Epic Game 4 Leaves Fans Cheering for Grizzlies and Thunder

And even though the Grizzlies lost, the fans stood and applauded both teams when it was over. It was Memphis at its best, , defying the flood waters and provincialism to appreciate something no one who was there will forget, . As , this series has become the most entertaining thing going on in sports, even if it would make you crazy trying to figure it out, .

Just will cause multiple double-takes. Consider that three of Oklahoma City’s starters combined to score 15 points, which is possible in a 133-point effort because the other two (Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant) combined for 75. One of Memphis’s starters, guard Sam Young, didn’t score a single point. Three players never got off the bench (Oklahoma City’s Royal Ivey and Nate Robinson and Memphis’s Leon Powe), while Durant and Memphis’s Marc Gasol each played 57 minutes. This was ironman basketball, .

All sense of awe will most likely be lost if you wander over to consider the Heat-Celtics series. What this one lacks in artistry, it makes up for in an overabundance of journalistic clichés. Yes, the Heat’s victory to take a 3-1 lead was all about redemption, write and (Loyal Leading Off readers who join our protest against the overuse and misuse of the word redemption in sports, insert loud sigh here.) If you’re looking for exorcised demons, you’ll find them in . This might all seem a game premature because yes, the Celtics have twice overcome 3-1 deficits in their history, but they will not pull off a third.

LeBron James continues to make it difficult to warm up to the Heat, his latest bit of wisdom was using the word “retarded” to describe the idea that Dwyane Wade is a dirty player. but nonetheless confirmed that he and Kobe Bryant, who famously hurled a similarly grade-schoolish gay slur at a referee, have the combined maturity of an 8-year-old.

Speaking of the recently departed Lakers, wonders why they aren’t being ripped the way James’s Cavaliers were last year for completely giving up in an elimination playoff game. Perhaps because people have become distracted by the bubbling fiasco in Orlando, where for driving him out of the city before he has actually left. He took to to whine after The inspired interactive Web application where you can put any number of jerseys on Howard. Your day will not be complete until you click on the Harlem Globetrotters option.

The N.H.L. playoffs contributed nothing so colorful Tuesday, although they did ensure the Green Men will be around for another round when Vancouver eliminated Nashville. If you were looking for artistic hockey, you did not find it here, with the normally free-skating Canucks adopting the Predators’ lock-down style to close out this series, . To outrun their own history of failure, the Canucks are understandably not concerned with style points, , and they are relying overwhelmingly on the wrecking ball qualities of forward Ryan Kesler, .

The Canucks do not know their opponent yet, but writes that if San Jose loses Tuesday night’s Game 6 against Detroit, it is time to panic.

Even though it is still hockey and basketball season, it is worth a nod toward tennis just to marvel at . He is undefeated, knocked off Rafael Nadal not just on clay but in Spain, and .

For now, though, the rising getting all the attention is the Mississippi River and the crazier stuff happening in an arena nearby.

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Knicks’ Playoff Return Will Start With Celtics

On Monday, the Knicks (42-38) clinched the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed when the fell to the and the beat the undermanned Celtics in overtime.

The Knicks will conclude the regular season with back-to-back games against Chicago and in Boston, beginning Tuesday. The Celtics lead the season series against the Knicks, three games to none.

The (57-24) clinched the conference’s second seed with a win over Atlanta on Monday, coupled with Boston’s loss. Boston (55-26) all but conceded the spot to Miami after a 100-77 loss to the Heat on Sunday. Against Washington, Boston trotted out a makeshift lineup and rested the starters Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and . The Celtics’ second string still managed to take the Wizards to overtime but Crawford’s playoff-clarifying 3-pointer handed Boston a 95-94 loss.

The Knicks’ series with the Celtics will probably open on Sunday in Boston. Games 3 and 4 will be played at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks were swept by in 2004 and have not won a playoff game since 2001, when they beat the twice in the first round, but lost the series, three games to two.

They will be looking to expunge that mark, although the Knicks routinely struggle against Boston. All of this season’s games were close, with the veteran Celtics like Allen and Garnett taking over by the end of the games. The Knicks lost, 105-101, to Boston, in their second game of the season. In another loss in December, Amar’e Stoudemire’s would-be game-winning 3-pointer was ruled to have come after time expired.

Only the last matchup featured the teams in their current form: the Knicks with and Boston without Kendrick Perkins, their talented and perpetually scowling center. He and Nate Robinson were traded to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic.

In that third game, Boston scored the final 10 points to pull away for a 96-86 victory. But over all, Boston has struggled somewhat since the Perkins trade, although they also lagged last year in the second half of the season before reemerging in the playoffs and taking the to the seventh game of the finals.

At the moment, Boston has depth issues, chemistry concerns and injury woes, particularly concerning , who has missed 44 games with injuries to his right leg. Some have speculated that this may be Boston’s last stand with its current core. Meanwhile, the coach, , has debated his return each summer.

The Knicks and the Celtics are part of the N.B.A.’s original franchises and their playoff matchups date back to the 1950-51 season, only a few years seasons after the birth of the N.B.A. The Knicks have met Boston 13 times in the playoffs, more than any other opponent. They have won six of those series.

However, this is their first playoff meeting in 21 years, with each franchise rotating between being at the bottom and top tiers of the N.B.A. in the past two decades. The Knicks won that last matchup, stunning the Celtics by capturing the fifth and final game of the first-round series in Boston, with point guard Maurice Cheeks playing all 48 minutes for the Knicks.

The Knicks appear to finally be adjusting to their trade for Anthony and have won seven straight games. The latest victory came on Anthony’s game-winner against Indiana on Sunday. A win against Chicago on Tuesday night would match their longest winning streak of the season.

However, Coach may choose to rest Anthony and others, although he does want Stoudemire, who has missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, to play again before the regular season ends. It is not clear how much the key members of the Knicks and the Celtics will play in the regular-season finale against one another on Wednesday. But it probably will not be much.

The rest of the Eastern Conference matchups are: Chicago against Indiana, Miami against Philadelphia, and Orlando against Atlanta. But none of them resonate like the Knicks versus the Celtics, provided the Knicks can make a series out of it.

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Win-Now Celtics Creak Toward the Postseason

The goal from the beginning of this season was to avoid what happened last year, when an underwhelming second half (caused in part by injuries) dropped the Celtics from the No. 1 seed in the East to No. 4. So what happened this season? An underwhelming second half (caused in part by injuries) could drop them from No. 1 in the East to No. 3.

After Sunday’s 100-77 loss to Miami, the Celtics are third in the Eastern Conference. They hold the tie breaker over , and would get the higher seed if the teams finish with the same record.

The similarities, however, end with the disappointing second halves. Last year’s 27-27 finish was a result of a franchise decision to rest the regulars in the hope that they would be fresher and healthier in the playoffs. The strategy paid off, as the Celtics steamrolled through the East and of winning their 18th title.

This year, the second-half slide has been the result of unanticipated injuries and the effects of a February trade. Over the summer, the Celtics loaded up on big men, signing and . But neither has been healthy.

Shaquille O’Neal has missed 43 games with four different injuries, all related to his right leg. Jermaine O’Neal has missed 57 games. Delonte West (57 games, including a 10-game suspension), (9 games) and Rajon Rondo (12 games) have also been out for significant stretches. Only the 35-year-old Ray Allen and the 33-year-old Paul Pierce have played in all 80 games.

Beyond the injuries, however, was the reconfiguring of the team at the February trade deadline. General Manager Danny Ainge traded the popular center Kendrick Perkins, an anchor of the Celtics’ tough defense, and the backup guard Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for center Nenad Krstic and forward Jeff Green. It caused a seismic reaction in Boston .

Ainge’s reasons for the deal were threefold: he felt he would be unable to re-sign Perkins, who was set to become a free agent; he needed to get a serviceable wing player like Green to play behind Pierce and Allen and be around for the future; and he thought that Shaquille O’Neal, who at the time of deal had been idle for three weeks with a right Achilles’ injury, would be back to fill Perkins’s role. After all, Ainge noted, the Celtics were 33-10 in the games Perkins missed while recovering from knee surgery and 27-9 (now 28-9) with O’Neal.

It sounded reasonable. But O’Neal, 39, has played 5 minutes 29 seconds since Feb. 1 and may not be available again until the playoffs. He returned April 3 after missing 27 games with a sore right Achilles’ tendon, but pulled up limping with what the team said was a strained right calf. He has not played since, and the Celtics are hoping he will be able to give them decent minutes in the playoffs.

“Hopefully we can gather some momentum and be healthy going into the playoffs,” Pierce said. “The signs are there: we are getting healthy each and every day. It’s just about building the chemistry now.”

Losing the hard-working Perkins was a blow to the team’s chemistry. Krstic, while a superior offensive player, does not provide the defensive presence that Perkins did, and Green has off the bench. The Celtics were 41-14 before the trade. They are 55-25 after Sunday’s loss to Miami.

“It’s been very tough because we’ve never been able to establish any kind of rhythm or flow this season,” Celtics Coach said. “Look, I’m thrilled to death with our record. We’ve had Kevin missing games, Shaq and J. O. missing games — and then all the new guys? It’s just been a lot of stuff. It’s been exhausting. It’s been challenging. The good news for me and for our guys is that we have never taken our eyes off of what our goals are. We’ve used this as, we’ve got to get through it. And we have.”

Not yet, they haven’t. “Getting through it” means nothing less than winning the championship in June. The current Celtics team was constructed to make one more championship push, which involved re-signing Allen (a free agent) and Pierce (who had opted out of his contract) as well as bringing in the two big men Rivers calls “the O’Neal brothers.” There was no ambiguity as to the Celtics’ goal, especially with a lockout looming and Rivers in the final year of his contract.

The wild card remains Shaquille O’Neal. Rivers has said he thinks the team can survive with “one of the O’Neal brothers,” but the clear organizational preference is for it to be Shaq. Even in that titillating, five-and-a-half-minute stretch against Detroit, he had everyone energized.

But it is not known when he will be back or how effective he can be when he returns. That will make the weeks ahead intriguing — and demanding.

“I think the season should be hard,” Rivers said. “I really believe that. And maybe this helps me as a coach. Going into it believing you are trying to win it, that there are going to be obstacles, that’s hard. You just have to deal with it.”

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