A storied rivalry will be renewed in the playoffs when the New York Knicks battle the Boston Celtics Saturday afternoon in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals from Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks earned the second seed in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage through the first two rounds of this postseason. The Atlantic Division champion Knicks are in the playoffs for a third straight year following a six-year absence.
New York hasn't won a playoff series since 1999-00 and is hoping All-Star and NBA leading scorer (28.7 ppg) Carmelo Anthony can lead them deep into the postseason. Anthony recorded 60 games of 20 or more points in the regular season and sat the final two games to rest. He was bothered by a shoulder issue and ended the season on a hot note, averaging 36.9 ppg and shooting 54 percent in the last eight games.
"Today was a real important day just from a mental standpoint," Anthony said after Friday's practice. "We're ready for this challenge tomorrow, we're ready to play."
Anthony was asked about how the seventh-seeded Celtics are taking the underdog role as Kevin Garnett declared New York the better team.
"We'll take it. That's our mindset. We're going out there, we gotta have confidence, we gotta believe," he said. "As far as them taking the underdog role, I'll leave that up to them. But we're not gonna underestimate these guys. We can't. We know what they're capable of. We're just ready to play."
New York coasted through the regular season with a 54-28 record, using a 31-10 mark as the host, and captured its first division crown since 1993-94. The Knicks had a 13-game winning streak down the stretch and their 54 wins was the most since going 57-25 in 1996-97.
Anthony registered averages of 27.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in five playoff games a season ago and is posting 24.9 ppg in 54 career postseason appearances. The smooth-shooting Anthony will once again be pinned with the majority of scoring duties against a Celtics team he averaged 25.3 ppg in four meetings against this season.
Knicks reserve J.R. Smith is another scoring threat. Smith caught fire on several spurts this season and is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, averaging 18.1 ppg.
Knicks coach Mike Woodson talked a few days ago about playing a Boston team New York took three of four games from this season.
"First things first, we're gonna have to do deal with Boston. They're well coached. They played well, they had their ups and downs with injuries as well and so have we," Woodson said. "We gotta get back healthy and we gotta get ready to play them. It's gonna be a good series."
As far as health is concerned, center Tyson Chandler labored through a bulging disc and forward Amare Stoudemire is still sidelined after undergoing knee surgery. It's unclear if Stoudemire will return during this series.
In the playoffs, the Knicks/Celtics rivalry dates all the way back to 1950-51 when New York swept Boston in a three-game Eastern semifinals set. The Knicks won a five-game set when the two hooked up in 1989-90, but Boston swept New York in four games in 2010-11. Overall the clubs have met 14 times, with the Celtics taking eight of the series.
Boston has won 17 NBA titles, the last of which the franchise captured in 2007-08. It has reached the playoffs in each of the last six seasons.
Besides preparing for a playoff run, the Celtics hope to revive the spirits of their city after the recent bombings during the Boston Marathon. Several people lost their lives and even more were wounded. The tragic events shook up Boston and the surrounding areas.
"I think when you go through tragedy as a city you kind of look for something to cling on, and really I believe that the city of Boston lives and dies with our sports teams and they're going to be watching closely," Celtics star forward Paul Pierce said. "And you know there's just a sense of pride about the city and a sense of pride about this team to go out there and kind of play well and to do the best we can for the city in the wake of the tragedy."
One suspect was killed and the other was later captured Friday night.
The Celtics are an aging bunch, but can still do some damage with Pierce, Garnett and many others. Avery Bradley is running the point with All-Star Rajon Rondo out for the season, while veteran Jason Terry still has a scoring touch and Jeff Green has vastly improved his game. Brandon Bass is another strong body down low for Boston.
Garnett averaged 19.2 ppg in 20 postseason games for the Celtics a year ago and bowed out in seven games to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Celtics leading scorer Pierce posted 18.9 ppg in 20 playoff games in 2011-12.
Boston did lose four of six games to end the season, but it's a new season now that the playoffs are here.