After a 5 game homestand, the Celtics hit the road to visit the New York Knicks at the historic Madison Square Garden. This is the 4th and final meeting between these two teams this season. The Celtics won 103-101 on October 20 and 128-100 on December 6, with both games in Boston. They lost 117-109 in New York on December 21.
The Knicks are pretty much in disarray at the moment with a big trade going down on Thursday that sent Kristaps Porzingis, Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway, Jr, and Trey Burke to the Dallas Mavericks for Wesley Matthews, Dennis Smith, Jr, and DeAndre Jordan. I doubt that the new players will be available to play but stranger things have happened. Porzingis has not played this season but they will miss Lee, Burke and Hardaway, who have all been starting for them.
The Celtics are still 5th but they are tied with the Indiana Pacers, who holds the tie breaker, with both teams 5 games out of first place. A win here would move the Celtics up into 4th place. The Celtics are 1.5 games behind 3rd place Philadelphia. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and have won their last 2 games. They are 11-13 on the road.
The Knicks are last in the East and also last in the league. They are just percentage points behind the Cavaliers with both teams 26.5 games out of first place in the East. They are 11.5 games out of playoff position. They have lost their last 11 games and are just 4-18 at home. The Celtics are 11-4 in their last 15 games against the Knicks.
Kyrie Irving missed the past two games with a sore hip but is not listed on the Celtics injury list as of now. Although it might be better to rest him another game it seems as though he will play in this one. For the Knicks, Frank Ntilikina (groin) is doubtful, Emmanuel Mudiay (shoulder) is out, and Luke Kornet (ankle) is probable. The 3 new guys will be out also.
I’m guessing that Rozier will start if Kyrie sits once again, but it’s entirely possible that Kyrie will be back. It might be smart to sit all the starters to rest them up for the Thunder coming in on Sunday. For the Knicks, I have no idea who will start for the Knicks since they just traded 3 of their normal starters. I just kind of closed my eyes and pointed and picked out players who may or may not start for them.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Marcus Morris
C: Al Horford
Jabari Bird (personal) out
Kyrie Irving (hip) probable
Two Way Players
P. J. Dozier
Probable Knicks Starters
PG: Kadeem Allen
SG: Allonzo Trier
SF: Kevin Knox
PF: Lance Thomas
C: Noah Vonleh
Frank Ntilikina (groin) doubtful
Emmanuel Mudiay (shoulder) out
Luke Kornet (ankle) probable
DeAndre Jordan (just traded) out
Wesley Matthews (just traded) out
Dennis Smith, Jr (just traded) out
Two Way Players
Jayson Tatum vs Kevin Knox
Knox ranks seventh in scoring(third in the EAST)and seventh in rebounds(third in the EAST) in the NBA among rookies. He is averaging 12.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 0.9 assists per game.
Marcus Smart vs Allonzo Trier
Trier is 8th among rookies with 10.5 points per game and 9th in field goal percentage, shooting 45.6% from the field. He is averaging 10.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 39% from beyond the arc.
Aron Baynes vs Enes Kanter
This is a battle of big men off the bench. Kanter is averaging 14.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. Of course, with the roster shake up, the Knicks may opt to start Kanter, who is their best big man, instead of Vonleh who has been starting the past few games for them.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Playing tough team defense is the key to winning every game. The Celtics need to concentrate on getting stops and keeping the Knicks’ offense off balance. The Celtics have moved back into 3rd in the league with a defensive rating of 104.7 while the Knicks are 28th with a defensive rating of 113.2. If the Celtics continue to emphasize defense, they should win this.
Rebound - The Celtics can’t score if they don’t have the ball, and rebounding is the best way to get extra possessions. The Celtics are averaging 45.3 rebounds per game while the Knicks are averaging 44.0 rebounds per game. Rebounding takes effort and determination and the Celtics need to have both to out-rebound the Knicks in this one.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics need to be the more aggressive team. They have to be more aggressive in going after loose balls, in grabbing rebounds, in defending, and in going to the basket. They have to be the team that wants it more. They have to find the swagger and heart that we saw from them last season and also in spurts this season. They simply have to out-work their opponents.
Move the Ball- The Celtics have to keep the ball moving and find the open man. When the ball sticks and one player tries to do too much, the team suffers. They have to play as a team and trust their teammates and keep the ball moving. No hero ball. Also, if the outside shots aren’t falling for them, as they sometimes aren’t on the road, they have to try to get to the basket and either get the basket or draw the foul.
Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics have to start out strong and not allow themselves to get down big early. It takes too much effort to fight their way back from a big deficit. They also have to play hard the entire game and not let the Knicks back in if they get a lead. The Celtics have to play hard from the opening tip until the final buzzer.
X-Factors On the Road - The Celtics have struggled on the road this season with an 11-13 record away from the TD Garden so far. They have said that they don’t know why they are struggling to win on the road but hopefully whatever their problem is, they figure it out. The Celtics need to stay focused on playing Celtics basketball and not allow the hostile crowd and the distractions of playing on the road keep them from playing their best.
Effort and Underestimating - The Knicks should be an easy win for the Celtics given the talent difference and the trade. However, the Celtics have already lost to them once this season when they should have been an easy win. If the Celtics underestimate them and give less than 100% effort, they could find themselves losing for the second time to the worst team in the league.