NEW YORK – Nobody is laughing quite as much at the Knicks’ roster right now.
Boston Celtics Coach Doc Rivers never did.
New York’s strategy of loading up on older players was risky and frequently mocked, but not by people who believe veterans make a difference in the postseason.
“I thought it was a very good strategy actually, just because of now,” Rivers said.
Rivers’ Celtics have long been not only one of the best teams in the NBA but also one of the oldest. Now, they look at a Knicks team that has more old guys. And that experience paid off down the stretch Saturday, helping New York pull out an 85-78 victory in the opener of their playoff series.
Game 2 is Tuesday, when the Knicks will again count on their veterans to try for a 2-0 lead.
A roster so old that for most of the season it included two players who were alive when the Knicks won their last title 40 years ago has given Coach Mike Woodson just what he wanted: defense, leadership, and an Atlantic Division title.
“I couldn’t be more pleased as a coach based on the guys we have fielded,” Woodson said on a conference call. “Only time will tell. We’ve got to just continue our journey and take it one game at a time and see where we go with it.”
Rivers noted before the series how strange it was for the Celtics to be facing a team with players older than they have. Boston is largely young beyond Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, while Woodson can go to his bench and grab one player older than the last.
Jason Kidd, who turned 40 in March, played key minutes Saturday. Even though 40-year-old Kurt Thomas and 38-year-old Rasheed Wallace are no longer around after season-ending foot injuries, 35-year-old Kenyon Martin is there in a key backup role, and Marcus Camby, 39, waits if the Knicks need him.
With starting guard Pablo Prigioni out with a sprained ankle and All-Star center Tyson Chandler struggling in his return from a bulging disk, Kidd and Martin both played the entire fourth quarter Saturday, when the Knicks outscored the Celtics, 18-8. Martin had five points, including the basket that essentially put away the game with 40 seconds left, and three rebounds in the period. Kidd had three rebounds and three steals, disrupting Boston’s offense so badly that the Celtics committed eight turnovers in the period.
SPURS 91, LAKERS 79: Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker scored 18 points each, leading host San Antonio past Los Angeles in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series.
Tim Duncan added 17 points and 10 rebounds for San Antonio. Dwight Howard had 20 points and 15 rebounds for Los Angeles.
HEAT 110, BUCKS 87: LeBron James scored 27 points, Ray Allen scored 20 off the bench and host Miami never trailed on the way to beating Milwaukee in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round series .
Dwyane Wade scored 16 and Chris Bosh added 15 for the Heat. Brandon Jennings scored 26 points for the Bucks.
PACERS 107, HAWKS 90: Paul George scored 23 points and recorded his first playoff triple double, leading host Indiana past Atlanta for a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference series.
George Hill added 18 points for the Pacers despite playing with a left groin injury.
WARRIORS: All-Star forward David Lee is out for the season after injuring his hip during Golden State’s 97-95 loss to Denver in Game 1 of their series.