It's been a while since the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics matchup has felt like a rivalry. The natural Boston-New York hatred will get a basketball boost this year, as the teams have drawn each other for the first round of the NBA Playoffs, to begin this upcoming weekend. Resting four of its starters, the Celtics lost Monday night to the Washington Wizards, and coupled with a Miami Heat victory, the Celtics locked into the third seed in the East. The Knicks captured the sixth seed thanks to a seven-game winning streak, and were solidified in that position with Philadelphia's loss last night.
The two teams last met in the playoffs way back in 1990, when a young Patrick Ewing led the Knicks back from a first-round 0-2 series deficit to win the final three games of the series (remember when the first round was just a best-of-five?) Since then, its either been the Knicks making deep playoff runs or the Celtics, but never both at the same time. Now, the rivalry is rekindled, and it's not devoid of intriguing storylines.
Many were clamoring for another rivalry revival in a Knicks-Heat first round matchup, citing the star-power of both teams. Have people forgotten who still plays for the Celtics? There's no lack of stars in this series, either. There are plenty of guys with one-name recognition; Carmelo, Amare, Billups, Garnett, Pierce, Allen, Rondo - and if he's healthy - Shaq. And while the Knicks are 0-3 this season against Boston, the two games played at the Garden (sorry, Boston fans, the "Garden" is Madison Square Garden) were close affairs where the Knicks led in the fourth quarter. And while the Celtics will rightly be favored in the series, these are two teams going in different directions.
The Knicks have erased the vibes of that 1-9 stretch following the Carmelo Anthony trade by winning seven in a row to pass the 76ers for the sixth seed and guarantee a winning record for 2010-11. While they haven't quite beaten great teams during the streak, the good signs are there in the play of Carmelo Anthony, who has been quite frankly the best player in the league over the past two weeks. 'Melo and the Knicks have been shooting the lights out, putting up the typically-gaudy Mike D'Antoni offensive numbers. The Celtics will pose a great challenge with their excellent defense, but is the Knicks continue shooting the three as well as they have, they will put up points.
Since they traded Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Celtics have simply not been the same team. One of the main reasons for the Celtics past success was their ability to defend by funneling the opposing team into the paint, where Perkins could dictate the play. It's not the same when you put Jermaine O'Neal in that spot. They pinned their hopes on Shaquille O'Neal, but he has been unhealthy and his status for the playoffs is uncertain. Still, the Celtics are winners, and have the core of Pierce, Allen, Garnett and Rondo that know how to win especially in close, late-game situations in the postseason. The core Knicks do have postseason experience, but do not have the same amount of postseason success, and certainly have no experience together.
It's been a long time since Knicks fans could get pumped up about a playoff series. The Celtics will be expected to win, but the Knicks do indeed have a chance. And for the first time in a long, long time, the Garden (the real Garden) will be rocking again for Knicks playoff basketball.