Behind The ScenesNBA

ESPN’s Mike Breen on calling Knicks games for national and local audiences, and working with analysts Van Gundy and ‘Clyde’

ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy  (L) and Mike Breen. (Scott Clarke / ESPN Images)
ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy (L) and Mike Breen.
(Scott Clarke/ESPN Images)

Editor’s Note: Mike Breen will be joined by analyst Jeff Van Gundy and reporter Heather Cox this weekend to call Games 3 and 4 of the Knicks-Celtics series from Boston. Game 3 is tonight at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and Game 4 is Sunday at 1 p.m. on ABC.

Mike Breen, the voice of the NBA Finals and ESPN’s lead NBA play-by-play commentator, will find himself in a familiar position this weekend when he calls two New York Knicks playoff games.

Perhaps nobody knows the Knicks better than Breen, who began calling Knicks games on radio in 1991. He currently calls Knicks games for the MSG TV Network alongside Walt “Clyde” Frazier.

The Knicks — up 2-0 in their opening-round NBA playoff series against the Boston Celtics — will try to close out the C’s with two wins in Boston in front of what is sure to be an emotional TD Garden crowd. (Friday marks the first Celtics’ home game since the Boston Marathon tragedies).

Front Row had the opportunity to catch up with Breen, who provided insights on this weekend’s Knicks-Celtics matchup; how he prepares for a national telecast versus a local telecast; and how he adjusts to working with ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy and his MSG partner Frazier.

Does your preparation change for a national telecast compared to a local telecast?
It’s not as big of an adjustment as people may think. You call the game the same way whether it’s a national or local telecast. However, there are a number of subtle differences. For instance, during Knicks home games, the first point is always a Knicks’ point. During a national telecast, your first point is going to be your top storyline. So Friday and Sunday, it could be how well Carmelo Anthony is playing or it could be whether or not the Celtics have one last run in them. If I’m doing a Knicks game and they’re up by 20 points, we spend time on why the Knicks are up by 20. On the national telecast, we may look at why the Celtics are struggling.

Is it a challenge to adjust to different analysts?
I’m very fortunate because I’ve been working with Jeff for six years and I’ve been working with Clyde for 20 years in New York. My comfort level with both of them is really high and I know what they like. When you work with someone for so long, you know everything, including when they’re about to finish their sentences.

What are the top storylines NBA fans and ESPN viewers should watch for this weekend?
From the Knicks’ standpoint, it’s “Can they continue to play defense with this kind of passion?” They are a really good team, but they have set high goals and they feel they can win the championship this year. For that to happen, they need to play defense like they have the past two games. Can they withstand an emotional crowd? That TD Garden crowd is one of the best crowds in pro sports. For the Celtics, it’s “How are they going to score?” They’ve got to find easier ways to score, whether it’s scoring off their defense, more post plays or more running.

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