It’s been so long since Madison Square Garden has witnessed the playoffs that its mystique has nearly disappeared. What was once an implicit understanding that games in the heart of New York spelled disaster for opponents is now mere myth. For any other arena, an attempt to regain past glory may be futile. Just not the Garden, and not now. Especially after fans watched ‘Melo finally ascend his throne during Game 2.
If there were ever a night that the crowd could affect a game as the sixth man, tonight’s the night. A decade of pain and frustration will be unleashed on the Celtics. Sure, the Knicks are injured and down 2-0. But it doesn’t feel like it. Their defense has been spectacular (relative to the past), and they’re only an illegal screen and a Jared Jefferies mishap (maybe it wasn’t a mishap since it is Jared Jefferies, after all) away from a 2-0 lead. Unlike say, the Sixers, whose confidence was deflated after Miami pounded them in two straight games, the Knicks feel like the better team. Amar’e Stoudemire has been abusing Kevin Garnett and will most likely return to action tonight. Carmelo Anthony has finally sent his jump shot to the bench in favor of the dribble-drive. Assuming the Knicks don’t give Rajon Rondo another redeemable “take it to the basket whenever you want” ticket, the Knicks are sitting pretty.
Don’t get me wrong. The Celtics smell the kill. One win in New York and this series is finished. Garnett will feed off the hate. Ice still runs through Ray Allen‘s veins. Paul Pierce will remind us why he’s better than ever. But Knicks fans have been waiting too long for this moment. Amar’e may have perceived the suffering when he signed this summer, but tonight he will feel it. Carmelo may have dreamed about what it would mean to bring a championship back to his hometown, but tonight he will grasp its importance.
As much impact as the Garden crowd will have, don’t expect a blowout. No Chauncey, an apprehensive Landry Fields and significant playing time for Anthony Carter all point to a Celtics’ advantage. But the Knicks’ star-studded plans are quickly materializing before our eyes. STAT and ‘Melo have proven they need little help. It will be the Garden crowd that finally pushes this team over the top.
What we are about to experience tonight is the beauty of the NBA. A classic matchup, rocking arena, star players and high pressure. (And we’ll be there for the ride and fill you in.) The great games are the ones where you can feel, down to the deepest depths of your basketball heart, the enormity of the moment. The games that cause your emotions to explode and carry over to the rest of your night. The games where you find yourself willing the ball into the basket. The games that remind you why you became a basketball fan in the first place. The Garden is primed to give us another great one.
What do you think will happen tonight?
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