Based on game one, the Knicks have a few things to ponder.
1. Can New York reclaim the pace?
Even though the Knicks were leading most of the way, the Celtics dictated the tempo. There were a lot of offensive rebounds and a few fast breaks. Basketball-reference calculates the pace at 83.3, which is below Boston’s turtle-esque season average of 90.4. The Celtics dominated the glass with a rebound percentage of 41.7%, but they gave away an unhealthy 31%. Can or will the Knicks attempt to speed things up to get Boston out of their comfort zone? To do so they’d probably need a PG that is more willing to run and limit those second opportunities. (See more on these below)
2. Was the Knicks defense good or the Celtics offense bad?
Ray Allen had a good night (24 pts on 15 fga), but Garnett, Pierce, and Rondo seemed to struggle at times. Amar’e Stoudemire looks particularly interested in defense, and Turiaf looked invigorated. New York had 9 blocks in total. Answering this question is sometimes tricky, but I don’t think it was a Celtic off-night as much as the Knicks answered the opening bell. Actually the bigger question is can New York keep up the intensity on the defensive end?
3. What does the loss of Chauncey Billups mean?
Billups was awful in game 1. He seemed content taking just about any shot he wished, many of them ill-advised. It was like he channeled the poor decision making of Jamal Crawford with the stubbornness of John Starks. Billups played more like an aging All Star than a championship tested veteran. (Note to KB readers: remember this game the next time a pundit talks endlessly about the importance of playoff experience.)
Toney Douglas is a good backup, good enough to be a starter in the NBA. So this should be a gain for the Knicks, right? Perhaps not. Douglas’ main skill is defense, but it might be negated by Rajon Rondo. The Celtics guard lacks an outside shot, so teams tend to play off him in the half court set. The Knicks were content to let Rondo have any shot he wished outside of 16 feet. Douglas’ style of defense is normally to be aggressive and hound his opponent end to end. If the Knicks allow Toney Douglas to Do What Toney Douglas normally Do, they risk Rondo tearing them apart in the paint. If they don’t do, they’ll neutralize one of Toney’s main skills.
Additionally the loss of Billups means the rise of Anthony Carter, who will see more playing time behind Douglas. Carter is an active defender, but he’s a black hole on offense. Playing him more than 10 or 15 minutes a night is bad for the Knicks and their fans’ blood pressure. Usually the problem with injury isn’t so much the gap between the starter and the reserve, but rather the gap between the reserve and the third stringer. This is especially true as there is a small gap between Douglas and Billups, and a chasm between Douglas and Carter.
4. What other adjustments should the Knicks make?
Jared Jeffries did some nice glasswork, at least on the offensive end, and he enables the Knicks to play zone defense at times. But he was brutal elsewhere. Jeffries blew a few a couple of gimmies at the rim, which is unacceptable in such a close game. New York would be better served carving some minutes out for Shelden Williams, who is a better defensive rebounder, and is at least a capable scorer under the hoop. If Shelden is healthy, he’s be an improvement over Jeffries in this series.
Landry Fields was invisible, possibly because Chauncey Billups was so willing to take any shot he pleased. The Knicks need to attempt more back-door plays for Fields early, and see if they can ease him into the game. However I think it’s a bit early to abandon him in favor of Bill Walker. Remember that a lot of the offensive rebounds that the Celtics got were of the long variety, normally the type a guard like Fields tracks down. And perhaps the key to running more is putting two of New York’s best rebounders on the floor, along with a point guard that is willing to speed things up.
5. Can the officiating get worse?
In theory, yes, but not likely. We’re not even two full games into the playoffs and so far:
* The Knuggets lost a game because the officials failed to call offensive interference on Kendrick Perkins’ basket.
* The Knicks are upset over the call on Carmelo and the non-call on Garnett tripping Douglas both which cost them the victory.
* A shot clock error gave Memphis an extra three pointer in the first quarter.
* With a minute left and a 5 point deficit in Game 2 of the Pacers-Bulls, the refs missed a travel on Hibbert but called a dubious offensive foul call instead.
I imagine the league’s front office is not happy that so many of the stories are about the zebras, and would rather it be about the action. Even it were just chance that all these bad calls occurred, odds are that things will get better and revert to the norm. On the other hand if you subscribe to the theory of make-up calls, the Knicks have some whistle karma stored on their side.