Celtics Need Strong Finish to Avoid First-Round Matchup With Knicks

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March 22, 2011

Celtics Need Strong Finish to Avoid First-Round Matchup With Knicks The Celtics have yet another motivation to battle the Chicago Bulls for the top seed in the East.

They don’t want to run into the seventh-seeded New York Knicks in the first round.

Sure, Boston upended the upstart Knicks 96-86 on Monday night at Madison Square Garden, but it took a bloodbath and a late-game comeback to do it.

Troy Murphy suffered a bloody nose; Glen “Big Baby” Davis crashed to the floor after taking a Carmelo Anthony elbow to the head; and Ray Allen needed seven stitches in his head after an inadvertent elbow from Jared Jeffries.

“This felt like a playoff game tonight,” Kevin Garnett said afterward. “Felt like we were in a bar fight.”

Imagine what it’ll be like when it’s an actual playoff game — two of the oldest division rivals in basketball, elbowing one another in the head.

As of right now, Boston (50-19) and Chicago (50-19) are knotted for first place, with Miami (48-22) just 2.5 games behind. New York (35-35) is one back from Philadelphia (36-34) and 4.5 up on Indiana (31-40). A Celtics-Knicks draw, in other words, is a very real possibility.

It’s a first-round matchup reminiscent of Celtics-Hawks in 2008, or Celtics-Bulls in 2009. In other words, a risky proposition for the Green, who went a full seven games with each of those teams. Some might even say that three-overtime marathon with Chicago doomed Boston (which was already without KG) in its semifinals contest against Orlando.

And the Knicks are a lot like those squads — young, athletic and aggressive. Don’t forget: The Celtics nearly lost Monday’s tilt. They shot 37 percent in the first half and were down by as many as 15. They flipped the switch in the third and fourth quarters, but doing that in the postseason is a far taller order.

And New York will only get better as head coach Mike D’Antoni works Anthony into the system. When asked how long he thinks it?ll take the Knicks to jell, Doc Rivers smiled and quipped, ?Hopefully two, three years.?

Wishful thinking. Would the C’s beat ’em in a playoff matchup? Yes, almost without a doubt. But what would it cost them?

“Doc thought we were soft,” Garnett said of the head coach’s Monday-night half-time address to his players. “He thought our play was soft. He thought everything we were doing was soft, and we weren’t the C’s. So we got firm.”

Perhaps it would suit the Celtics better to get firm the remainder of the regular season — so that they can avoid a costly matchup against the Knicks altogether.

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