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NBA Playoffs: Knicks Trying To Keep Season Alive Against Celtics In Game 3

[Note by Ed Valentine, 04/22/11 5:48 PM EDT: Chauncey Billups will not play. Still no decision on Amare Stoudemire. ]

After seven years, playoff basketball is back at Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately for the Knicks, it may not last very long.

That’s all up to tonight, Game 3 of the New York Knicks first round series against the Boston Celtics. It’s a virtual must-win for New York, who everybody knows can’t afford to go down in a 3-0 hole and have any realistic chance of advancing past Boston. The Knicks should have the services of Amare Stoudemire, who left Game 2 in the second quarter with back spasms and never returned. In Stoudemire’s absence, Carmelo Anthony put on one of the great playoff performances in Knicks history in Game 2, scoring 42 points and grabbing 17 rebounds in a losing effort. Once again, it was the Celtics’ fourth quarter execution that was the difference.

It seems like every game between these two teams this season have played out exactly the same. The Knicks hole a late lead, only to see one or two plays in the final minutes go Boston’s way, and the Celtics sneak out with a win. The late game follies by the Knicks has to be weighing on them, despite all the positive speak coming from their camp. The Knicks best chance to beat the Celtics may actually be to win comfortably, by double digits, rendering the final minute or two of the game meaningless. That will be tough to do.

New York may be without Chauncey Billups for the second straight game. If he’s out, the Knicks will once again depend on Toney Douglas to run the point, and the Knicks will once again need good performances from their bench and their role players, as they did in Game 2. Can Jared Jeffries, despite his late turnover in Game 2, play as well as he did on Tuesday night? Can Ronny Turiaf stay healthy and give the Knicks solid minutes? It can’t all fall on Anthony again, and while Stoudemire should be around this time, the Knicks will need good efforts to topple a Celtics team that is either, based on its first two performances, done as a championship contender or hasn’t hit their stride yet. Tonight may go a long way to determining that.

The Knicks defense has been very solid in the first two games of this series, but both obviously came in losing efforts. That’s a bad sign for the Knicks. All year the Knicks have struggled to maintain defensive effort from game to game, and you get a sense that they’re almost due for a poor defensive performance. How they play defensively tonight will be a telling sign as to whether this team finally understands the defensive intensity needed, or if they just had a few good games.