The old axiom about the NBA playoffs is that a series doesn’t truly begin until a team loses on its home floor. For one half, it looked like the Celtics officially kicked off this series.
But the luck of the leprechaun didn’t follow them back onto the floor for the second half, as the Knicks dismantled their rival, 87-71, in Game 2 of the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Celtics initially used a stifling defense and a balanced offense to keep the Knicks off-balance, as Paul Pierce led the way for Boston by scoring 10 of his 18 points in the first half. Pierce, along with guys like Jeff Green and Brandon Bass, made life miserable for Carmelo Anthony at first, as the league’s scoring champ shot a horrid 3-of-11 in the first half for 15 points. But Anthony acquitted himself nicely in the second half, specifically the third quarter, when he scored 13 of his game-high 34 points.
“It was a tale of two halves for me shooting the ball,” Anthony said. “We came out in the third quarter and extended our defense to full-court pressure, which then opened up our offensive game. We just buckled down on our defensive end, and that was the key tonight. ... Our defense is what makes us win basketball games.”
Anthony was joined by J.R. Smith, who added 19 points on an efficient 7-of-15 shooting to help the Knicks hold serve by winning their first two games at home. Raymond Felton added 16 points to provide a great third option for a Knicks team that has been searching for a sure-fire one all season.
“This is very important. You’re talking about if you’re trying to win a title, you need everyone to chip in,” head coach Mike Woodson said. “I have a lot confidence in Melo, but I also have a lot of confidence in everyone on this team. We’re going to need everybody. It’s not going to be a one-man show. There are times when he might struggle, and that’s when the other guys are going to have to step up.”
Felton’s backcourt mate Pablo Prigioni certainly stepped up as he returned to the lineup after missing Game 1 with a sprained ankle. And while his return didn’t garner any fanfare, his impact was felt, as he helped shut down Boston’s perimeter players. Prigioni had only one point, but he added a team-high five assists and had a steal. Prigioni’s real impact was the way he neutralized Celtics shooting guard Avery Bradley, who had a nice showing in the first game. Prigioni was back in the rotation and gave Bradley fits, as the lightning-quick guard scored only six points on just 2-of-5 shooting.
“Pablo’s return gave us another guy that could help run our team and give us a defensive presence out front guarding the ball,” said Woodson. “I thought offensively we were awful [in Game 1]. But those [holes] were some of the things that we got a chance to look at over the last few days, and it helped having Pablo back in the lineup again.”
Prigioni wasn’t alone in the destruction of the Celtics. Kenyon Martin flexed his muscles again by adding game highs in rebounds (11) and blocked shots (four) in 23 minutes off the bench.
Overall, it was total Knicks domination in the second half, as the Celtics were held to a franchise-low 23 second-half points. Woodson, though, said he’s already been warning his team not to expect the Celtics to lay down for them as the series now shifts back to Boston.
“We defended our home court, that’s it. But that’s why we worked so hard to have that advantage,” Woodson said. “But it’s going to be a different series when we go up there. It’s going to be a hostile environment, so we’ll almost have to play perfect basketball, because we can’t expect to just go in there and blow them out.”
Game 3 will be Friday night in Boston, but if the Celtics continue their lackluster scoring and the Knicks continue to flip that switch and eviscerate the Celtics’ defense, there might not be any need to come back to the Garden for a Game 5.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.