These were not the New York Knicks that we expected to show up. Despite Carmelo Anthony missing nearly the entire first quarter due to foul trouble, the Knicks were knocking down shots on offense and playing uncharacteristically vicious defense in the first half in an attempt to silence their critics, who believe that this New York team will never achieve playoff success until they learn to play tough D.
For much of the game last night, the Knicks did exactly that, holding the Celtics to 87 points and just 15 in the second quarter, along with nine big blocks over the course of the game. Things began looking grim as the Celtics went into halftime down by twelve, and hostility raged throughout the Garden as the one-to-three braindead Knicks’ fans per section stood up and mocked thousands of passionate Celtics’ fans around them. Shaq’s absence had clearly left a gaping hole in the paint for Boston, and someone needed to step up big.
Although the second half comeback could not have happened without great plays from the Big Four, including 24 points from Allen, a double-double from KG, and a near triple-double from Rondo, none of these numbers would have mattered if it wasn’t for the inspiring play of Jermaine O’Neal in the second half. The 32 year old center was playing like his former 22 year old all-star self, and O’Neal fueled the comeback with vital plays both on offense and on defense.
O’Neal came up with four huge blocks reminiscent of the ones that made him so famous ten years ago as a member of the Pacers, and made all six of his shot attempts from the field. J.O. played incredible in the second half, helping Boston rally by blocking shots, drawing charges, knocking down contested shots, and ultimately filling the void at center. O’Neal won the hearts of the Boston crowd, and walked off the court to a standing ovation after drawing another key charge down the stretch.
Last night was Jermaine’s best game as a member of the Celtics, and hopefully he can keep up this stellar play throughout the playoffs while Shaq continues his preparation to return. Nenad Krstic was practically invisible for the five minutes he was on the court, so there is a lot riding on O’Neal as he is currently the only healthy center receiving any minutes. Most importantly, I want to extend my personal thanks to J.O. for shutting up the arrogant New York fans who thought talking trash in Beantown was a good idea. Don’t Knicks fans realize by now that their team can’t hold on to a lead?