Celtics-Knicks Preview

Spike Lee and the celebrities will pack the place. ESPN will be

there to televise it.

After seven long years, Madison Square Garden is finally open

again for postseason basketball business.

And what a perfect time and place it would be for Carmelo

Anthony and Amare Stoudemire to deliver in tandem after both have

been dominant individually so far in the playoffs.

Or maybe it’s the ideal setting for the Boston Celtics to

torment the Knicks again.

The Celtics bring a 2-0 lead into Game 3 of the Eastern

Conference first-round series on Friday, with the Knicks knowing

they were close to winning both games but also getting close to

going home for the summer.

”We’re definitely not thinking about that,” Anthony said

Thursday after practice. ”Game 3 tomorrow here on our home court,

it’s a must-win for us. … This is the hardest game by far that

we’ve played this season.”

The Knicks aren’t sure who will be there to help Anthony.

Stoudemire missed practice Thursday but is expected to play after

he was sidelined the second half of the Celtics’ 96-93 victory in

Game 2 on Tuesday with back spasms.

Chauncey Billups hopes to join him, but he is questionable after

straining his left knee on a drive to the basket late in the opener

and sitting out Game 2.

The Knicks sent much of their core to Denver in the February

deal that brought Anthony and Billups from the Nuggets, believing

together with Stoudemire that duo would make the Knicks a solid

first-round threat.

Instead, injuries forced them to play much of Game 2 with

backups surrounding Anthony, who nearly carried them with 42 points

and 17 rebounds.

”It’s disappointing that it’s not there, but at the same time,

the way we played the second half in the second game without the

two, we’re confident we can still get the job done,” Knicks coach

Mike D’Antoni said.

They key for the Knicks is what Anthony and Stoudemire can do

together.

Stoudemire was a force in Game 1, finishing with 28 points and

11 rebounds. But Anthony picked up two fouls in the opening two

minutes, sat the rest of the first quarter and never got on track,

limited to 15 points and finishing a 1-for-11 second half by

missing a long 3-pointer that ended an 87-85 loss.

Anthony followed with his spectacular Game 2, but Stoudemire

watched most of it after hurting his back during warmups. Anthony

is unlikely to match his numbers if Stoudemire plays, but the

Knicks realize their best chance to beat a deeper Boston team is by

having their two superstars play well at the same time.

”Obviously some of his production will go down only because

some of it’s going to Amare. But they should be able to coexist and

be good,” D’Antoni said.

The game Friday is the first at Madison Square Garden in the

postseason since April 25, 2004, and comes 10 years to the day

since the Knicks’ last playoff victory there, a 92-85 win over

Toronto in the opener of a first-round loss. The reputation of the

”world’s most famous arena” has survived even while the Knicks’

has been badly weakened in the last decade.

”In a day and age where so many different cities have

remodeled, renovated or built new structures, Madison Square Garden

is probably one of the most unique because it still stands and it’s

still relevant,” said Celtics guard Ray Allen, who hit a famed

jumper there for Connecticut to win the 1996 Big East

tournament.

More recently, it’s been a good place for his Boston teammates

to show off.

Paul Pierce knocked down the tiebreaking shot with 0.4 seconds

left in the Celtics’ 118-116 victory back in December, two months

after hitting a tiebreaking shot here in a preseason game with 8

seconds to go. Kevin Garnett beat the overtime buzzer with a jumper

to give Boston a 107-105 victory on Nov. 22, 2009.

The stakes are much higher now, and the Celtics’ execution has

been equally as sharp, with decisive baskets by Allen and Garnett

in the closing seconds of the first two games after the Knicks had

outplayed the defending East champs for large parts of both.

So the Knicks are getting tired of watching the Celtics torture

them with their late-game execution.

”I think it was more like a mental exhaustion, just knowing how

hard we played, how close we were in both of those games for us to

not win any of those games,” Anthony said.

New York hosts Game 4 on Sunday, when it will either try to tie

the series or save its season. The Knicks believe they will get at

least one of them, sounding far more satisfied than Celtics coach

Doc Rivers, who said his team needs to play better.

”Our confidence is they didn’t play well because we didn’t let

them play well,” D’Antoni said.

AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen in Greenburgh, N.Y. contributed to

this report.