Most felt it would come to this: Celtics – Knicks to kick off the 2013 NBA postseason.
Boston invades Madison Square Garden for Game 1 of their first round series on Saturday at 3 p.m., and if it’s anything close to what the NBA expects it could be, look out.
There is certainly no love lost between the two sides, and that starts with Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony.
Garnett and Anthony exchanged many words (some reportedly about brands of cereal) on the court during their first meeting of the 2012-13 season, and Anthony actually had more after the game - all the way out to the Celtics’ team bus.
But it was the way Anthony and the Knicks responded in the next three games against Boston – all wins – that really counted.
Anthony, who finished the year with an NBA-high 28.7 points per game, certainly had some help along the way. J.R. Smith has stepped up huge for the Knicks this year and should be a frontrunner for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award.
But both Anthony and Smith have one big thing in common: lack of postseason success. Anthony has only gotten out of the first round just once in nine postseasons. Smith, once in six postseasons.
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry, on the other hand, have a championship pedigree. They might also have the mental edge, having been there, done that.
If that’s the case, Doc Rivers should be confident going into this series.
“It becomes a mental war, it really does,” Rivers told reporters this week. “You have to have great focus. You're going to get taken out of your stuff. You have to be mentally tough enough to still execute.”
The Celtics can safely assume that as the seventh seed, they’ll be starting every series they play in on the road. Rivers will lean on his vets, but also count on his younger role players.
“Game 1, Game 2, it's just a great mental test for each team, and to me it always turns out somebody comes apart when you watch the playoffs,” Rivers said. “Sometimes teams are better, but when it's really close, it's usually one team pools together and figures out everything is on the same page, and the other team comes apart. And it's your job to try to force the other team to do that. And I love that."