Three-on-Three: Previewing the Knicks and Celtics

Three reasons for and three against a Knicks upset.

By Josh Alper
|  Sunday, Apr 17, 2011  |  Updated 9:41 AM EDT
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Knicks Playoff Preview

AP

If history is a guide, there might be blood.

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One small step for most teams, one gigantic step for Knicks-kind.

After all the pain, all the tears and all the Isiah, the Knicks have returned to the playoffs. That achievement has been a little watered down along the way -- not all that surprising given the city and the Carmelo Anthony trade -- but it should celebrated for a brief moment.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's start looking ahead to what the series between the Knicks and Celtics is going to look like. We've seen the teams play four times this year, but we can throw out three of those games because of changes to the roster and the utterly meaningless season finale on Wednesday.

The only matchup that tells us anything is the one before that, the March game that saw the Celtics rally back from a second-half deficit and close out the Knicks late. It stands as the first reason why it is hard to imagine a Knicks upset.

EXPERIENCE - That fourth quarter was a thing of beauty if you like watching seasoned units who know how and when to kick into higher gear and close out tightly fought games. That's why we're a bit dubious of reading too much into the Celtics' late-season swoon.

They did the same thing heading into the playoffs last season and then came out and went to the NBA Finals. That's what they're counting on doing again, but it is also the first reason to believe in a Knicks upset.

AGE - You can only go to the well so many times before it is totally dry. The Celtics' faith in their ability to flip the switch is understandable, but the thing about that approach is that you're left with no second move once flipping the switch has no effect on the situation.

The Knicks know exactly what they're going to get, for better or for worse. Which leads us to the second pillar of faith.

THE BIG THREE - To win in the playoffs, you need players capable of generating offense down the stretch of close games. The Knicks have three such players in Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Amar'e Stoudemire.

All three of them can get buckets in a variety of ways, Anthony is the best clutch scorer in the league and they also make frequent trips to the free throw line. That's going to be key in limiting the Celtics' ability to exploit the second anchor on upset hopes. 

SIZE MATTERS - The Knicks have been terrible all season when it comes to stopping opposing teams from scoring inside and even worse when it comes to keeping them off the boards. The Celtics may have erred royally in giving away Kendrick Perkins, but they still have enough down low to slow pace, create second chances and bury the Knicks. 

Size is a bit part of the final vote in Boston's favor as well.

DEFENSE- Boston plays it all of the time and the Knicks play it some of the time. That matters, but the nice thing about the Knicks is that their final reason to feel the upset coming can negate that. 

THE OTHER BIG THREE - The Celtics can play all the defense in the world and it isn't going to stop the Knicks from getting and taking a lot of shots from beyond the arc. If those threes fall, the chances of the Knicks winning goes up tremendously. 

You need only look at the NCAA Tournament to know how much the underdog can change the face of a game by making its threes. The Knicks aren't quite VCU, but they are going to need a little of that kind of magic to pull off four wins against the Celtics.

We'll know soon enough if that's what the fates have in store for them. And, even if the answer is negative, we'll enjoy finding out a lot more than we enjoyed anything in the last seven years of Knicks basketball.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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