The Knicks have the playoff monkey off their back. Though it was an excruciating struggle, the Bockers finally finished off the Boston Celtics in Game 6 on Friday to win their first playoff series since 2000.
Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith shot a combined 12-36 (33%) in the effort but the Knicks received key contributions from Pablo Prigioni (14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) and Iman Shumpert (17 points, 2 steals) to put them over the top for an 88-80 victory.
Of course, the end result should not have been as close as it was, considering the Knicks were ahead by a score of 75-49 with 9:48 left to go in the game, when the C’s began their furious comeback. The Knicks didn’t score for the next 4:44 as the Celtics amassed 20 points in the same time frame to cut the lead to just 8.
One minute later, and with four minutes to go in the game, the Knicks lead was only a measly four, as their offense and defense seemed inept and helpless against a surging Celtics team.
For Boston, however, it was not to be. Paul Pierce continued to miss shots and Carmelo Anthony began to hit his, shoving the dagger into Celtics fans’ hearts with a three pointer to extend the lead back to nine with 1:43 to play. The Knicks cruised from there to avoid an embarrassing and stressful Game 7 in New York.
As a fan, I look at this experience for the Knicks in two ways. First of all, it was far more stressful than it needed to be. Boston was on the ropes after a humiliating loss at home in Game 3. JR Smith’s elbow to Jason Terry’s face and subsequent suspension put a halt to the Knicks’ momentum and gave the Celtics a spark, spurring them on the impressive victories in Games 4 and 5. Going into Game 6, I couldn’t help of the 2004 ALCS in which the Red Sox shocked the sports world by coming back from a 3-0 series deficit to the Yankees (Boston didn’t forget either as they were playing replays of the series on the screen at TD Garden).
Secondly and ultimately this series was a learning experience for the Knicks, which taught them a bit of humility. This is a skill that will be needed in the later rounds.
New York will face a far younger and athletic opponent in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Indiana Pacers. The two teams split the season series 2-2. Look for Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith to perform better with the decreased pressure after the first round victory.
Reports also indicate that Amare Stoudemire could start playing limited minutes for the Knicks as early as Game 3 of this series. The extent of his role and his ability to be effective are undetermined.
Despite the fact that this will be a difficult challenge for the Knicks keeping up with the likes of Paul George and Lance Stephenson, home court advantage should help them enormously. The Pacers were a mediocre away team this year with a 19-21 record. If the Knicks can take care of business at Madison Square Garden as they did all season, they should be able to move on to the Conference Finals. Knicks in seven.