The Celtics have gone through a few phases this season. First, there was the team that went 20-23 with All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo in the lineup. Then came the improbably 14-4 run immediately after Rondo was lost for the season due to a torn ACL.
But the Boston squad the Knicks are most likely to face in the opening round of the NBA playoffs is the one which came back to earth and has lost 13 of its last 20 games.
Without Rondo, whose 11.1 apg still leads the league, to direct the offense, future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce has taken on some of the point guard duties. The 35-year-old Pierce also remains the No. 1 scoring option and his track record of clutch postseason shooting makes him the primary threat the Knicks face in the matchup.
Kevin Garnett has been limited to playing in just five of the Celtics’ past 16 games, but is expected to be ready for the first round. Even at 36 years old, he continues to be a reliable player at both ends of the floor, with numbers (14.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg) in line with the majority of his Boston career.
Pierce and Garnett are familiar names in the Knicks-Celtics rivalry, but the relatively new face of Jeff Green will leave a mark on the series. After missing all of last season due to a potentially fatal heart ailment, Green stepped up since Rondo’s injury on Jan. 25. His scoring average leaped from 9.6 ppg before to 16.4 since, including a 43-point effort in a loss to the Heat on March 18.
Expect the Celtics to play with emotion, fueled by a desire to give the people of Boston something to cheer for in the wake of the tragic Boston Marathon bombings. They’re a veteran group with loads of playoff experience, but they simply won’t be good enough to keep Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks from advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals. KNICKS IN SIX GAMES