Celtics/Knicks Series Preview
Go Hard or Go Home.
by Jonathan Evans / @jre18
Here it is. New York versus Boston. Bigger than the Knicks versus the Celtics, it’s two cities that know a thing or two (or three or four or five) about going at it. This year, the cities basketball representatives have dusted off their rivalry and gotten back in on the fun, matching up for a couple of the most hard fought, competitive games that MSG has seen in a while. Earlier this year, Paul Pierce may have dismissed notions of a rivalry, but its’ pretty clear that there’s something to this matchup.
As polarized as these two cities are, the Knicks and Celtics somehow have their similarities. This season, each team grappled with big city panic and expectations, identity changing trades that haveproduced mixed results, and unnecessary remixes to black and yellow. With all of that it’s almost destined for them to clash in the playoffs.
In some ways, there’s almost no better opponent for each of them than the other. For the C’s, the Knicks present just enough of a threat for them to take seriously. Plus the heightened atmosphere and physical play should shake them out of their late season swoon and get them in gear for the Miamis and Chicagos of the world. For the Knicks, the Celtics are the most vulnerable high seed they could have drawn. The Knicks can smell blood and hope that the sheer talent of Stat and Melo can carry them to the upset.
From 34th Street to Sesame Street, STAT and Melo have captured the imagination of the city, bringing relevance to the team and hope to long suffering fans. The Brooklyn born Melo – part blacktop part Broadway but seemingly all New York – has delivered as promised, bringing star power, electricity, and game winners to The Garden. What he hasn’t brought is more wins. Indeed, underneath the surface is a mediocre team with a ball stopping offense prone to going stagnant and little to nothing in the way of defense.
It goes without saying that there is a chink in the armor of this post-Perkins Celtics team. The burly screw-faced big was linked to the identity of this Celtics team and a beloved icon of blue collar Boston sensibilities. So much so that his jersey now hangs on the walls of bars around the city. The Celtics are a different team, but the big question is are they actually a better team? In this post-Perkins era of uncertainty, their trademark defense has for the most part remained consistent. Any void that may be left by Perkins is unlikely to be exposed by this undersized Knicks team. On the other side of the ball, Boston’s offense has had its issues of late, but against the porous Knicks defense they should be able to break out of their funk and get into a good rhythm for the later rounds.
Let’s break it down.
The Breakdown: Rondo should be able to wreak havoc against the artist formerly known as Mr. Big Shot. At some point Rondo’s shooting – both from the perimeter and the stripe – will come up for the Celtics but that’s not likely going to be a big issue in this round. On the other end, Chauncey’s steady presence and veteran guile will be a factor at some point. But if Rondo exerts his will, D’Antoni could be forced to pull Chauncey for the better defending Tony Douglas, a move which could limit the Knicks offensive punch on the other end.
The Breakdown: On one end is a first ballot hall of famer, on the other is the poster child for hitting the rookie wall. Individually, this matchup isn’t much of a contest as the disciplined Ray should have no problem with Landry, Chauncey or whoever else has to chase him through screens this series. One thing to keep an eye on is how many touches Ray gets. During this recent Celtics swoon his shot attempts per game have been uncharacteristically low.
The Breakdown: Pierce, gets up for small forwards that are perceived to be better than him and Melo definitely fits the bill, even more so because his game is cut from the same cloth as the Truth’s. One thing to watch is where each chooses to go to work, specifically Melo who has a propensity to fall in love with his three point shot. While he has a great touch from the outside, his midrange game is where he can force the action against Boston’s defense, get to the line and get the C’s in foul trouble. Although Pierce is the superior defender of the two, the scale of Melo’s potential impact on New York’s offense gives him the advantage here.
The Breakdown: This should be a great head to head matchup of one of the best defensive power forwards against one of the best offensive ones. WEEI’s Paul Flannery does a great job describing KG’s return to from this season. As the anchor of the defense he should make life difficult for Amare. On the other side, Amare’s so talented and versitile that he can take what the defense gives him and still get his buckets. Amare’s going to put up the better numbers but KG will do more to influence the outcome. For the Knicks to have a chance at making this one a series, STAT is going to have to do his best KG impression and make an imprint on both sides of the ball.
The Breakdown: This position is the most fluid for both teams. Each team is looking for defense and stability more than anything else at this spot. For Boston given their bench depth, one O’Neal should be enough to take care of whoever mans the five for the Knicks.
Bench: West/Green/Davis/Krstic versus Douglas/Walker/Jefferies/Mason
Obviously the Boston gained a lot of depth through trading Perkins. They’re almost versatile to a fault with so many possibilities. Boston would like to see Green step up and play assertive and to limit Big Baby’s shots from the perimeter. The Knicks bench has shown flashes throughout the season but lacks consistency. Tony Douglas should be a factor and Williams and Walker should hit their share of open threes but in the end, Boston’s bench is too talented for this group.
Prediction: Boston in six. Don’t forget, this Celtics team was in almost the exact same position a year ago. They have proved that they can flip the proverbial switch when they have to. Now, rested and eager to silence those who throw rocks at their Eastern Conference Championship throne, look for The Big Four to make a statement early in this one and race out to a 2-0 lead. New York should rise to the occasion hosting game three. But in the end, the Celtics are too deep and talented at both sides of the ball for this still developing Knicks team.