As the buzzer sounded at TD Garden, last night’s win should have felt like every other Knicks victory. Just another small step toward the stated goal of winning the Atlantic division. But, for a multitude of reasons, this one felt a little bit extra special.
For a team that hasn’t won its division in 19 years, for a star who had gone 3-9 against his chief division rival (including an embarrassing playoff sweep), and for a fan base who had seen one too many Paul Pierce buzzer-beaters break their hearts, this was more than just another game.
This win, combined with a followup match-up on Sunday back in New York, should provide the knockout blow to the only team to finish atop the Atlantic division the past five years.
At the beginning of training camp, right around when the Larry O’Brien trophies were being taped above each of the Knicks lockers, Mike Woodson stated the regular season goal was to win the Atlantic division.
"We’ve got a big goal. Big picture is to win an NBA title – that’s first and foremost. But one of the goals is to win our division and host [the] first round at home,” he reiterated last month.
While divisions have far less importance in the NBA than other major sports, it is an important goal for the Knicks franchise to accomplish. If they can pull it off, it will show that they have fully moved on from a decade of futility and could take the next step come playoff time.
More tangibly, winning the Atlantic Division would guarantee a top four seed for the Knicks, and almost certainly keep them out of the path of the Miami Heat until the Eastern Conference Finals.
Surveying the Eastern Conference, you can’t help but notice that the Knicks currently sit at the two seed, by percentage points over Indiana and the Celtics are currently in the seventh spot, albeit one game ahead of Milwaukee for 8th.
The possibility that, for the second time in three years, two of the NBA’s original franchises are on a collision course to meet in the playoffs, is something I'm sure was on the Knicks minds when playing this game tonight.
Which is another reason why last night may have been just one game in the standings, but don’t for a second believe it wasn’t bigger than that.