BY CHAYIM TAUBER
The New York Knicks sent a message to the NBA, the Eastern Conference, and anybody with a vested interest in the NBA playoffs this season. In taking a 2-0 series lead over the Boston Celtics and defending their home court, the Knicks have taken firm control over their first round matchup and are well on their way to advancing past he first round for the first time since 99-00.
The script couldn’t read any better for a Knicks team that’s given their fans everything they could have dared to ask for and more this season. 54 wins, a #2 seed in the playoffs, and an early 2-0 lead over their arch-rivals in Boston. The best news for the Knicks is that they should only be getting better.
Game 1 saw JR Smith was just 7-19 in game 1 and never really got into an offensive flow. He more than made up for it in game 2. After being presented with his 6th man of the year award, JR stole the show in the first quarter and put forth an efficient, 7-15 performance in game 2. He bounced back quickly from an off-night and is emotionally invested on both sides of the ball.
Of course no one has been more emotionally invested than Kenyon Martin who has arguably been the single biggest factor in this series, aside from Anthony.
“He’s been great,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “He gets older and older, and better and better. “
Martin was out of the league and looking for work. Several teams, Boston included, passed on him because of character issues (he got a bad rep as a difficult player to deal with) until he was finally signed by a desperate Knicks team. Martin has no misconceptions about who he is or why it was so hard for him to find work. He also, makes no apologies for it.
“It was never about basketball,” Martin says of the Celtics not signing him. “They might be kicking themselves now though.”
Martin was a force in Game 2, tallying 11 rebounds and 4 blocks but more importantly, providing Tyson Chandler (who is clearly not yet himself) an opportunity to rest. Chandler still looks sluggish and was nowhere near the difference-maker he is on defense (his offensive game looks even worse) but Martin’s presence in the paint and the sheer ferociousness with which he defends calls to mind reminiscences of Mason and Oakley. Martin made it clear that Kevin Garnett would not be able to bully or intimidate the Knicks while he was wearing orange and blue and last night, it was Garnett who was physically dominated throughout the night.
That’s how important Kenyon Martin has been to this Knicks team. He’s the one pumping up the crowd at every opportunity. He’s the one who enables the Knicks to endure and keep winning while the reigning defensive player of the year recuperates. And most of all, he’s the reason the Knicks are able to out-physical the Boston Celtics in a series; a thought that would have been laughable prior to his arrival.
Kenyon Martin is the default x-factor for the Knicks in this series because saying that it’s all on Carmelo Anthony’s shoulders is just too easy and cliché at this point. This is obviously Carmelo Anthony’s team and in the first two games, he’s totaled 70 points all by his lonesome. In the 3rd quarter of game 2, Anthony outscored the Celtics 13-11 (credit has to go to the Knicks defense for shutting down the Celtics in the second half of both games). Here’s the scary part – Anthony was cold for long stretches of both games. What would a game in which Anthony’s hot throughout look like? Doc Rivers and the Celtics pray they don’t find out as they return home to what should be a decided home court advantage.
It’s no secret. The Knicks know they are going into an emotionally charged atmosphere in Boston as game 3 will be the first Celtics home-game since the Marathon and the Knicks are well aware of what awaits them when they arrive.
“Guys know what’s at stake, we don’t have to talk about it,” said Martin. “Guys know what it’s about right now. It’s about winning a championship. We’re taking it game by game, just coming out and playing hard at all times, that’s what it is.”
And thus far, it’s been enough to spot them a 2-0 series lead. A lead paced by a ferocious defense whose centerpiece is an intense, emotionally invested veteran. A lead that’s been paced by a superstar scorer that has yet to have his magnum opus in the postseason. A lead that’s been built despite their best defender being hurt.
If you’re Boston, this 2-0 hole looks like a hell of a mountain to climb.
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