under the guidance of Coach Mike Woodson, New York ended the Celtics five-year reign atop the Atlantic Division, claiming their first division crown in 19 years.
Woodson’s injury raved group locked up the No. 2 seed and won 54 games, the highest output for the franchise since the 1996-1997 season. They now embark on a hopefully long playoff run that begins Saturday at 3 p.m. against naturally those Celtics, and you can bet Anthony is looking for revenge.
"That's in the back of our minds," Anthony said of the 2011 defeat. "We want to beat Boston. I mean, let's be quite frank ... This playoff series for myself, it's very important for us as a team, as a city, as an organization. We're looking forward to this season."
For a change the Knicks are the clear-cut favorites with home-court advantage. They were more than a dozen games better than the Celtics for a reason and this isn't 2011 when D’Antoni trotted out journeymen Shawne Williams, Anthony Carter, Roger Mason Jr. and Bill Walker off the bench in Game 4. Not to mention that the likes of Ronny Turiaf, Landry Fields and Toney Douglas started that decisive game.
The new look Knicks will now deploy a second-unit with six-man of the year candidate J.R. Smith, the all-knowing Jason Kidd, sharpshooting Steve Novak, rugged Kenyon Martin and the ever surprising Chris Copeland. More importantly starting in place of Turiaf, Fields and Douglas will be All-Star Tyson Chandler, youngster Iman Shumpert and Raymond Felton.
But the biggest difference between then and now may be the two-way play of Anthony, who is playing the best basketball of his life. The 28-year old coming off his first scoring title is healthy, in his prime and certainly better than both the proud but diminished Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
These are no longer the same old Knicks and these are no longer the feared Celtics of old. Their frontline is small, Courtney Lee is not Ray Allen and Avery Bradley is not Rajon Rondo. The aging Hall of Fame duo of Pierce and Garnett are the last line of defense, but at 35 and 36 respectively they can no longer carry a team like they once could.
Almost annually critics declare the Celtics dead, but Doc Rivers’ group seemingly rises from the grave each time. In recent years they’ve victimized the Knicks and held a similar aura over them that the Yankees held over the Red Sox for 86 years. In both senses, success breeds success, and failure breeds failure. And until Pierce and Garnett walk off the court losers there will always be doubt.
Make no mistake the Celtics wouldn’t go down without a fight, but this is the most vulnerable they’ve ever been and Carmelo and company need to deliver the knockout punch and exercise their demons. Despite Anthony not being much of a winner during this time of year, being eliminated in the first round eight of nine trips to the post-season, this season is on his shoulders now and a whole City expects him to deliver.
Behind his dominance these Knicks have a shot to win two rounds of the playoffs before trying and probably failing to beat the new “Big Three” in Miami. So far the team has completed the first part of their journey, but they still have plenty to prove, and there’s no better team to do it against than the Celtics.
Boston is playing with house money when they face the Knicks, but New York has no excuses this time around because they are the better team and they should beat the Celtics in five or six games.