The New York Knicks first win of the playoffs did not come easy. Through three quarters, the Boston Celtics actually held a lead most of the time, suffocating the Knicks’ explosive offense and taking advantage of a slightly lackadaisical defense. After a hot start from the Knicks, Boston remained the more poised of the two teams through the better part of the game. Whereas New York was frustrated by their own incompetence on offense and some iffy officiating, Boston stayed locked in, grinding on every play to build as much as a seven-point lead.
However, when the Knicks were at their lowliest, giving up an 11-1 run to the Celtics near the end of the third quarter, they turned it around. They cut that lead to three before the fourth quarter began, and in the final 12 minutes, the Knicks out-executed and out-hustled the Celtics in nearly every fashion. The tide turned at the start of the fourth quarter where the Knicks used a highly energetic burst to keep possessions alive with a multitude of offensive rebounds from Kenyon Martin and Raymond Felton. Coupled with some costly Boston turnovers, the Knicks simply got more possessions and took advantage of them with big baskets from Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, and Martin.
Here’s a look at the individual performances:
Carmelo Anthony – 41 minutes, 36 points, 13-29 FG, 4-6 3FG, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 steals, 3 TOs, -3
Anthony kicked off the playoffs about as dreamily as anyone could have imagined – with a 4-4 start, at one point draining back-to-back three-pointers to set the Garden ablaze. Shortly thereafter, however, ‘Melo was constrained by physical defense from Jeff Green and Brandon Bass, and a mid-range jumper that wouldn’t fall. For the better part of the game, Anthony actually hurt the Knicks’ offense by holding the ball for too long, isolating, and settling for tough, contested jumpers (not that he was getting the calls when he got bullied around the basket). Regardless, when the fourth quarter came around, he turned it around. He dropped in eight of the Knicks’ 18 fourth-quarter points on 4-5 shooting, and sealed the game with a lovely assist to a cutting Kenyon Martin for the layup. Hopefully the fourth quarter proves to be a wake-up call for Anthony not to deviate from his season-long unselfishness and overall brilliance on offense.
Final Grade: B
J.R. Smith – 32 minutes, 15 points, 7-19 FG, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 3 TOs, 0 +/-
Smith proved to be a big boost off the bench when he checked in early in the first quarter. A driving slam in Jeff Green’s mouth and his usual antics on step-backs and whirly drives to the rim excited the crowd and sparked the Knicks’ offense. However, later in the game, Smith puked away some precious opportunities by laying bricks on open three-point attempts. What could have gone down as a late-game choke, however, was redeemed when Smith trailed a fastbreak by the Celtics and stole back a critical possession, and later came up with game-changing and-one, absurdly athletic layup.
Final Grade: B-
Raymond Felton – 43 minutes, 13 points, 5-13 FG, 1-3 3FG, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 2 TOs, +16
With Pablo Prigioni sidelined for Game 1, Felton logged a ton of minutes, but they were generally fruitful minutes. Though he missed some bunnies at the rim and floaters in the paint, Felton mostly commandeered the offense to the best of his abilities; most shortcomings were not the result of his own incompetence. Likewise, on defense, Felton gave the Knicks many more opportunities to score (especially in the first half) by coming up with great steals on fronts and switches, tapping away passes, or even blocking Avery Bradley’s jumper. Though he could’ve been more aggressive in trying to evade Boston’s hedging and trapping in the pick-and-roll, Felton was pretty careful with his dribble and passes, and put the Knicks in good position to score for a majority of the game.
Final Grade: B+
Kenyon Martin – 28 minutes, 10 points, 4-7 FG, 9 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks, -1
Martin returned from a brief absence due to an ankle injury and played huge minutes in Tyson Chandler’s stead (more on that later). His hustle in the fourth quarter gave the Knicks some much-needed second and third attempts at the basket, and he came up with two huge buckets of his own: a put-back and-one layup off an offensive board, and a crafty slip of the pick-and-roll late in the game, in which ‘Melo hit him with the pass for the easy lay-in. Earlier, however, Martin was just as great, at one time swatting Jason Terry’s dunk attempt away, and another, finding himself open on a pick-and-roll for a rim-shaking dunk. Yeah, Kenyon Martin was pretty awesome today.
Final Grade: A
Jason Kidd – 35 minutes, 8 points, 2-6 FG, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, -5
Kidd’s only two baskets came in the first half, and they were important, momentum-busting three-pointers. And while his offense faded later in the game, his playing time did not. And it wasn’t just as a result of Prigioni’s absence. Kidd proved incredibly valuable in the game-changing fourth quarter as he came up with some big rebounds, and some oh-so crucial steals on defense. Deflections, strips, and just out-right mid-pass swipes – Kidd’s defense represented a suddenly stingy effort from the Knicks on that end late in the game. Though Woodson’s insistence on playing Kidd big minutes has been questioned before, Kidd’s worth will undoubtedly be felt in the playoffs where he is just never rattled.
Final Grade: B+
Iman Shumpert – 22 minutes, 3 points, 1-2 FG, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 4 TOs, +8
It’s important to remember that this is only Shumpert’s first whole playoff game. Considering his only playoff experience came in a blowout where he tore is ACL, it’s understandable that the flat-topped one looked a little shaken by the intensity of the game. He seemed hesitant to pull from deep (though he hit one of two attempts), and he seemed unsure of what to do whenever he tried to create for himself. Some silly turnovers pulled him out of Woodson’s rotation, and when he picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, he was done for good.
Final Grade: C
Tyson Chandler – 20 minutes, 0 points, 0-0 FG, 5 rebounds, 1 steal, +8
The excitement of the comeback win will block out worries about Chandler for a little while, but when the excitement wears off, we’ll all feel nervous. Chandler, perhaps from injury, perhaps from missing most of the last month, looked immobile and out-of-sync on the floor. His rotations weren’t as crispy as usual, his dives to the basket in the pick-and-roll created little space or attention, and by the second half, he was almost totally ineffective. Martin filled his shoes more than admirably, but let’s just hope Chandler was getting used to the flow of the game.
Final Grade: C
Chris Copeland – 13 minutes, 0 points, 0-3 FG, 1 rebound, 1 steal, +11
It’s a little unfair of Mike Woodson to ask Copeland, who hardly received consistent PT this season, to suddenly start against the Celtics in the playoffs. His +/- is inflated by being on the floor for the Knicks’ hot start, but he was almost invisible for the duration of the game. Missing arrhythmic jumpers is one thing; tripping on a fastbreak smells strongly of a nervous rookie thinking of what he’s going to do too much.
Final Grade: D+
Steve Novak – 5 minutes, 0 points, 0-0 FG, +1
The Celtics, and moreover, Doc Rivers, are far too disciplined to just leave Novak alone for three-pointers. Just like last postseason, if Novak wants shot attempts, the Knicks will have to run plays for him, give him screens, and make him move. Otherwise, he’ll just be a floor-spacer and a guy the defense attacks.
Well, three quarters of aggravating, nerve-racking basketball led to an impressive comeback in the fourth quarter. The Knicks lead the series, still hold homecourt, and have now gotten their feet wet. We’ll anxiously await Game 2 on Tuesday.
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