NEW YORK — 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.