The Celtics and Knicks meet for the third time this season. The Celtics won 118-95 in New York on October 26. The second game was not so easy in Boston. The Celtics won 104-102 on a Jayson Tatum game winner. They will meet one more time in Boston on March 18.
The Celtics, who not long ago led the league in the standings, have dropped to 4th in the East after going 3-4 after their 10 game winning streak. The Celtics are 6-5 on the road and 6-4 in their last 10 games. The Knicks are last in the east and have lost their last 5 games. They are 3-7 at home and 2-8 in their last 10 games.
The Knicks and Celtics both played on Friday and both lost to division rivals. The Celtics lost to the Nets while the Knicks lost to the 76ers. The Knicks are playing in the first of back to back games and will face the Bucks on Monday. The Celtics won’t play until Wednesday when they face the Nuggets. The Celtics are 295-182 all time against the Knicks and they are 124-105 all time at Madison Square Garden.
Marcus Morris is listed as questionable with neck spasms. His status for the game will be a game time decision. Unless he can’t possibly play, however, I expect Marcus to play in this game as I don’t see him wanting to miss a chance to beat his former team. Elfrid Payton (hamstring) and Reggie Bullock (back) are also listed as out for this game.
Gordon Hayward is progressing and is ahead of schedule on his time line to get back on the court. He is still out for this game with the hand injury. Romeo Langford is close to returning from an ankle injury but is expected to return to the Red Claws to get some more games in there before he returns to the Celtics.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (G-League/ankle) out
Gordon Hayward (hand) out
Two Way Players
Probable Knicks Starters
PG: Frank Ntilikina
SG: RJ Barrett
SF: Marcus Morris, Sr
PF: Julius Randle
C: Taj Gibson
Dennis Smith, Jr
Kevin Knox II
Reggie Bullock (back) out
Elfrid Payton (hamstring) out Marcus Morris, Sr (neck) questionable
Two Way Players
Jaylen Brown vs Marcus Morris
Morris has been leading the Knicks with 18.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.3 assists. He is shooting 42% from the field and 51.5% from beyond the arc. In the last game against Boston, Morris had 29 points and 9 rebounds. He is listed as questionable for this game but I can see him doing all he can to play in this game. If he can’t play, Kevin Knox or Bobby Portis will likely take his place.
Marcus Smart vs RJ Barrett
Barrett is showing a lot of promise so far, averaging 15.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. He is shooting 40.4% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the arc. Barrett had 15 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists in the last game against the Celtics. Marcus has said that he was disappointed with his play in the Celtics last game and so will likely come out in this game with a renewed desire to win.
Jayson Tatum vs Julius Randle
Randle is a strong player at 6’9” and 250 lbs. Jayson will need to try to be quicker than Randle rather than try to overpower him. Randle is averaging 16.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He is shooting 44.7% from the field and 26.9% from beyond the arc. He isn’t a big threat from outside, but Jayson will need to keep him out of the paint if he can.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the key to winning. The Celtics began the season with elite defense but have slipped considerably in recent games. They have slipped to 9th in the league with a defensive rating of 103.3. The Knicks are 22nd with a defensive rating of 110.9. The Celtics are now giving up the 4th most 3’s in the league and they have to play tougher perimeter defense. Every player must commit to playing tough team and individual defense. The Celtics need to concentrate on getting stops and keeping the Knicks’ offense off balance. They have to make defense their priority once again.
Rebound - The Celtics can’t score if they don’t have the ball, and rebounding is the best way to get extra possessions. The Knicks have out-rebounded the Celtics 106-90 in the first two games between them. Rebounding takes effort and determination and the Celtics need to have both to out-rebound the Knicks in this one. Every player must commit to crashing the boards.
Keep Moving- This means both the ball and the players. Players have to keep moving and run on every possession. They need to move without the ball to get open for the best percentage shots. They also need to keep the ball moving and make the extra pass to find the open man. When the ball sticks with players instead of moving the offense gets stagnant and the Celtics don’t score. The 16 assists against the Nets were a season low and that will not win many games. Keep moving and keep the ball moving.
Start With Energy - The Celtics have been starting slow and digging a hole that they have to spend much of the rest of the game digging out of. The Celtics offensive rating in first quarters is 98.9. That is the second worst first quarter offensive rating in the league, second only to the New York Knicks. They simply have to come out with more energy and play harder right from the start. They also have to keep playing hard the entire game because they are getting the best effort from other teams and so they have to give their best effort also.
On the Road - The Celtics are back on the road in a fairly hostile arena. They have not played very well away from the Garden so far, going just 6-5 on the road. The Celtics is a young team and young teams often struggle on the road. They need to ignore the hostile atmosphere and stay focused on Celtics basketball.
It’s the Knicks - The Celtics can’t get overconfident because the Knicks aren’t very good this season. They need to come out strong and play like they are playing the best team in the league. Too often they lose because they underestimate a lottery team. Play their game and play hard regardless of the opponent. The Knicks are going to want revenge for their first two losses to the Celtics and Marcus Morris is very much going to want to even the score with his former team. The Knicks almost beat the Celtics once and can beat them in this game if they don’t come out with their best game.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Every crew calls a game differently. Some call it tight and others let them play. Some favor the home team and others call it fairly. Some crews are just bad and miss obvious calls. The Celtics can’t let the officiating shake their focus and they have to adjust to how the game is being called