If current NBA fans could step back in time about 65 years ago, they could watch the infancy of an East Coast rivalry that will once again be renewed today. How fitting it is that on this strange and shortened NBA season, these two old-school teams will meet once again on Christmas Day to start a brand new season and thus continue their fight that began so very long ago.
In the 1946-47 season the Celtics went 22-38 in the 60 game regular season, and did not qualify for the playoffs. The Knicks went 33-27. The Celtics leading scorer for the year was a guy named Connie Simmons who barely scored in double figures. The Celtics coach was the future Hall of Fame coach John Russell (I like the Russell part anyway). Let us hope that 65 years later this shortened season of the 66 games yields at least 18 more victories, and produces a playoff berth that brings the 18th banner to Boston. Tough but not impossible.
It was 26 years ago on Christmas Day that McHale, Parrish and Bird met the Knicks in New York, with the Knicks riding the 4th quarter Christmas coattails of a young Patrick Ewing to beat the legendary Big Three in overtime 113-104. Bah Humbug!!! I say to that day as I watched that meltdown in the 4th quarter kill my spirits.
So here we all are, once again at the beginning of a season, so full of hope, nerves, pride, and gratefulness. This big busload of anticipation we have drove around with these past months has finally pulled up right in front of the Garden. It’s the wrong Garden of course, but it has pulled up to the curb and parked just the same. It’s time to unload the bus, get into Madison Square Garden and wipe the goofy smile right off Spike Lee’s face. No more waiting.
Let’s get right to it and talk match-ups!
Point Guard - There is no doubt who our starting point guard will be this opening day - Rajon Rondo. What a difference a year doesn’t make. Rajon seems poised, more than ever I suspect, to lead this team like a true top level NBA point guard can and should lead.
There are only two preseason games on which to judge Rajon regarding any possible improvements he may have made over the long layoff. Game #1 looked like no real improvements had been made to his much maligned shooting touch, from either the floor, or the charity stripe. Rondo shot a miserable 2-9 from the field, and 1-2 from the free throw line. Game #2 brought much different results, as he went 6-10 from the field, and an impressive 5-6 from the foul line. This resulted in a total of 17 points and 6 assists and 2 steals. I’ll take that stat line every game. I have bunches of confidence in Rajon Rondo to run this team, and run it very well, all season long.
The Knicks, on the other hand, have Point Guard controversy already. Toney Douglas so far has seemed less than impressive. He was deemed the starting PG by D’Antoni a few days ago but the coach said it with a slight hesitation in his tone. Mike Bibby coming off the bench is no more impressive than Douglas in the preseason. Rookie PG Iman Shumpert might apparently get the start over Toney Douglas with one hot preseason game. Really? Even if Shumpert doesn’t get the nod to start (which I suspect he won’t), he is certainly nipping at the heels of Toney Douglas. Of course, the Knicks recently signed Baron "Bad Back" Davis who is still recovering from....wait for it.............back surgery! Regardless, there is no PG for the Knicks who can stop Rajon Rondo on opening day. Advantage: Boston
Shooting Guard: Landry Fields surprised some people last year as a rookie, and is now temporarily in the starting lineup. As noted above, D’Antoni seems to still be "fiddling an diddling" with his starting backcourt, and I suspect he will probably continue to do so for awhile. Fields stat lines for the two preseason games were unimpressive on the offensive side, but the Knicks are looking for big scoring from other places with their bulked up front line. Fields is young, quick, and apparently much physically stronger from last year, so you never know what his second year may bring in the NBA. He can rebound pretty well for a guard with slightly over 6 RPG last season. However, when I look at the matchup between him and Ray Allen it just makes me grin. Ray Allen puts the "S" in the word Steady. Ray brings 15 years of nothing but stellar consistent play on both sides of the ball. This year he again seems ageless (reverse jinx). He is the one guy that totally relaxes me when the ball in his hands. Advantage: Boston
Center: This is another case of an experienced veteran in Tyson Chandler with 10 years in the league, versus "ancient veteran experience" with Jermaine O’Neal. Jermaine’s 15 years in the league is the second player on the Celtics starting lineup who brings a decade and a half of wear and tear. Jermaine is no Ray Allen in terms of physical health unfortunately. The good news? He looked fairly strong in two preseason games. He didn’t score much, played very light minutes, but showed this dinosaur can still block shots. I am always a sucker for blocked shots, so it is nice to see he can still provide some intimidation in the paint. Do we need a younger, quicker more complete Center? Yes! Are we going to get one? No! Between KG, Wilcox, Stiemsma (insert your nickname here) and T-Rex Jermaine, it certainly looks like the Center position is going to be a season long shared responsibility. This first game brings a big test at this spot with Knicks now sporting big man Chandler. A defensive presence indeed. His stats say he is going to give you a double double on average with points and boards. Personally, I think he is a bit overrated (reverse jinx #2) but when you have Carmelo and Amare next to you, you may be able to perform better than your past stats have ever indicated you could perform. Advantage: Knicks
Fowards: Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are two big names who can and will put pressure on every defense they will face this year. These two averaged over 50 points last season. They score, they rebound, they play smart basketball and they are truly in their NBA prime. When you add Chandler to the already strong Knick front court, then the words "help defense" take on a whole new meaning. This is not going to be an easy day for KG, Wilcox, Bass, O’Neal, Stiemsma, and maybe even for JaJuan Johnson. Early foul trouble for KG, Bass and Wilcox, combined with apparently no Paul Pierce in uniform, might spell real trouble for the Celtics. Giving these three second shot opportunities is not a good plan for the Celtics. In the words of the great Tommy Heinshon: "Block out! then rebound! then run! Advantage: Knicks
The Bench: Simply put, I have no idea. On paper we seem to have a slight advantage, but then again I am quite biased. This is Game One, with no real preseason or training camp. Because this is my article I am going to say what I want regardless of what may be true here. Advantage: Celtics
Summary: It’s Christmas Day, I am a blessed person, my family is healthy the NBA is back, the Celtics are on TV, and I don’t have to eat Christmas dinner until after the game!!!! Merry Christmas to each of you on this wonderful day. Peace on Earth and Celtic Pride....
By the way, I didn’t even check who the refs are for the game because I don’t care! Go Celtics!