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Knicks Grind Out Game 1 Win Over Boston

in NBA by
uspw_7284284

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 baited Green into this turnover by acting like was going to double him.

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.

Martin is able to roll freely to the rim because of New York’s tremendous spacing.

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.

NBA Playoffs Liveblog: Day 1

in NBA by
celticsknicks

Join me and Demarcus Robinson as we liveblog the first day of the 2013 NBA Playoffs!

Mark Travis - 4:34 PM ET

Demarcus is here to help me out with the Warriors-Nuggets game. With Faried injured and likely out, I’m picking Golden State to steal this game and to win the series in six, mostly because I want to feel what it’s like to root for Stephen Curry.

Mark Travis - 4:33 PM ET

Tremendous win for the Knicks. Almost everything went wrong for them – horrid offensive execution, Tyson Chandler being hurt, Carmelo’s off night – and they still beat Boston at their own game. I’m starting on my recap of the game now.

Mark Travis - 4:26 PM ET

Tremendous play from Jason Kidd has helped the Knicks secure a seven point lead with 1:21 left in the game. Kidd has been everywhere defensively and the Knicks have been able to hit some big shots while the Celtics have gone cold on the offensive end.

Mark Travis - 4:06 PM ET

The Knicks’ effort level has taken a step up in the fourth. They sense that Boston is not going to beat themselves and that they must play better in order to beat them. New York needs to continue to trust their pick-and-roll attack and try and swing the ball to get good looks. It is much better to get Carmelo a three point look off of a few swing passes than it is to give him the ball and ask him to take the shot off the dribble.

I expect Boston to go to some Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett pick-and-roll action here with either one of them getting a post-up off the action.

Mark Travis - 3:57 PM ET

Boston takes a three-point lead into the fourth quarter. The Knicks did a little bit better job of getting their pick-and-roll action going in the third, but it still wasn’t enough. The Knicks need to get into their flow offense and start swinging the ball to get good looks on basically every possession instead of relying on isolation plays.

Mark Travis - 3:31 PM ET

Mike Woodson didn’t waste much time to put J.R. Smith into the game to give his offense a boost. Boston has been so awesome on defense in this game and the Knicks haven’t been able to generate any space with Felton running things and Melo being the only other player on the floor capable of creating his own shot. Smith changes that and just nailed a pull-up jumper to give the Knicks the lead again. This is a good timeout by Doc; Boston’s offense needs to get back into rhythm.

Mark Travis - 3:12 PM ET

The Celtics look like the better team right now. Their offensive execution is solid and they are taking advantage of every transition opportunity they’ve gotten while the Knicks’ offense has devolved into Carmelo isolations. Boston is pressuring the ball and forcing the Knicks to start their offense so late in the clock and all New York is doing is giving the ball to Carmelo and getting out of the way. That strategy is not working with Brandon Bass defending him. Bass was tremendous against LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals last year and he’s been great on Carmelo. He’s not making anything easy for Anthony and he’s only gotten blown by once by the more athletic Anthony.

This was a great half for Boston because they’ve proven to themselves that they’ll be able to stop the Knicks and score at a decent clip. When the Celtics aren’t getting their offense from Paul Pierce posting up, it’s Jeff Green being really aggressive that has fueled their attack. Green has 20 points on 10 shots at the half while Pierce and Garnett have only combined to shoot 14 times (their major contribution has been their 10 combined assists).

Boston has a 53-49 lead at halftime. New York is going to have to come out of the lockerroom ready to execute their offense rather than dumping it down to Carmelo every play. If they continue to play ISO ball, Boston is going to steal this game.

Mark Travis - 2:53 PM ET

The Celtics are just posting Paul Pierce up on every possession and burning the Knicks with cuts from the weakside because their rotations aren’t crisp. On three straight plays Avery Bradley has dove right down the lane from the perimeter and received a pass from Pierce for an easy lay-up. Boston’s offense has more fluidity to it than New York’s does right now, mostly because the Knicks are isolating Carmelo instead of getting pick-and-roll action going.

Mark Travis - 2:42 PM ET

Jeff Green has been tremendous for the Celtics this game, knocking down threes, playing good defense at attacking in the half-court. He had given the Celtics a six point lead before Jason Kidd led the Knicks back into the lead with a 9-0 run by hitting two threes and assisting on a triple by Iman Shumpert.

Mark Travis - 2:32 PM ET

Once the initial shock of Carmelo’s start wore off, the Celtics outclassed the Knicks on both ends of the floor and end up with a 29-26 lead at the end of the first thanks to a buzzer beating three by Jeff Green. Boston is working their offense and getting good looks and their defense is forcing the Knicks into some tough shots. New York can’t settle for deep twos if they want to beat Boston’s defense.

Mark Travis - 2:23 PM ET

J.R. Smith just threw down a thunderous dunk off a pick-and-roll. When Smith aggressively turns the corner off high ball screens instead of settling for pull-up jumpers the Knicks’ offense is even tougher to guard. Smith presents a different set of challenges than Felton because he can make the outside shot and finish over size in the paint.

Mark Travis - 2:19 PM ET

Two first quarter fouls on Avery Bradley is huge. He’s been tremendous defensively for Boston and he’s grown to be a solid outside shooter and secondary pick-and-roll guy.

Mark Travis - 2:09 PM ET

Carmelo Anthony, ladies and gentlemen! What a start from one of the league’s deadliest scorers. He’s four-of-four from the field and he’s drilled three contested jumpers already (two of which were threes). Boston is running some nice off-ball action to get the ball into Kevin Garnett and Paul Piece, but they aren’t going to win a shootout with the Knicks if Carmelo gets going.

Mark Travis - 2:04 PM ET

Pablo Prigioni has been a solid rotation player for the Knicks this season, but Chris Copeland starting against a Boston team that starts a big line-up with Paul Pierce and Jeff Green on the wings is not a bad thing. Copeland has been pretty good himself this season, too.

Mark Travis - 2:01 PM ET

Hello everybody! While we are here to cover the NBA playoffs today, I’d like to extend our collective thoughts and prayers to the people of Boston and the family and friends of the victims of the tragedies that have taken place in and around the city over the past week.

The Boston Marathon bombings certainly have an impact of some kind on this series, as the Cetlics, who are already one of the most prideful teams in the league, will have a ton of motivation in this series. While Boston will certainly come out with a ton of fire, the Knicks are a superior team, specifically offensively, and I think the new version of Carmelo Anthony is one extremely capable of taking his team on a deep playoff run.

My pick for this series is the Knicks in six games. Now, let’s get the playoffs underway!

X’s And Bro’s: Episode 2

in NBA/Podcasts by
bosh

Brett Koremenos joins me to recap Sunday’s national TV games between the Heat and Pacers and Thunder and Celtics, as well as a quick preview for tonight’s Thunder-Spurs game.

Rajon Rondo: One Of A Kind

in Archives by
rajon

LAS VEGAS, Nevada (But The Game Is On) – At the top of the NBA’s point guard class we have a Chris, a Deron, a Steve, a Derrick, a Russell, a Jason. And a Rajon.

Rajon Rondo.

Even the name is unique.

Everything about the six-foot-one point guard that just finished up his fourth season with the defending Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics is different. In a good way, obviously.

In those four years, Rondo has made the transition from a college player that couldn’t shoot, needed to improve his understanding of the game and his defense, and wasn’t a complete point guard that could dictate an offense (all of things are listed as weaknesses on his NBADraft.net profile), to a key role player on the 2008 NBA Championship team and now to one of the best point guards and overall players in the world that nearly won a second title this past season as the best player on his team.

(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

And unlike most of the young guys here at the USA Basketball camp in Las Vegas, Nevada, that have looked up to some of the older players in the NBA and tried to emulate their performance, Rondo has created his own brand of basketball. One we haven’t seen before.

“No,” Rondo replied when I asked him if there was any veteran point guards in the league that he has taken moves from. It’s certainly not a bad thing to admit to something like that. Kobe Bryant has said multiple times that he has stolen all his moves like the baseline turnaround (from MJ), his post-game (Oscar Robertson), his footwork (from Elgin Baylor) and his pull-up jumpers (from Jerry West) and nobody gets on him for that. But Rondo’s gone the opposite direction. He’s introduced some things to the NBA that we have never seen before and that’s part of what makes him, well, him.

“You never know what (Rondo)’s going to do,” said Oklahoma City Thunder Small Forward and new face of Team USA Basketball Kevin Durant. “Of course, you just got to get used to him because he can go down the lane and you think he’ll pass and lay it up, where the next time he could wrap it around to you and throw it to you on the other side of the court.”

Durant, who is thought of as the only lock to make the 12-man squad that will head to Turkey in August for the World Championships, endorsing Rondo is almost like Kobe calling one of the kids in his basketball camp by name and saying he is impressed by his play. Obviously, Rondo is not a camper in comparison to Durant but because Kevin is seen as the leader of the team and someone the coaching staff talks to about the team on a daily basis, having his endorsement is a big plus.

“(Rondo)’s kind of unpredictable. That makes his game unique. But, at the same time, everybody has to be ready for his passes and what he’s going to do because he’s such a great player,” the Thunder superstar continued.

If you’ve watched any game of Rondo’s over the past couple of years, you’re bound to have seen one of his unorthodox moves that makes him such a tough player to defend. Creativity is the name of his game and he shows off his gifted ability to fake out any opponent with a quirky dribble or a “H-O-R-S-E” shot off the backboard on a game-by-game basis.

“That’s just my personality,” Rondo said of his devotion to being a unique breed. “I’ve always been myself. I just try to stick to being me and do what I do best. You definitively try to take stuff (tips) from other players, but as far as minting my game I just do what I do best.”

The best part about Rondo’s game is that he doesn’t even work on the stuff that he does in games like behind-the-back dribbles or crossovers. “It’s natural,” Rondo said. “I don’t practice that stuff. I may horse around with “H-O-R-S-E” shots but not practice-practice. … The behind-the-back fake is my favorite fake.”

Even though Kobe Bryant did a pretty good job on Rajon Rondo in the 2010 NBA Finals (with a lot of credit also going to Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum for protecting the rim), the rest of the league has not had much success defending Rondo. Opposing teams often try to place a bigger guard or forward on Rondo in hopes of stopping him from getting to the rim and forcing him to either take long jumpers or defer too often. While its a nice plan, with all of the plays the Celtics can run to free him up, the Lakers are really the only team with the personnel to cover each option and even the defending champions had trouble stopping Rondo in the Finals as he went on to average 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds while also recording a 19-point, 12-rebound and 10-assist triple-double in game two.

“It’s hard,” Derrick Rose, who went up against Rondo in an epic seven game series to start off the 2008 NBA Playoffs and is now competing to play on Team USA with him, said about guarding Rondo. “Its very hard. He’s very quick. He’s got big hands so you gotta watch it, he’s very tricky … He’s kinda like a veteran player (in terms of his basketball IQ) and he’s been playing on a good team almost ever since he came into the NBA. (The Celtics) won the championship (in 2008), so he has a lot of experience as well.”

Rose also believes Rondo is in the upper echelon when it comes to NBA point guards.

“He’s one of (the best),” the 2008 NBA Rookie of the Year said. “There are a lot of point guards. All of them are better than me. I’m just trying to get up there. But he’s one of the best for sure.”

Rose may be selling himself too short by saying every point guard here is better than him but he is definitely right about Rondo. Any list involving the top five or so point guards in the NBA has to have Rondo in consideration at the very least.

Its not only his play and fancy moves that sets Rajon apart from the rest of the players here with Team USA, it is also his attitude. That’s not to say he has a bad attitude, far from it, but there is no denying that he has an edge about him, something most likely derived from his NBA title in 2008. While guys like Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant find it hard to admit they are some of the best players in the world or that their teams are among the best in the NBA, Rondo has a supreme confidence in himself and in his team that resembles the mindset of Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest competitors and champions in the history of the league.

When asked if he felt threatened by the “new Big Three” in Miami as the defending Eastern Conference Champions, Rondo responded quickly and tersely: “No.” When asked whether or not he was nervous about facing the new NBA’s newest trio, Rondo answered with a more definite: “Hell nah.”

“Be nervous why?,” Rondo asked.

“I mean, I’m worried about the Lakers. That’s the team we have to beat. Miami looks really good on paper and I’m sure they’re gonna be good. But they gotta come together as a team. I’m not saying they won’t, but only those guys will tell. Of course they have a big target on their back with LeBron, Wade and Bosh, but its still a team game and its gonna take five guys.”

“They ain’t done nothing yet,” Rajon added with a chuckle. “They ain’t done nothing.”

Rondo’s uniqueness and ability to get the best out of his teammates figures to be a very big attribute and reason for addition to the United States squad should he make the team. Rajon has been a pass-first, pass-second, shoot-third kind of point guard during his time in Boston and, even though becoming more aggressive is something that Rondo needs to improve on (as well as his mid-range jumper and free throw shooting), having a facilitator’s mentality with such a complete team like Team USA around him.

“There are a lot of guys that can score the ball (here),” Rondo said. “I’ll just try to be a more vocal leader and keep everyone happy.”

Rondo’s experience with the Big Three in Boston will undoubtedly help him in Turkey (again, should he make the team) because he has been distributing to the talented trio for years now and feeding guys like Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay and Lamar Odom the ball an equal amount of time is an advantage he has over someone like Derrick Rose who hasn’t had many offensive options to defer to with the Bulls.

Additionally, the Celtics were at their best when they got out in transition and gave Rondo the basketball. Whether it was faking someone out and getting to the rim himself, tossing up a lob to Kevin Garnett on the break, or finding a sagging Ray Allen for a wide open three, Rajon got his team the best look possible anytime he had the ball in the open court. In the International Game, the style is much more up tempo and with athletes like Rudy Gay, Gerald Wallace or Andre Iguodala around him, expect a lot of alley-oops when Rondo is leading the break.

“I’ve played in (the international game) before and I had a little bit of success so I’m looking forward to it,” Rondo told me.

Rajon strives to be the new kid on the block, the next generation point guard, and a unique talent. His individualism, his confident attitude and his breathtakingly fresh basketball abilities give Rondo a pretty good shot at representing his country in the 2010 World Championships as well an opportunity to become one of the faces of the NBA as the game adapts to fit the style of quick, athletic point guards like Rondo.

Then again, there is nobody like Rondo. Because just like the custom made Beats by Dre headphones, this edition golden with a touch of Celtic green, Rajon walked into the Thomas & Mack Center sporting today, he is one of a kind.

And he’d have it no other way.

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