Sunday, April 17, 2011

Not a slam dunk for Celtics

I haven't seen anyone proclaim in print, online or on-screen that the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics have anything to worry about in their opening-round playoff series against the New York Knicks, which tips off Sunday night.

Far be it for me to offer a dissenting point of view; last June, the Celtics were one victory away from claiming their second NBA championship in three years, and probably would have if not for the injury suffered by Kendrick Perkins (more about that in a minute). Their future Hall-of-Fame Big Three of Kevin Garnett (above), Paul Pierce and Ray Allen looks to be primed for another long postseason run, and the Boston Garden faithful are expecting nothing less.

And Celtics Nation could be given a pass for looking past the Knicks, given that the oftimes-dysfunctional New Yorkers haven't even been to the postseason in the past six years, lost all four regular-season meetings with the C's this season and are defensively- and rebound-challenged ... two areas where the Celtics would appear to have a decided advantage.

Or do they?

Much has been made of the Knicks' offense-first philosophy and their delinquent defensive play. Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are not exactly recognized as defensive deterrents, certainly not in the same way Garnett is.

Funny, then, when you take a closer look at statistics this season, and notice the Knicks, over the course of the regular campaign, averaged 106.5 points to the Celtics' 96.5 - and here's the grabber - averaged 40.5 boards to Boston's 38.8.

And the rebounding gap between Garnett and Stoudemire? Surprising slim -- Garnett averaged 8.9 rebounds this season to Stoudemire's 8.2.

Folks in Boston have been wringing their hands and beating themselves with chains after the puzzling midseason trade that sent Perkins to Oklahoma City. Perkins not only supplied a defensive presence but an intangible factor that has clearly been missed on the parquet floor.

Now none of this is to suggest I'm picking the Knicks to win -- let's say Celtics in six -- just that there's a good chance success-starved Knicks fans will have roughly one more week to smile and hope before turning their springtime attention fully to the Yankees.

What about the Mets, you say? The less said about them, the better.

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