the sports section

‘Must-Win’ Is Losing All Meaning

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks celebrates a three point basket in the second half as Jeff Green #8 of the Boston Celtics looks on during Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs on April 20, 2013 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The New York Knicks defeated the Boston Celtics 85-78. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
You’re killing “must-win,” Carmelo. Photo: Elsa/2013 Getty Images

After beating the Celtics in Game 1 of the opening round of the NBA playoffs on Saturday despite a mediocre performance, the Knicks will look to go up 2-0 tonight at the Garden. Sports reporters, looking to hype up the game as much as humanly possible — as is their wont — are now asking players on both teams whether tonight’s game qualifies as a “must-win.”

Now, technically, only an elimination game is really a “must-win” — you literally must win to prolong your season. But a non-stickler definition of “must-win” would encompass games that are merely extremely important to win. For the Celtics, you could argue that tonight represents such a game. In all of NBA history, only fifteen teams — something like 6 percent — have come back from 2-0 deficits to win a best-of-seven playoff series, so the chances are that, if the Celtics lose tonight, they will never recover. 

But the Celtics’ Jeff Green went beyond calling tonight’s game a “must-win.” To him, every playoff game is a must-win. 

That’s a good mind-set to be in. (Ideally, you would have that mind-set for every game, whether in the regular season or playoffs.) But it’s wrong. Every playoff game is not a must-win. Game 1 certainly wasn’t. If it were, the Celtics, having lost it, would already be doomed. 

Carmelo Anthony, for his part, says the Knicks areapproaching this game as a must-win here on our home court.” Again, that’s fine from a motivational standpoint, but let’s be clear: This game is in no way a “must-win” for the Knicks. Losing would certianly be worse than winning, but they would still be in a good position to beat the Celtics, a lowly seventh seed, if they headed to Boston tied 1-1. If tonight’s game is a “must-win” for the Knicks, the label has officially lost all meaning.