Although they managed to keep the first game of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal close, near victories will do little for the Boston Celtics — who are desperate to sneak into the second round of the playoffs.
Their NBA odds may have taken a hit with the loss, but has their morale?
After leading through the first three quarters of Game 1, the Celtics seemed to run out of steam in the fourth. The result? A weak eight-point showing down the stretch, one that New York’s defense capitalized on and that stands as a missed opportunity for Boston.
The long and short of it is simple: Without injured point guard Rajon Rondo, greybeards Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett must lead the show for the Celtics. The two combined for a pedestrian 29 points in Game 1 — a disconcerting output that could spell the end for Boston if it becomes a trend.
While the 26 points Jeff Green posted in the opening game will be welcome any day of the week, Boston’s odds of winning the championship climb considerably with Garnett and Pierce posting stat lines akin to the ones they posted when Rondo first tore his ACL.
If they’re at their best, the C’s can at least mask the effects of age long enough to make one last deep postseason push. The question is, will we see that happen?
Aside from Boston’s underwhelming first game production, though, New York earned the Game 1 victory in its own right. Carmelo Anthony’s 36 points paced the club predictably as Knicks bench boss Mike Woodson reined in his rotation for the postseason.
While the Knicks have several options capable of contributing in meaningful situations, a scorer like Anthony was built for the playoffs and will be the first, second and third option for the Knicks franchise heading forward. Expect to see a lot out of Melo in the coming games, complemented sporadically by a long list of players like Raymond Felton and late-season acquisition Kenyon Martin.
If Boston is to rebound against the No. 2-seeded Knicks, not only will they have to get productive minutes from their veterans (Pierce and Garnett played 39 and 37 minutes, respectively), but they’ll also have to find a way to hone in on and shut down Anthony, putting players like J.R. Smith and Jason Kidd in the hot seat.