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Even with the Boston Celtics missing one of their best players in Paul Pierce, the NBA’s decision to start off the 2011-12 season with a Celtics-Knicks clash at the Garden proved to be an excellent one. After a quarter of play it didn’t seem like this would be much of a contest but then the Celtics settled in a bit and the Knicks started playing class D’Antoni defense.
Things got interesting then, especially once Rajon Rondo decided to take things over in the the middle quarters of the game. It wasn’t your standard superstar offensive dominance, Rondo was simply leaking out time and time again after the Knicks put up a shot, which resulted in quite a few wide-open lay-ups on the break. And when he wasn’t leaking out he would just push the ball right at a Knicks’ defense that didn’t want to stop the ball.
With the score at 67-57 with 9:30 left in the third quarter, Rondo delivered this sequence:
That tied the game at 69 in just two minutes. During that stretch, New York’s point guard, Toney Douglas, missed three shots and commited a foul on Rondo. The rest of Boston’s players would settle in after that burst and Marquis Daniels and Brandon Bass starting making plays. To close out the quarter Rondo dished out back-to-back assists to Bass and the Celtics finished the third with an 87-79 lead.
Hit the jump for the rest of the recap…
It was typical of the Celtics to deliver with such a run. They’ve never been a team that would roll over when they are getting beat and against the Knicks defense, Boston had a great opportunity to get back into the game and they seized it. But it was at that point when the Knicks finally woke up from their lull. After starting off the game fueled by the electric crowd in the Garden, New York relaxed a bit once they went up 11 and Carmelo Anthony had to sit out for a good part of the second half because of foul trouble.
Once Anthony checked back into the game to start the fourth quarter, he went on a Rondo-like binge of point creation. First a three, then an 18-foot jumper, then a pair of free throws, then an alley-oop from Anthony to Chandler, and then a pair of technical free throws. That 11-point stretch from Carmelo cut Boston’s lead down to four with six minutes left in the game. After a pair of buckets from Amare Stoudemire, three from Toney Douglas and a mid-range jumper from Kevin Garnett, New York found themselves down three before Anthony hit a three to tie the game at 100.
Carmelo Anthony closed this game out, hitting a tough double-clutched mid-range jumper to give the Knicks a 104-102 lead. After the Celtics answered (with Marquis Daniels no less), Anthony drew a foul on Daniels on his way to the basket and hit both free throws. Boston would go back to Daniels after those free throws, getting him the ball in the corner for a three-point attempt. It was a questionable call and he missed the shot. Boston would get the ball back with four seconds left and the player choice for the last second shot was a bit better. Kevin Garnett got the ball at the top of the key down two with a chance to tie. He had a driving lane after making his initial move but he settled for a long two-point jumper that missed and the Knicks came away with a 106-104 victory.
Anthony was spectacular in this game. He had an incredible game against Boston in the post-season last year when both Amare Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups were out when he dropped 44 points and I thought this was on par with that performance. Foul trouble certainly hurt him and Paul Pierce wasn’t defending him, but Anthony finished with 37 points and eight rebounds on 10-of-17 shooting. Anthony’s performance rocked the scales on a stat I am playing with: the Pure Scorer Rating (PSR). Anthony had a PSR of 20 and got to the line 15 times.
His debut in the role of point forward wasn’t as brilliant (he had five turnovers to just three assists) and it’s clear what Anthony’s instincts are. That said, because of Toney Douglas’ poor play (eight-of-19 from the field) and rookie Iman Shumpert’s leg injury that will keep him out of action for two to four weeks, Anthony may be asked to play that role even more. It’s not necessarily a bad thing as it will help them as they try to get Carmelo into some more pick-and-roll action and at least Anthony knew when it was time to try out his new role and when it was time to switch back into closer mode.
I’ve often wondered how Anthony will deal with Anthony being the crunch time scorer on this team (as he should be). Unlike when he and Steve Nash worked together, Stoudemire won’t even be involved in some of the action designed for Melo in the clutch. Instead of running pick and rolls and having Amare as a threat on the roll, Stoudemire will probably just be standing around watching Carmelo isolate, as that’s where he is at his best. Just something to watch for over time.
In this game, Amare was decent. His numbers look a lot better than his play. Amare only missed three of his 11 shot attempts and even knocked down a pair of three’s, but he wasn’t able to get anything going to the basket and shot just two free throws while only grabbing six rebounds. This will also be a developing theme for the Knicks this season. When Amare gets the ball at the free throw line extender he won’t have as much room to operate on the drive because Tyson Chandler wants to be in the paint to fight on the offensive glass. Previously, when Amare was New York’s de facto center, they’d just clear out and let him work. Amare is very good when that’s the case, so we’ll see if they try to move Chandler outside of the paint more often or if Stoudemire is relegated to the outside more often this year.
Speaking of Chandler, he was as good as a third wheel can be when only taking two shots. There were times when it looked like he had a case of the Melo’s on defense but he really stepped it up on that end in the fourth quarter and finished with six blocks, including two on one possession in the fourth. New York’s other role players will need to be better. While Landry Fields was pretty good on defense against Ray Allen, there was little to no scoring out of the reserves and the combination of Douglas and Shumpert resulted in 11 of 32 shooting from the field.
Boston will get better over time but I also don’t think they will be quite as good as they were in this game, which may sound odd. Simply put, Boston is at their best when Rondo can score and this seems to be the only team he does that against consistently. He averaged 19 points per game against the Knicks in the playoffs last year including a 30-point output. Rondo’s 31 points, 13 assists, five rebounds and five steals were excellent but I don’t know if he’ll be able to get off 10 shots at the rim against many other teams.
Brandon Bass looks like a great addition for the Celtics after that first game, as he excels at hitting mid-range jumpers. With plenty of pick-and-pop’s in the offensive gameplan for Boston, he should fit right in.
There are still 65 games left to be played for both teams, and they are far from being what they will be at the end of the year, but that was quite the debut game for the 2011-12 season.