When the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics get together in the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs, it will be a battle between two franchises heading in entirely different directions. The Knicks enter the series with their most victories in a season since a 57-win 1996-97 campaign, while 2013 marks the first year the Celtics haven't won the Atlantic Division crown since Kevin Garnett arrived in 2008.
However, when evaluating this series in the big picture, what's most interesting is how it impacts the star players of each team. At varying points in their careers, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and J.R. Smith all need a big series, for entirely different reasons.
Let's take a look at each player.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks:
When Kevin Durant elected to sit out the Oklahoma City Thunder's season finale to rest for the playoffs, it ensured that Anthony would win the first scoring title of his career. Carmelo finished the season with a 28.7-point average, which topped Durant's 28.1 points per game.
But Anthony's problem has never been putting up points in the regular season. Instead, his downfall has always been an inability to help his team get victories in the postseason.
Since Anthony arrived in New York during the 2010-2011 season, the Knicks have been eliminated twice in the first round, and in those series have combined to win just one game.
That only furthers Anthony's reputation from his days in Denver where, other than a Western Conference Finals run in 2009, his Nuggets clubs were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in seven of eight seasons.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics:
After winning a ring in their first season together in Boston and making a subsequent run to the NBA Finals two years later, neither Garnett or Pierce has much left to prove in a Celtics uniform. However, if they were to help Boston pull off a Round 1 upset this season, it would go down as one of the crowning achievements in each player's storied career.
That's because the 2013 Celtics will enter the playoffs as short-handed as any Boston club since Garnett and Ray Allen arrived to the team prior to the 2008 season. With Allen now in Miami and Rajon Rondo out for the season with a knee injury, it means two of the four most important pieces from last year's Eastern Conference Finals run won't be on the court this season for Boston.
J.R. Smith, New York Knicks:
Throughout his career, Smith has been seen as a talented but often uncoachable player. Yet, in 2013, the 27-year-old guard seemed to finally put his incredible package of skills together like never before. Specifically, Smith accepted his role as the Knicks' sixth man, averaging over 18 points despite not starting a single game.
After shooting just 31 percent from the field in last year's postseason, Smith can only further prove the doubters wrong with a big series against Boston.
Besides Carmelo Anthony, he is the most important player on the Knicks roster.