NEW YORK- - Coaches always talk about that one team they don't want to face in the playoffs. You know, the ones that aren't at the top of the standings and can be a bit streaky, but when they're hot, they're hot. Well, the New York Knicks certainly fit into that category.
New York came into Tuesday night's battle with the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Celtics -- one of the hottest teams in basketball since the All-Star break -- with a 31-29 record and tied for seventh in the East with the Philadelphia 76ers. With only six games left in their season, and no guarantee of a playoff spot, the Knicks knew exactly what they had to do: fight. And boy, did they ever.
Spurred on by a historic first-half shooting performance, the Knicks overwhelmed the Celtics, who are otherwise known for their defensive prowess, on the way to a 118-108 win in front of a national audience at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks tied an NBA record for most three-point field goals in a half (14 in the first half) and set a new one for most threes in a quarter (11 in the second). It was complete domination, from starters to the reserves (who outscored Boston's reserves, 55-2).
"We are fighting to stay in this playoff hunt," said Knicks interim coach Mike Woodson. "I knew they would make a run. They are the Boston Celtics and Doc (Rivers) has done a great job over the years with this ball club. You knew they would make a run but I thought we withstood the run."
At the center of the Knicks' success was Carmelo Anthony. Melo scored 19 in the first half and finished with a team-high 35 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists -- a triple-double.
"I just take it one day at a time and keep working, staying in the gym, working on the things I need to work on and trying to stay healthy," Anthony said about his play.
Anthony has been on an absolute tear in the month of April, never scoring less than 18 in eight games this month while topping 29 points six times and scoring 42 points twice. For the month, Anthony is averaging 32.1 points on 51.3 percent shooting.
"Melo is playing like we all thought he could play and it is a beautiful thing to watch him play because he is doing a lot of things on both ends of the floor," Woodson said. "He is making guys around him better and we are winning. That is what good players do."
"Melo is unbelievable the way he has been scoring the ball and getting to the hoop," Steve Novak said. "We are trying to make it harder for the defense to give him too much attention."
Trying, and succeeding. The Celtics paid the price for paying too much attention to Melo on Tuesday, resulting in a 19-point halftime deficit and the eventual loss. Anthony is still the Knicks' most valuable asset, but the emergence of other weapons around him have caused complete chaos for opposing teams, like Boston.
"I thought we overreacted early and started trapping so early in the game, we never do that. I didn't like it, and we did it," Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said. "I told (our team) after the game we reacted too early, trying to trap instead. We allowed him (Carmelo Anthony) to get going and everybody else going by all of our traps. We didn't have a smart defensive game tonight, and they made every shot, give them credit."
"We talked about maybe overreacting to Carmelo (Anthony)," said Celtics captain Paul Pierce, who scored a season-high 43 points in the loss. "We allowed them to swing the ball to open shooters. It ignited the other guys and gave them a lot of confidence."
Beyond Anthony, the Knicks have plenty of options, especially on the bench. J.R. Smith can burn anybody when he's rolling (he scored 25 points off the bench Tuesday and made 7-of-9 threes in the first half alone), Novak (25 points off the bench Tuesday) has proven to be a viable option as well. Tyson Chandler, Baron Davis, Iman Shumpert, Landry Field and Mike Bibby can all have their moments, too.
"You never know who will have it going," Anthony said. "On this team, anyone can get hot."
Adding the cherry on top, the Knicks have had their recent success without star forward Amar'e Stoudemire, who is targeting Friday as the return date from his back injury. A healthy Amar'e in the mix could take the Knicks from dangerous to lethal, and Melo knows that.
"We just want him to get healthy," he said. "I don't think there will be adjustments (when he comes back). I am pretty sure he will fit right in. Our biggest thing is for him to get healthy. We will need him down the stretch."
New York isn't out of hot water just yet. The win over Boston did give the Knicks a one-game cushion over Philadelphia for the seventh seed in the East and they already hold the tiebreaker against the Sixers. Milwaukee is still in the race, too, but the Knicks now lead the Bucks by 2 1/2 games. The remaining schedule for the Knicks is a winnable one, as they face Nets, Cavaliers and Bobcats in three of their final five games (the others are against the Hawks and Clippers).
It's a safe bet to say that New York will make the playoffs, but it likely won't catch up to Boston in the Atlantic Division, meaning it will probably have to settle for the seventh or eight seed. Translation: the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat in the first round. Those would certainly be difficult matchups, but once again, anything can happen in the playoffs.
"Anybody can be dangerous when they are on fire," said Rivers. "Everybody is dangerous in the playoffs ... A lot of teams can win this thing."