GREENBURGH, N.Y. - No matter how appealing a scenario it was, the Knicks tried hard Thursday to avoid the temptation of envisioning themselves going up to Boston, winning twice and sweeping the Celtics.
That, they insisted, is too far down the line to be thinking about right now.
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Instead, the Knicks insisted their focus is only on Game 3 Friday night, and with good reason. With this best-of-seven first-round series moving 200 miles north up I-95, the Knicks expect to be greeted by a more determined Celtics team in front of one of the NBA's more raucous crowds.
At Celtics practice Thursday, Paul Pierce described the Celtics as "a desperate team now," which is exactly what the Knicks said they are preparing for after taking the first two games in New York.
"I expect a team that's going to fight, make some adjustments," Carmelo Anthony said after practice. "They're home, so a lot is going to go into that emotionally, physically. We have to be prepared for whatever they're going to throw at us and just build off these last two games."
Anthony said he would be "super-duper-happy-excited" if the Knicks won two and completed the sweep in Boston but stressed the importance of not looking too far ahead. He's well aware that the series' momentum easily could shift to the Celtics with a Game 3 victory.
The Knicks won the first two games of this series thanks to strong second-half performances, particularly defensively, after trailing at halftime in both games. They have given up a total of 48 points and 14-for-63 shooting in four second-half quarters.
Jason Kidd, no stranger to playoff games in Boston, said the Knicks have to start playing with that same tenacious mentality right from the start and not wait until the second half to rev it up.
"That's the same approach we need to take into Game 3," Kidd said. "We need to act like we're down and we need to find a way to win the game."
To make an extended postseason run, the Knicks know they're going to have to win some games on the road. Friday night's Game 3 in Boston presents a litmus test of sorts for them, given the opportunity they have to all but eliminate the Celtics with a victory.
No team in the NBA has come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series, and the Celtics know it. "Right now," Pierce said, "our season's definitely on the line."
The Boston crowd figures to be a factor, too. Kidd said TD Garden is "one of the toughest places to win on the road" because the crowd is so loud and pro-Celtics. And the fans who pack the arena Friday night will come with the same desperation the Celtics say they are feeling.
"Everybody knows it's going to be hostile," J.R. Smith said. "Everybody knows the environment. Everybody knows all that. So it's a matter of us keeping it in our heads and staying focused."
And that's why the Knicks assembled a roster filled with playoff-tested players. No matter how desperate the Celtics are or how raucous the arena is, coach Mike Woodson is confident his team will not shrink under the pressure. He stressed the need to play hard right from the start.
"They're going to come out with energy and be in front of their home crowd," Tyson Chandler added. "We have to make sure we take their first punch."
With Anthony Rieber