When Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the Knicks last watched the Boston Celtics’ bus drive away from Madison Square Garden, the Celtics had a 102-96 victory in hand, their third in a row. They’d evened their record at 17-17, and the script seemed familiar to everyone: the veteran Celtics had figured out how to win, and massive streaks would follow, leaving the Knicks to shake their collective fists at the Celtics, Boss Hogg-style.
But the very weaknesses that led the Celtics to start 14-17 have resurfaced since. The Celtics won another three in a row after that victory two weeks ago, but who they beat is instructive. They beat the Phoenix Suns just as the Suns were dispatching coach Alvin Gentry. They beat a Houston team in the middle of a seven-game losing streak. And then they beat 10-31 Charlotte Bobcats team.
Since then, the Celtics have lost four in a row, to the Hornets, Bulls, Pistons and Cavaliers. An offense struggling against the Bulls is no surprise, but the Celtics have struggled against everyone; a 27th-rated offense isn’t going to be sufficient to make the Celtics contenders.
In seven games since he buried the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, like he does, Paul Pierce is shooting less than 36 percent from the field, and just 24.2 percent from three-point range. He is 35, you know, and even Reggie Miller stopped beating the Knicks, eventually.
But the team-wide offensive malaise offers the Knicks a real opportunity, especially if Carmelo Anthony can stay calm this time around. For all the hysterics around that Boston game, what was probably most frustrating was that even a mediocre Anthony effort, instead of 6-for-26 and forcing shots late, would have been enough to secure the victory.
A loss, coupled with a Nets’ win Wednesday night at Minnesota, would knock the Knicks out of the Atlantic Division lead for the first time all season. But unlike past years, it won’t be the Celtics taking the lead, nor should the Celtics be the primary threat to the Knicks going forward.
Would still be awfully nice to beat them, aging, slumping team or not.