Just four minutes into the first game of the 2013 post-season, it appeared as if we were in for a hell of a performance from one of the games brightest stars in Carmelo Anthony. Anthony drilled four straight shots, including two threes, to fire up the Garden right out of the gate, and it seemed like Carmelo, who finished off the season on a white hot tear that earned him the scoring title, was in for a historic afternoon.
Instead, after Doc Rivers called a TV timeout following Carmelo’s fourth consecutive make, Boston ramped up their defensive effort against Carmelo, and Anthony shot 9-for-25 to closeout the game. The Celtics sent several different defenders at Carmelo, with Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass all getting shots to stop him. Boston relied on these individual defenders to slow down Melo so that they could stay at home on New York’s shooters and force Anthony to play hero ball.
This gameplan worked perfectly for the Celtics, who got the Knicks out of their free flowing pick-and-roll offense and got them bogged down in a one-on-one show with Anthony trying to hard to get his points out of isolation. Boston played him straight up while overloading the strongside of the floor; they didn’t send doubles at Carmelo, but they made it so he couldn’t have an easy look at the rim no matter what he did, and Anthony wasn’t making the right reads as far as swinging the ball and trying to break down Boston’s rotations.
New York has gotten away with Anthony playing hero ball a lot this season, but Brandon Bass did an exemplary job of keeping Carmelo in front of him and all of Boston’s defenders contested his pull-up shots well. Anthony can make some of the shots he missed in this game, but he had an off game from the field, and you have to credit Boston’s defense for doing everything necessary to give him fits.
While New York’s offense struggled after that initial Anthony outburst, Boston’s offense looked very good with Paul Pierce going into the post and facilitating from there. There was a two minute stretch in the second quarter when the Celtics went to Pierce on the right block three straight times and each time Bradley sliced down the middle and received a perfect pass for a lay-up. Boston utilized off ball movement and the smarts of Pierce and Garnett to manufacture good looks for their teammates. And when high percentage looks weren’t there, Jeff Green was there to bail out the offense with a three-pointer or an aggressive drive to the rim.
Things would improve gradually for the Knicks in the second half as Mike Woodson made subtle adjustments to help get his team back on track. It started with the early hook for Chris Copeland, whom the Knicks tried to get involved in the offense with some token post-ups, but he wasn’t effective against a tuned in Boston defense. J.R. Smith came in for Copeland and immediately provided some offensive relief with a pull-up jumpshot.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Woodson made two key decisions and inserted two players that will be getting AARP letters in the mail not too long after this season into the crunchtime line-up for good.
Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin, who played together in another lifetime with the New Jersey Nets, gave the Knicks excellent minutes down the stretch of this game and helped turn the tide in favor of the Knicks when Boston had previously established control of the game.
Kidd had been good in the first half, knocking down a couple of threes and moving the ball around the perimeter, but in the fourth quarter he came up with so many huge defensive plays. Whether it was sagging off his man just enough to show Jeff Green a double before shooting into the passing lane and stealing the ball or taking on Paul Pierce in one-on-one assignments, Kidd was tremendous defensively and those extra possessions were crucial to the Knicks in a grind-it-out battle like this. Kidd had three steals in the fourth quarter, and each one helped swing the momentum of the game.
With Chandler clearly ailing, Woodson called on Martin, who was just returning from injury himself, to anchor the defense as the center and to open up things on offense as the pick-and-roll big man, and he delivered. Martin was excellent on the defensive side of the floor, protecting the rim and helping clean up the offensive glass for a Knicks’ squad that is used to having a defensive player of the year in the middle in crunchtime. Martin was also key offensively; though he is a limited offensive player, he’s a capable finisher at the rim, and simply rolling hard to the rim forces Boston’s defense to drop down to account for him, which opens up the floor for New York’s shooters.
You can see in the image above how Boston is in a dilmna on this 1/5 pick-and-roll by the Knicks. Martin is rolling hard and fast to the rim, but Pierce would be taking a risk to leave Melo wide open in the corner. Boston’s best chance of stopping this play is Brandon Bass and Bradley getting in the passing lane and stopping Felton from getting it to Martin. That didn’t happen, though, and Martin threw down an emphatic slam to top off one of New York’s few successful pick-and-roll plays on the day.
The Knicks are going to have to clean up things with their offense, mainly getting the ball up the floor quickly and starting their offense sooner into the shot clock than they did against Boston. They’ll also have to make sure their offense never goes into the long lulls they experienced today when the only thing they did was throw it to Carmelo and expect him to make a contested shot. But this was overall an encouraging win for New York. They were forced to play Boston’s style of game, had an injured Chandler and got an awful shooting performance from Anthony (though he did have 36 points) and still managed to pull out the win.
Boston will have to go back to the drawing board offensively. Their defense was stellar, and though the Knicks will certainly play much less hero ball in game two, I expect Boston to hold New York well below their season average offensive efficiency. Turnovers were the story for Boston in this one and their sloppy passing is what did them in. They had 21 total team turnovers that led to 20 Knick points, which is a lofty sum in a game like this when the Knicks rarely got good looks in the half-court. Pierce and Green each had six turnovers apiece and Bradley added four cough ups; simple things like entry passes were constantly screwed up in this game by the Celtics, and if they’re to have any chance of winning this series, they’ll have to be able to take care of the ball.