It’s only fitting that Boston and New York will meet again in a playoff series.
An underlying respect between the two cities rose to the surface this week, when the Yankees  honored Red Sox  Nation with a ‘United We Stand ‘ sign outside their Stadium and sang Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ inside. Bound further now by more than a rivalry, we can only hope sports provide the same small distraction and healing power in Boston that they did in New York City after Sept. 11, 2001.
As we did during Wednesday’s emotional National Anthem  at the Bruins game, let’s attempt to welcome that distraction and healing power in the aftermath of the cowardly Boston Marathon bombings  and ensuing manhunt  by previewing the first-round NBA playoff series between the Celtics  and Knicks.
The two erstwhile Defensive Players of the Year have each served as anchors of NBA title teams and enter this series dealing with recent injuries. While Chandler (neck) has relative youth and superior rebounding on his side, Garnett (ankle) is a more versatile offensive threat, illustrating a far wider shooting range and facilitating at a higher rate. There’s a reason one’s a future Hall of Famer and the other made his first All-Star roster this winter.
Slight advantage: Celtics
Brandon Bass  (27.6 MIN, 8.7 PTS, 5.2 REB, 1.0 AST, 0.8 BLK, 0.5 STL)
Vs. Carmelo Anthony (37.0 MIN, 28.7 PTS, 6.9 REB, 2.6 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.5 BLK)
Just as LeBron James  created matchup problems at the 4 during the 2012 Eastern Conference finals, so too will Anthony. The Celtics will counter the NBA’s scoring champion and his 36.9 points per game this April with Bass, Green and Pierce. At his best, Anthony is better than all of them, even if he’s shooting just 35.0 percent against the C’s this season. Bass has also enjoyed his best month this April (13.9 PTS, 57.3 FG%), but Melo is one of a handful of legitimate superstars in the game.
Jeff Green  (27.8 MIN, 12.8 PTS, 3.9 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.8 BLK, 0.7 STL)
Vs. Iman Shumpert (22.1 MIN, 6.8 PTS, 3.0 REB, 1.7 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.2 BLK)
Since returning from an ACL tear in last year’s playoffs, Shumpert has shown an improved 3-point shooting stroke (40.2 3P%) but hasn’t quite matched the defensive impact that made him so effective as a rookie. Meanwhile, Green steadily improved after missing last season to heart surgery and emerged following Rajon Rondo ‘s injury, averaging 16.5 points (49.7 FG%) and 4.7 boards in 38 games since Jan. 27. As so many Celtics have said, Green is their X-factor in Rondo’s absence.
Paul Pierce  (33.4 MIN, 18.6 PTS, 6.3 REB, 4.8 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.4 BLK)
Vs. Pablo Prigioni (16.2 MIN, 3.5 PTS, 3.0 AST, 1.8 REB, 0.9 STL, 0.0 BLK)
A 36-year-old import from Argentina, Prigioni suffered an ankle injury in New York’s regular-season finale and remains questionable for Game 1. Reports indicate 6-foot-8 rookie wing Chris Copeland could take his place in the starting lineup, leaving all sorts of matchup options for Pierce, Green and Bass against Shumpert, Anthony and Copeland. Even if Prigioni returns early, his production pales in comparison to the Celtics captain who thrives against the Knicks.
After the Knicks allowed Jeremy Lin  to depart for Houston and replaced the overnight sensation on the depth chart with a highly criticized point guard, Felton has at least quashed some of those concerns. He’ll be tested again opposite Bradley, who has cemented his reputation as one of the game’s best one-on-one defenders. Still, the 22-year-old C’s guard has struggled since returning from double surgery to find the shooting stroke he demonstrated during his breakout 2012 season.
Slight advantage: Knicks
New York reserves J.R. Smith and Steve Novak have destroyed the Celtics, averaging a combined 27.0 points on 27 3-pointers in four games against the C’s this season. The Knicks also brings veterans Jason Kidd  and Kenyon Martin  off the bench, but injuries to Marcus Camby  (day-to-day), Amare Stoudemire (out) and Rasheed Wallace  (retired) depleted their backcourt and forced the signings of Pierce nemesis Quentin Richardson  and 7-foot journeyman Earl Barron this week.
Meanwhile, the Celtics have their own big man limitations off the bench, splitting reserve minutes between an inconsistent Chris Wilcox  and an untested Shavlik Randolph. Likewise, guards Jason Terry  and Courtney Lee  have battled their own struggles this season, but the C’s hope each can tap their playoff success of years past. Terrence Williams offers another wild card in a deck full of them.
Rivers has never been bounced in the first round since Garnett joined the Celtics, owning a 93-39 playoff record (.705 WIN%) over the past five seasons. Conversely, Woodson has won just one game beyond the first round in his coaching career. The C’s are 8-5 against the Knicks since Anthony arrived, including a first-round playoff sweep of New York two years ago. Woodson, the former Hawks coach, took the C’s to seven games in the first round during the only title run of Rivers’ tenure.
The Knicks might be the only team older and as injury-riddled as the Celtics. The depth charts of the two Atlantic Division rivals aren’t even clear a day before the first-round series begins. The current starting C’s lineup has barely played a rotation against the Knicks all season, and the same goes for New York’s expected starters.
Nobody knows for sure which teams will even show up when they tip off on Saturday afternoon. Are the Knicks the same team that won 13 straight from March 18 to April 9? Are the C’s the same squad that has reached the Eastern Conference semifinals every year since 2008? The Knicks might be almost 4-to-1 favorites, but are you prepared to bet against a Boston team that features two playoff-tested stars in Garnett and Pierce who raise their games to new heights even when their city isn’t in desperate need of an emotional lift?
Prediction: Celtics in seven