New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) leans on defending Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green (8) as he controls the ball in the second half of Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, in New York on Saturday, April 20, 2013. The Knicks won 85-78.
NEW YORK — Nobody is laughing quite as much at the Knicks’ roster right now.
Doc Rivers never did.
New York’s strategy of loading up on older players was risky and frequently mocked, but not by people who believe veterans make a difference in the postseason.
“I thought it was a very good strategy actually, just because of now,” Rivers said.
Rivers’ Boston Celtics have long been not only one of the best teams in the NBA but also one of the oldest. Now, they look at a Knicks team that has more old guys. And that experience paid off down the stretch Saturday, helping New York pull out an 85-78 victory in the opener of their playoff series.
Game 2 is Tuesday, when the Knicks will again count on their veterans to try for a 2-0 lead.
A roster so old that for most of the season it included two players who were alive when the Knicks won their last title 40 years ago has given coach Mike Woodson just what he wanted: defense, leadership, and an Atlantic Division title.
“I couldn’t be more pleased as a coach based on the guys we have fielded,” Woodson said on a conference call. “Only time will tell. We’ve got to just continue our journey and take it one game at a time and see where we go with it.”
Rivers noted before the series how strange it was for the Celtics to be facing a team with players older than they have. Boston is largely young beyond Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, while Woodson can go to his bench and grab one player older than the last.
Jason Kidd, who turned 40 in March, played key minutes Saturday. Even though 40-year-old Kurt Thomas and 38-year-old Rasheed Wallace are no longer around after season-ending foot injuries, 35-year-old Kenyon Martin is there in a key backup role, and Marcus Camby, 39, waits if the Knicks need him.
With starting guard Pablo Prigioni out with a sprained ankle and All-Star center Tyson Chandler struggling in his return from a bulging disk, Kidd and Martin both played the entire fourth quarter Saturday, when the Knicks outscored the Celtics, 18-8. Martin had five points, including the basket that essentially put away the game with 40 seconds left, and three rebounds in the period. Kidd had three rebounds and three steals, disrupting Boston’s offense so badly that the Celtics committed eight turnovers in the period.
“I know what Kenyon can do on the defensive end. J-Kidd, he was just spectacular,” said Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony, recalling a play where Kidd dived on the floor to gain possession and set up Raymond Felton’s trip to the foul line.
“Plays like that, J-Kidd, we expect J-Kidd to make those. K-Mart, on the defensive end, we really don’t have to double-team a lot of people when he’s down there on the post. We can stay home, we can play our schemes, we can do our schemes. He’s playing unbelievable right now.”
With Ray Allen signing in Miami last summer and Rajon Rondo lost for the season with a knee injury, the Celtics are missing their starting backcourt from the previous five years, when they won each Atlantic Division title. They have no true point guard and little experience on their bench, which was outscored 33-4 Saturday.
Boston committed 21 turnovers, leading to 20 points for the Knicks.
“I think, you know, at this point, regardless of we haven’t played together for a long period of time, it’s about our offensive concept and that’s what we preach each and every day,” Pierce said. “Ball movement, make the extra pass. It doesn’t matter who you put out there on the court or how long they’ve been here, that’s our system. We know when we play that way, we’re successful.”
Garnett shot only 4 of 12 in the opener, and the Celtics said they must find a way to get him more involved. That won’t be easy without a point guard who knows how to set up his teammates in the right spots.
They could use a player like Kidd, instead of having to go against him.
“Jason Kidd last night, my gosh, he was unbelievable. He created havoc,” Rivers said, pointing to something he’s heard New England Patriots coach Bill Belicheck discuss.
“These people go to the draft combines and they get all excited about what the guy ran in the 40, instead of looking at the film and see who gets there first with their mind, and that’s what Jason did last night. I mean he had two steals, man, that there’s guys 10 times quicker than him that never would have gotten, but he sees it before it happens and he reacts. And he’s beating people with his mind right now. He beat us last night, for sure.”
That’s what Woodson wanted when he sat down with general manager Glen Grunwald last summer. His wish list included “guys that had a defensive attitude and a little edge about them,” and for at least one game it appeared he has more of them than the Celtics do.
“When you got Jason Kidd on the floor who’s been in as long as he’s been in, and Kenyon, I mean it makes a world of difference,” Woodson said.
“That was the whole reason for adding those guys to our team,” he added. “They have played a major role in our success this season.”
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