The New York Knicks and Boston Celtics are far from the same teams that set out at this season's start. Injuries have hit, catastrophically to the Knicks' frontcourt and also to the Celtics' backcourt, yet the fill-ins for both teams have played into each team's M.O. quite well.
That's why predictions for the first round series matchup are so difficult.
New York's propensity to spread the court and launch three-pointer after three-pointer only intensified through season-ending injuries to Kurt Thomas, who was cut, and Rasheed Wallace, who is now retired. A bulging disc in Tyson Chandler's neck has kept the rim-protecting center out as the playoffs have neared. Meanwhile, the Celtics' loss of Rajon Rondo put the defensive menace Avery Bradley in the spotlight.
So in an offense-defense matchup of two historic franchises, it'll be nearly a toss-up. The Knicks are getting the edge heading into Game 1.
Zach Harper of CBS Sports believes the Knicks will win in seven games, and Carmelo Anthony's stellar season gives New York the advantage.
At the same time, both Harper and USA Today's Adi Joseph realize that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett -- no matter their age -- always come to play in the postseason. But when it comes down to it, Joseph deduces that the Knicks are simply playing better heading into the series. He believes New York takes it in six games.
Jeff Green could be an X-factor in this one, Kurt Helin of NBC's ProBasketballTalk notes. But whether he'll be able to both give Anthony a stern test and act as a third scorer for the Celtics is a tough task.
Anthony's first playoff run in New York ended in a sweep at the hand of Boston two years ago. And considering his history even this season in the well-chronicled postgame quest to find Garnett at the team bus, there's apparently enough motivation for the league's scoring champ to take it to Boston. Like Harper, Helin has the Knicks winning in seven.
Q&A with Jeff Clark of Celtics Blog
How does Boston slow down Carmelo Anthony while also limiting the Knicks' three-point opportunities?
It is going to be defense by committee on Carmelo Anthony. Paul Pierce, Jeff Green, and even some guys like Brandon Bass will get a shot at it. The Celtics typically work to limit a team's first and second options so they'll key on Melo and run out at the 3 point line. That strategy often leaves some secondary players open and allows role players to have career high nights, but that's a risk they are willing to take most nights.
Who is the X-factor in this series for either team?
The X-factor for the Celtics is clearly Jeff Green. When he's on, he makes the Celtics really hard to stop. You know what you can expect from Pierce and Garnett but Green has been hit or miss at times this season. If he can be aggressive in taking the ball to the hoop, that will free other people up and the offense will space and flow better as a result.
What's your final prediction?
It is really hard to predict anything with either of these teams, but I'll take the Celtics in 6.
Q&A with Seth Rosenthal of Posting and Toasting
For two injury-plagued teams, which current roster better plays into?
It's gotta be the Knicks, right? The Celtics are missing their totally idiosyncratic point guard-- the guy who runs their entire offense. The Knicks are mostly hurting up front, which has only emboldened Mike Woodson to play smaller and smaller lineups. That's reinforcing the Knicks' style, if anything. I guess that's changed a bit with Pablo Prigioni now out and the Knicks likely forced to start a more traditional lineup (i.e. just one point guard) in Game 1, but the Celtics are stil way more hurt.
Do you expect New York's high rate of three-point attempts to be successful in the playoffs as it was in the regular season?
It'll come and go, just as it did during the season. They're still going to shoot a lot of threes, and they're probably still going to get great looks. All season long, New York went through stretches in which those great, open looks just wouldn't fall. That'll probably happen again at some point, but yeah, I've gotta assume high quality outside looks for high quality outside shooters will still be at least somewhat reliable.
What's your final prediction?
I think I've said Knicks in 6 elsewhere, but I'm feeling Knicks in 7 at this very moment, if only because it's hard for my Celtic-fearing brain to grasp the Knicks winning a series IN Boston.