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Celtics' shot could come up short

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  April 20, 2013 11:30 AM

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As an accomplished master of the obnoxious as well as the obvious, excuse me while I tip off this Celtics-Knicks preview/semi-column by dabbling in a little bit of both:

The Celtics are not a better basketball team without Rajon Rondo. Can we all agree on that now?

Good. Now to the current Rondo-free reality ...

I don't know how the Celtics can do this. I expect them to put a legitimate scare into the Knicks if only because the Celtics of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce aren't the folding kind while the Knicks of Carmelo Anthony habitually add unnecessary degrees of difficulty to everything they're trying to accomplish.

But beating them in a seven-game series, given the two teams' current conditions? If you see a clear path through this series and to the second round, please do share, because I'm not finding it.

The Celtics need a lot to go their way at the same time, and it just seems too much to ask. The laundry list of musts:

Kevin Garnett has to be healthy and capable of hitting the open 19-footers as well as being the defensive fulcrum.

kingbernardfinn420.JPGPaul Pierce, who has to work for everything now, has often treated Madison Square Garden as his personal playground, and he must do that relentlessly against Iman Shumpert or whomever the Knicks put on him in each of the potential four games that will be played there.

Jeff Green has to have a few of those nights, when his determination and confidence matches his extraordinary skill and greatness results. He cannot will himself invisible at any time whatsoever in this series.

Avery Bradley, who has seemed to be running on fumes at times late in the season, needs that second wind. He'll be imperative in containing the Knicks' inside-out let-it-fly offense.

Jordan Crawford must be the wild-card -- emphasis on wild -- who on occasion can match the scoring bursts J.R. Smith will provide for the Knicks.

Jason Terry ... well, I don't actually have many expectations of meaningful contributions from him anymore. A few flashbacks to Dallas circa June 2011 would be nice, and also shocking.

All of those things could happen, but expecting them to happen simultaneously over a potential seven-game series feels like an unreasonable request of the basketball gods.

Which leaves realistic Celtics fans frustratingly grasping for intangibles-based justifications: The Knicks are soft ... Pierce thrives at MSG ... Knicks fans, who haven't witnessed their team win a playoff series in a dozen years, will turn on them at the first sign of trouble ... Sure, the Celtics closed 11-13, but they can ratchet up the intensity and production on command ... Carmelo will melt down when KG starts talking about breakfast cereal ...

It's all stuff you can talk yourself into believing, and emotion and confidence (even the irrational kind) and mental toughness are essential in playoff basketball. But it has little to do with shooting, passing, rebounding and playing defense, and as weird as it feels to say given the Celtics' place in the NBA pecking order since 2007, the Knicks are just better right now.

The Knicks won 54 games, the second-most in the Eastern Conference, seventh-most in the entire league, and 13 more than the Celtics. They ended the Celtics' five-year reign atop the Atlantic Division, winning their first division title since 1993-94, a team that Doc Rivers played for.

Now Doc must solve a Knicks team that is arguably deeper than the one that lost a seven-game series to Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets in the Finals 20 years ago.

And with appropriate regard for Patrick Ewing, it also features a better player in Anthony than anyone the Knicks had then, not to mention anyone the Celtics have now to counter him.

It requires a foray deeper into Knicks history to come up with a comparison for the recent play of Anthony, who averaged a league-best 28.7 points per game, including a ridiculous 36.9 ppg in April. So I'll say it: He's been reminiscent of 1984-85 Bernard King this season, and that's a compliment that isn't offered lightly.

I believe in Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and betting against them has been a fine way to look like a fool the past six years. But I'm not sure how they slow Melo, and without Rondo, who can steal a game or a series by himself, I don't think they have enough reinforcements to make it happen this time.

I'm going Knicks in six while still grasping for any faint hope that the Celtics will make me happily rue such a prediction.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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