NBA PM: Knicks-Celtics Isn’t ‘War’
The United States suffered over 25,000 casualties in the Revolutionary War. We lost nearly nine times that amount in the Civil War and the two World Wars combined cost America no less than 500,000 soldiers.
But you know what’s really bad? That time Celtics guard Rajon Rondo accidentally gave Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony a small cut above the eye.
"Brutal battles, man," Anthony, a combatant in America’s attack on appropriate metaphors, told Marc Berman of The New York Post about the Knicks’ upcoming first-round playoff series against the Celtics. "Wars. It’s going to be a very intense, high-energy series. They got something to prove. We have something to prove. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be crazy. We just have to keep our composure. It’s going to be a very physical series. That’s the way they play."
Yes Anthony got cut above the eye during the Knicks’ 96-86 loss to the Celtics on March 21—a game in which three different players’ blood was spilt on the Madison Square Garden floor. The game serves as a perfect backdrop for the first playoff series of the Carmelo Anthony-Amar’e Stoudemire era because it lends itself to war metaphors and stokes the fire that already exists between the two cities. But there are two problems with the characterization of this Knicks-Celtics series as a "war."
2. The Celtics-Knicks rivalry has been less of a violent bloodbath in recent years and more of splash fight in some tepid community pool.
The two franchises haven’t met in the playoffs since 1990 and have only shared the spotlight for a few fleeting moments in NBA history.
The Knicks were the better franchise prior to 1956, racking up three Eastern Conference crowns, but things changed for the Celtics when Red Auerbach drafted Bill Russell. Boston made the NBA Finals every year and pocketed nine titles from 1957 to 1966, during which time New York managed to make the playoffs only once.
As players like Willis Reed, Walt Bellamy, Dick Barnett, Clyde Frazier and Dave Debusschere joined the Knicks in the late 60s, the gap began to close. The Celtics won titles in ’68 and ’69, but by 1970 were completely eclipsed by the World Champion Knicks.
Boston crawled its way back into the playoffs by 1972, but became a stepping-stone for New York in the 1973 Conference Finals. The Knicks ultimately went on to beat the Lakers, 4-1, in the NBA Finals.
The Celtics bounced back to beat the Knicks in seven games in the 1974 Eastern Conference Finals before going on to capture the first of two titles in the Dave Cowens era, but the two franchises wouldn’t meet again until the 1984 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Larry Bird’s first of three playoff battles against the Knicks was a grueling even-game series that saw New York’s Bernard King average 29.1 PPG. The Knicks tied the series at three games apiece with a 106-104 Game 6 win, but the Celtics won the seventh game 121-104 before ultimately beating the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
After dropping the Knicks 3-1 in the first round of the 1988 Eastern Conference Playoffs, the Celtics’ dynasty began to crumble in 1990. Relegated to the fourth seed, Boston took a 2-0 lead on New York in the first round before ultimately losing three straight to Patrick Ewing-led Knicks. The rest of the decade belonged to New York, and no matter what Boston tried to do (signing Dominique Wilkins, drafting Eric Montross or trading for Kenny Anderson), the franchise couldn’t recapture the magic of their previous three decades. The Knicks made two appearances in the NBA Finals in the 90s, but lost their edge by 2001-2002. And, as Boston has regrouped under president Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers over the last four seasons, New York has patiently waited for its return to basketball prominence.
Anthony may feel like he’s gearing up for war, but these two franchises haven’t played meaningful postseason basketball since the first George Bush was in office. This isn’t a battle. It’s not even a grudge match. All we can hope for is a compelling series that serves as a starting point for the rekindling of the Celtics-Knicks rivalry.
Some P.I.T. Names to Remember
Last week’s Portsmouth Invitational proved to be a great showcase for the 2011 NBA Draft. As always, it wasn’t filled with lottery hopefuls, but there were plenty of players who impressed NBA Scouting Director Ryan Blake. Here are just a few:
"There was a mistake where we were told he pulled out," Blake told HOOPSWORLD. "He asked to come back in. I really wanted to see him. I thought he was going to the man.
"He establishes great position down the court or off the back screen," Blake continued. "He’ll fake right and go over his shoulder for that right hook and it’s almost unstoppable."
Macklin, who began his college career at Georgetown, doesn’t have a high ceiling but did average 11.6 PPG and 5.4 RPG as a senior, so it’s conceivable he could contribute in the NBA right off the bat.
Luke Sikma, Portland—Sometimes a player’s plusses and minuses are out of his hands. Some scouts might look at Luke Sikma—son of NBA legend Jack Sikma—decide that the power forward has the right bloodlines, and convince an NBA team to use a second-round pick on the Pilots senior. Conversely, another NBA scout could look at Sikma’s listed height of 6-8 and carry a bias against the young man.
But that’s why events like the P.I.T. are put together. Not everyone saw Portland play this year, so it was tough to put Sikma’s 12.9 PPG and 10.5 RPG in proper context. Thankfully, Sikma’s nine-rebound, 23-minute effort in one P.I.T. game last week proves that he can still make a difference against better competition.
"This guy’s a work horse and he’s very skilled," Blake said. "He literally makes everybody better. I can’t remember what his stat line was, but he made five tip outs in a row on the offensive end just to get the ball back out. He made some unbelievable screens too.
Rick Jackson, Syracuse—Last season Arinze Onuaku completed his career at Syracuse only to discover that the NBA wasn’t interested in an undersized center who had only played zone defense in college. This year Rick Jackson (6-9, 240 pounds) is hoping to avoid the same pitfall. The Big East Defensive Player of the Year averaged 13.1 PPG and 10.3 RPG as a senior, but had an up and down performance at the P.I.T.
"He showed some great post moves using either hand," Blake said. "That’s great. He had some opportunities, but he didn’t hit shots. And from an NBA perspective, that’s okay. We know he can make five of those that rimmed in and out. We’re looking at intangibles, and he has those."
The Bulls did a remarkable job weathering the storm while Joakim Noah missed time due to injury earlier in the season, but how good will they be if he’s hobbled in the playoffs?
Noah sprained his right ankle on March 28 against Philadelphia, and has struggled ever since.
"He’s got to do better and he’s capable," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told Mike McGraw of The Aurora Daily Herald. "We need him to play better and he will."
Noah has averaged 7.3 RPG and 5.5 PPG since injuring his ankle. The Bulls did get a great contribution from Omer Asik when Noah was hurt earlier in the year, but Thibodeau is going to need full arsenal if Chicago is going to advance to the NBA Finals.
The Bulls face the Knicks at 8 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.
HOOPSWORLD Twitter: HOOPSWORLD has launched a new Twitter module where we will be releasing more breaking news and insider-type information via Twitter. Make sure you are following all of our guys to insure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @jfleminghoops, @TheRocketGuy, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @alexraskinNBA, @stephenlitel, @TommyBeer, @DPageHOOPSWORLD and @YannisHW.
NBA Chats: You can always find the next chat here: Upcoming NBA Chats.