Bring on Boston!
The Knicks clinched the second seed in the Eastern Conference today and sealed a first-round showdown vs. the seventh-seeded Celtics that is expected to start Saturday at the Garden.
With a rugged defensive performance and 25 points from Carmelo Antony, the Knicks disposed of Indiana, 90-80, in a Garden matinee, making sure the Knicks will have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference after Miami. The sloppy Pacers were forced into 26 turnovers.
"I think tonight defense won the game for us," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said.
By winning the second seed over Indiana, the Knicks would have homecourt advantage vs. the Pacers if they meet in the second round. That will be huge since the season series ended 2-2 – each club winning both games on their home floor.
Melo’s streak of seven straight 30-point games ended, mostly because he played just 30 minutes, resting the fourth quarter after bruising his left shoulder. J.R. Smith added 15 points and 8 rebounds in the win.
"His shoulder is fine," Woodson said of Anthony. "I would have brought him back but decided to pull him and ride the guys who got the lead for us.''
The Knicks have two regular-season games remaining that are meaningless – tomorrow in Charlotte and their regular-season finale Wednesday vs. Atlanta. The only significance is 6-11 reserve power forward Rasheed Wallace could play his first game tomorrow since mid-December after coming back early from foot surgery.
Anthony left the game after three quarters with what the Knicks called “a contused left shoulder’’ and didn’t return. As he sat on the bench, he received cold spray and had the shoulder wrapped in towels and bandages.
He was available to come back if needed. In fact, he got up to go to the midcourt scorer’s table after Indiana cut it to 10 points with 3:45 left but sat back down after Raymond Felton hit a jumper and the Pacers turned the ball over.
Melo was planning on sitting out the final two regular-season games anyway to rest. Now it’s a sure thing.
“We’ll start prepping for Boston after the Charlotte game,’’ Woodson said. “When we come back, we’ll start thinking about Boston at that time.’’
Added Woodson: "It didn't matter to me who we played. What is more important for our team and franchise was to secure home court to start the playoffs. We are able now to secure the second round as well. We are going to have to deal with Boston. It is going to be a good series.''
Bring on Boston!