Kenyon Martin has energized Knicks

Kenyon Martin reacts after blocking a shot against Kenyon Martin reacts after blocking a shot against the Boston Celtics during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. (April 23, 2013) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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BOSTON -- When the Knicks signed Kenyon Martin virtually off his living-room couch in late February, it was for 10 days. A tryout, with no promises and no hard feelings if it didn't work out.

Certainly no one around the Knicks was predicting the kind of impact that Martin wound up having on this team.

Originally targeted to give the Knicks' frontcourt some needed depth, he soon morphed into an energizing presence on and off the court, bringing toughness and attitude. And with Tyson Chandler clearly still working his way back from a neck injury, Martin has made that a non-issue.

Jason Kidd went so far as to say his former Nets teammate "saved our season.'' So as the Knicks-Celtics first-round series switched venues for Game 3 Friday night, it's tempting to wonder what would have happened if Martin hadn't signed with the Knicks and had joined the Celtics instead.

Martin said Friday that his agent had conversations with the Celtics' front office earlier in the regular season, but those talks never advanced to the point of the team extending an offer. Which worked out in the Knicks' favor, considering what his presence off the bench has meant to them in the last two months.

"We were kind of dabbling with our identity throughout the season and he made us a dominant force on defense along with other guys,'' Carmelo Anthony said. "He gave guys confidence on the defensive end to know that we can buckle down and we can believe in our teammates.''

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Anthony said that when he first learned that the Knicks might be interested in adding Martin, he immediately gave it his seal of approval. They were teammates in Denver, and Anthony said he knew the type of physical and energizing presence that Martin would provide.

"I remember just getting a phone call saying we're trying to get him and I was like, 'Yeah, we have to, it's a must that we get him,' '' Anthony said. "At that point in time, he was the best guy out there who was not on a basketball team. Defensively, what he brings to the game, he's changed our team.''

Coach Mike Woodson said Martin brings a type of energy that is infectious on a winning team. Whether it's yelling and pumping his chest after a big defensive play or waving a towel in support of his teammates while on the bench, the 35-year-old Martin often celebrates like an 18-year-old rookie.

"His game doesn't change. Defense, rebounding, intensity, energy, you can't teach that,'' Anthony said. "Some people have that and some people don't.''

Martin was slowed by a sprained ankle late in the regular season, but he said they'd have to cut off his leg to keep him out of the postseason, and apparently he meant it. The way he has played, he has turned back the clock to his high-flying days with the Nets.

Said Kidd, "The way he's playing above the rim, he reminds me of the old K-Mart that was in New Jersey.''

Martin also brings plenty of playoff experience. Nobody is going to worry about how he's going to handle the inevitable pressure that comes with big postseason possessions. With the Nets, Martin went to the NBA Finals twice, beating the Celtics during both postseasons. That's why he said Friday that he has mostly good memories of visiting Boston at this time of year.

"We closed some playoff series out here,'' Martin said. "I'll let the guys know what it takes to win here.''

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