On Monday, the Knicks began a week in which they can peer into the past, present and future. First up was the past. The Boston Celtics, who despite upsetting the Knicks by 102-96 at Madison Square Garden–even without their best player, All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, who was serving an NBA imposed one-game suspension–are well beyond their championship prime.
Tonight (Thursday) in Indiana, they meet up with the Pacers, a team whose core players, with the exception of the tough and cagey 33-year-old veteran David West, are in the midst of what should be the most productive years of their careers. Even without forward Danny Granger, like Rondo an All-Star, who has not appeared in a single game this season as a consequence of patellar tendonitis of the left knee, the Pacers, an Eastern Conference finalist last season, are in the thick of the race again.
Tomorrow, the Knicks face the Bulls, who reside in the same category as themselves, and the Pacers, centered in the matrix of the present and future. The Bulls have shown extraordinary resilience, led by one of the league’s best coaches, Tom Thibodeau, playing minus Derrick Rose, who tore his ACL last May in the playoffs and is about six weeks away from returning. The Bulls were 19-13 as of Tuesday, only two games behind 23-11 Knicks in the loss column, and have beaten them twice this season. They utilized a blueprint that the Celtics executed to perfection a few days back in defeating the Knicks, and one that the Memphis Grizzlies also found to be highly effective when they were the only team to top Mike Woodson’s squad in their first nine games: be exceedingly physical against them and touch up Carmelo Anthony on every possession.
The Celtics’ Kevin Garnett, a master of borderline dirty play and mind games–though some plausibly argue that it is simply old-school basketball–bumped, banged and trash talked Anthony and his teammates into utter frustration on Monday night. Anthony shot an uncharacteristic six for 26 and four for 12 on threes.
“In the heat of the battle, you gotta hang in there and keep playing,” said Woodson. “I thought the Celtics were a little out of control, but they made the plays they needed to make to win.”