NBA playoffs: Celtics-Knicks rivalry returns to New York for Game 3

NBA playoffs: The Boston Celtics hold a 2-0 series lead as they face the New York Knicks tonight at Madison Square Garden in Game 3 of their NBA Eastern Conference playoff series.

Elise Amendola/AP
New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7), guard Roger Mason (18) and teammates huddle during a timeout against the Boston Celtics near the end of Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, in Boston on Tuesday, April 19.

In the first round of the NBA’s Eastern Conference playoffs, the widely-favored Boston Celtics have won two games on their home court by a total of 5 points. Victory in the first game was sealed only by some last minute heroics by guard Ray Allen, who hit a three-point shot with just over 11 seconds left on the clock.

And they won the second by a score of 96-93, with the Knicks missing 3-point shooting specialist Chauncey Billups and, for the second half, Amar’e Stoudemire - who had put up 28 points and 11 rebounds in the first game.

Much of the workload was left to the Knicks’ recent acquisition, former Denver Nuggets and Syracuse University sensation Carmelo Anthony, whose outstanding output of 42 points and 17 rebounds left many Boston fans wondering about the Celtics’ defense, which for the season gave up the fewest points per game (91.13).

The Knicks also benefited from former Indiana star Jared Jeffries, who had 10 points off the bench – including two key scores in the last minute of play that nearly got the Knicks over the top.

The Celtics 2010-2011 regular-season record, at 56-26, was six games better than last season’s. But the fact that they started the season 20-4 and ended it 13-11 has been another concern. Add to this that in the two previous playoff games, the Celtics’ bench has only scored 20 points and are shooting 9-for-30 from the floor.

Additionally, the trade the Celtics made late in the year that sent center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for, among others, Jeff Green, has been a disappointment so far for Boston. Green has scored only 10 points in this series. And since returning from injury this month, Boston’s Jermaine O’Neal has been substandard in production at both ends of the floor – tallying a total of 14 points and 6 rebounds in his two starts.

However, going back home to Madison Square Garden for the Knicks will not be easy in any respect. With both Stoudemire and Billups questionable to play, it will once again fall to Anthony to have another sparkling game; but they will need another player to step up. Jeffries seems to have found his calling in New York and could play a major reserve role.

But there will be more pressure to produce on Knicks’ guard Toney Douglas who, though talented and aggressive, tends to be inconsistent - in scoring, defense and ball-distribution. He’s scored 22 points off the bench in the first two games, but in Game 2, couldn’t keep Celtics’ guard Rajon Rondo from dropping 30 points on the Knickerbockers.

All told, the Celtics and Knicks suiting up for Game 3 will very much resemble the teams who started the series. Two squads playing full-throttle for 48 minutes to possibly another last-second conclusion. The Celtics will more than likely have reliable production from their "Big Three" of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen; and when considering that the Knicks’ injuries appear to be considerably more costly than those of the Celtics, a Boston victory would appear to be a very strong possibility.

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