NEW YORK — The New York Knicks not only expect a Boston adjustment, they can guess what it is.
The Celtics never could have accomplished so much over the last six years with as little as they got from Kevin Garnett on Saturday in their playoff opener. So when the teams return to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday for Game 2, Boston plans to feature much more of Garnett, along with the usual dose of Paul Pierce.
The response from the Knicks is basically: Go ahead.
“They’re going to come back but we’ve got to worry about ourselves,” Carmelo Anthony said. “As long as we do what we have to do, we have a shot and we have a chance at winning the game. We can’t be too concerned about what them guys are going to do.”
Garnett was just 4 of 12 from the field in the Knicks’ 85-78 victory on Saturday. Perhaps out of rhythm from his lack of game action down the stretch, he finished with eight points and nine rebounds and couldn’t take advantage of Tyson Chandler’s struggles.
“We’ve got to involve him more and there’s a better way to do it than the way we did it,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “And there’s certain things that he didn’t do, either. We’ve just got to do a better job of it.”
Garnett played in only five of the final 17 games of the regular season, mostly while battling an ankle injury, and was on the floor for nearly 37 minutes Saturday. But on a day the Celtics got only four points from their reserves and needed much more from their starters, Garnett finished with more fouls than baskets and never attempted a free throw.
“We know we’ve got to play through Kevin a lot more. I mean, he’s probably, he is one of our best passers,” Pierce said Sunday. “He’s one of our most unselfish players, so we have to do a better job of just getting him the ball, a lot more than he got it yesterday. Doc said he wanted Kevin to be aggressive, he wants him to take 20 shots.”
Part of the problem is the Celtics’ lack of a point guard with Rajon Rondo lost for the season with a knee injury. Boston often struggled to get into any offense, especially during its eight-point fourth quarter, and finished the game with 21 turnovers.
Even if Garnett doesn’t shoot, the Celtics think he can help in that area because of his passing skills.
“Usually he ends up getting four and five assists, so we have to do a better job of involving him because he’s good at doing a lot of playmaking duties,” Pierce said.
Chandler missed the final six games of the regular season and played in only four of the last 20 because of a bulging disk. He was scoreless and didn’t even take a shot Saturday, finishing with only five rebounds in 20 minutes. He and the Knicks said the problem was just rust, not any recurring pain, and expect him to be better as the playoffs go along.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a little stiff, a little sore in there. But I felt great,” Chandler said. “It’s just when you’re out for so long, you’re not playing against some park and rec dudes, you’re playing against the best of the best. I’m trying to condition myself, playing against the best of the best. It’s just getting my timing back, getting my legs under me, getting back into the flow of the game.”
The Knicks can afford to be patient while Chandler regains his stamina as long as they keep getting efforts like they received Saturday from Kenyon Martin, who finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, and played the entire fourth quarter. Along with J.R. Smith, who won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award Monday, the Knicks appear to have a huge advantage when the teams have to go to their benches.
But Martin expects the Celtics to figure out some way to address Saturday’s errors.
“They’re well-coached and they know what they have to do,” Martin said. “They’re going to come here, they’re going to scratch, claw, fight, you know what I’m saying, in order to get a game. So we’ve got to be prepared for whatever.”
Most importantly, Boston needs to run a cleaner offense, with better spacing and much smarter passes.
“A lot of times we found ourselves — I wouldn’t say discombobulated, but uneven at times,” Garnett said.
The Knicks haven’t held a 2-0 lead since 2000, the last year they won a series. They realize how difficult it will be to win Game 3 on Friday in Boston, when the Celtics will be playing in front of their home fans for the first time since the Boston Marathon bombings, so they don’t want to miss their chance to take command Tuesday.
“Tomorrow we’re approaching this game as a must-win,” said Anthony, who scored 36 points in Game 1. “Here on our home court, we want to win this basketball game. We don’t want to go back to Boston 1-1.”