By A.Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON With Chauncey Billups (left knee) out and Amar'e Stoudemire (back spasms) joining him by halftime, the New York Knicks had no choice but to put the team on the broad shoulders of Carmelo Anthony.
That's good for the Celtics, right?
Not in the eyes of Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
"When I heard Stoudemire was out, I turned to (assistant coach) Lawrence Frank and said, 'Oh, jeez, they got us right where they want us now,' " Rivers recalled saying.
Minus two-thirds of their Big Three, the Knicks relied almost exclusively on Anthony to generate points.
He didn't disappoint as he finished with 42 points to go with 17 rebounds.
As good as Anthony played, the Celtics' depth ultimately proved to be too much as the C's escaped with a 96-93 win.
The Celtics did everything they could to limit him.
They double-teamed him. They would tilt a defender. They would blitz him as soon as he touched the ball, trying their best to get it out of his hands.
A number of defensive sets from the C's were seldom-used this year, which speaks volumes about the problems Anthony's game caused the Celtics.
So with the game so tight down the stretch, the Celtics began sending help defense almost as soon as the ball was in Anthony's hands.
"He was going to make the shot," was the explanation given by Rivers. "He was making everything else. So we had to do it and I thought we did a great job."
Trailing by a point, Anthony had the ball in his hands but opted to pass to Jared Jeffries who had the ball stolen from him by Kevin Garnett.
After the game, Anthony had no regrets about giving the ball up on that situation.
"For the last two minutes, they were double-teaming me every time I got the ball," Anthony said. "After the time-out, I knew 100 percent they was going to double team. As soon as I got it, I saw the double team coming, I made the right play. The right play was to to go Jared. I thought Jared was going to lay it up, he thought he had a pass underneath. That's here or there. I made the right play so I can live with that."
Without Billups and Stoudemire, it was clear that Knicks head coach Mike D'Antoni would lean heavily on Anthony to carry the scoring load.
"I don't know if I had that exact conversation, but I think it was pretty obvious that we're going to him every time and he was going to play the whole second half," D'Antoni said.
Rivers was not surprised that Anthony would bounce back with a strong game after hearing from the media about how he struggled with his shot in Boston's 87-85 Game 1 win.
"Great players hear all that stuff," Rivers said. "All it does is gets them going and he (Anthony) was determined."
But as well as Anthony played, it appeared as though fatigue began to set in near the end of the game.
After Jared Jeffries turned the ball over with 4.1 seconds to play, the Knicks failed to foul until Delonte West was hacked with just 0.6 seconds on the clock.
"He (West) just got away," D'Antoni said. "Melo was going, 'I don't think I can get out there.' He was so tired at that point. It was tough."
The same could be said for Anthony's prolific night scoring the ball.
"Melo was in an unbelievable rhythm," Garnett said. "Some of the shots he made were just incredible."
As well as Anthony shot, the end result was a Celtics victory.
That, more than anything else, is what the C's take with them as they prepare for Games 3 and 4 in New York.
"We won the game. That's all we get out of this," Rivers said. "Great win. The playoffs. The whole key for you is to win games, and we did that."