Right after the Knicks clinched the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 54-28 record — their most wins since the 1996-97 — it became clear that they were going to play the Boston Celtics in the first round. This felt unfair, somehow. The Knicks have a breakthrough season, at the peak of their powers, and they're "rewarded" by having to face their nemesis, the team that has caused them so much pain over the last decade, the team that notoriously makes a deep playoff run every season, the team likely eager to feed of the fervor of a raucous, emotional city. This is what they get for the great season? The freaking Celtics in the first round? How terrifying. But two games into the team's first-round playoff series, it seems safe to come out from under your desk. These are the Celtics, but they are not those Celtics. And these are not those Knicks. These Knicks are the superior team, by a substantial margin. And they're showing it.
The Knicks beat the Celtics 87-71 on Tuesday night, taking a 2-0 series lead before heading up to Boston on Friday night. It was a giddy, wild night at the Garden, particularly in the third quarter, when the Knicks outscored the Celtics 32-11 and put the game away. It was as much fun a playoff quarter as the Knicks have had in more than a decade. Witness:
- The Knicks shot 12-of-17 from the field, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range.
- Carmelo Anthony scored 13 points.
- The Celtics shot 4-for-18 from the field.
- Kevin Garnett was booed off the court twice. (So many "KG Sucks!" chants. An excellent variation on the traditional, and currently uncouth, "Boston Sucks."
- J.R. Smith probably did this a couple more times.
It was total freewheeling domination, the Knicks as their best selves, the team Knicks fans had been waiting for for six quarters. They just turned it on and wiped out the Celtics like it was nothing, like they were the Bobcats or something. The big scary Celtics, mean old Kevin Garnett, assassin Paul Pierce ... the Knicks just blew them off the court. It was something to see. (The Celtics only scored 12 points in the fourth quarter too, totaling 23 in the whole second half.)
The Knicks once again escaped a lousy first half in far better position than they should have. At halftime, despite being out shot 55 percent to 38 percent, despite a 18-8 deficit in points off turnovers, being outrebounded, out-assisted, and blocking no shots (the interior defense was still a problem, though Tyson Chandler showed a bit more pep tonight), the Knicks were only down six. And that deficit was erased in the first two minutes of the second half by two Iman Shumpert 3-pointers. And then it was on. It was such an easy win that Jim Dolan just couldn't help but enjoy himself a lollipop.
Carmelo Anthony finished with 34 points, and J.R. Smith had 19, all of which were deliriously entertaining. (Raymond Felton was terrific again, by the way.) And by the end, Quentin Richardson was getting minutes. It was a shellacking, that second half. By the end, there was no Ubuntu, no Paul Pierce dagger, no Kevin Garnett heckle. There was just a team vaguely impersonating the Celtics, and the Knicks looking like something we haven't seen around here in a long time. The Knicks have two games in Boston coming up, and winning one of them will be imperative, lest this series come back here tied and everyone all nervous again. It is the Celtics, after all, and as down as they look right now, muscle memory can't help but kick in and scare Knicks fans a little; you never know with those guys.
But tonight, that didn't look like much of a possibility. Tonight, in that second half, you wondered if this series is even coming back to New York at all.