At the risk of overstating the obvious, does anyone think the Celtics are in for another 45-point rout of the Knicks this afternoon at Madison Square Garden? Didn't think so.
New York and Boston meet for a Martin Luther King Day matinee at the World's Most Famous Arena and Celtics coach Doc Rivers can't decide which concerns him more: The improved play of the Knicks or the early afternoon start (and the fact that New York isn't exactly a sleepy little burg). It's the first meeting between the teams since the Celtics' clobbered the Knicks, 104-59, Nov. 29 in Boston.
For starters, the Knicks are playing as well as they've played all season, which coincides with Stephon Marbury's absence and subsequent decision to have what likely is season-ending ankle surgery. The Knicks went 4-1 in a five-game, seven-day stretch last week, the only defeat coming Friday night in Washington. They then turned around and dealt the Heat their 13th straight loss Saturday night in Miami.
"They're playing great," said Rivers.
For what it's worth, he made similar comments the day before the last meeting, when the Knicks had been on a two-game winning streak
"[In Miami], they won a game [and] they didn't play well on the road," added Rivers. "To me, that's a sign you're playing well. Nate Robinson has been absolutely terrific for them with energy and [Jamal] Crawford gives them a big point. He's moving the ball, but he's dangerous at the end of games.
"The first thing you see is their spirit. They seem like they like each other, they're getting along, it's nice to see."
Rivers also is a bit worried about the early start. In general, he said, he's not a fan of afternoon games. (He'd better get used to them; two games coming up, next Sunday at Orlando and Feb. 10 vs. the Spurs, have been moved to afternoon to accommodate network television.)
"We're going to get attacked," Rivers said. "What worries me is the 1 o'clock start on the road. I hate 1 o'clock starts to begin with, but on the road, if you get attacked and you're the visiting team, by the time you wake up, the game is over. We've warned our guys about that."
After the Knicks' victory in Miami, reporters asked Crawford what he remembered from that bleak night in Boston, a game in which the Knicks needed a desperation heave at the buzzer to avoid the lowest point total in the history of the franchise (post 24-second clock era.) At one point, the Celtics had a 50-point lead in the game.
"The most embarrassing game of the season, by far. Definitely," Crawford said. (And given that the Knicks have had a slew of numbing losses, that's saying a lot.) "That was something people talked about for a little while, but that's in the past for us and it's a new beginning, so hopefully we'll just continue to build on what we've been doing."
Crawford was asked if he thought the Celtics did a little too much celebrating during the game.
"Oh yeah, yeah. They stuck it to us," he said. "That game was a month and a half, two months ago and I know it's back then, but you still remember things like that, definitely."
Rivers was asked what he would do if he were in Knicks coach Isiah Thomas's shoes to remind the players of the game. Do you do something?
"Just put the game on [television]," he said. "I did that the other day with one of our games. [It] shows what you didn't do. We played well in that [Nov. 29] game. They didn't play well. It was a perfect storm. I think motivation is when you get beat bad, put the game on and loop it and let it run. They know. And our guys better know."
Ray Allen said he would just put the tape of the game in the circular file.
"I think they'll do everything they can to forget about that game," Allen said of the Knicks. "That's one of those games where the coaches say, "We don't know what happened, we don't know why, we lost, we played poorly, we don't even want to talk about that game, let it go, and build on what we've done the last three or four games.' "
Thomas and Crawford both said the Knicks are better equipped to play the Celtics this time.
And Thomas even referenced the infamous Boston Massacre (Game 1 of the 1985 NBA Finals) in which the Celtics routed the Lakers, 148-114, and LA came back to win Game 2 and the series in six games.
"I've been around a long time and I've had some big wins in the Garden and I've had some bad losses in the Garden," Thomas said.
And a victory this afternoon by the Knicks, especially the way their season has gone, would surely go down as a "big win" - in either Garden.