The Celtics host the New York Knicks for the second of 4 meetings between them this season. Their first meeting was on opening night when the Knicks handed the Celtics their first loss of the season in double overtime at Madison Square Garden. They will face each other again in a home and home series on January 6 at Madison Square Garden and again on January 8 at the TD Garden.
The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games. They are coming off a tough shorthanded loss to the Warriors on Friday. The Celtics are 4-2 in the second of back to back games and they are 1-0 when the games are both at home. The Knicks last played on Thursday when they got a win on the road over the Houston Rockets. The Celtics are playing in the third game of a 5 game home stand. The Celtics are 297-185 all time vs the Knicks and they are 160-65 vs the Knicks when playing in Boston.
The Celtics are 10th in the East. They are 7-5 at home and 4-6 in their last 10 games. They are 9-8 against other Eastern Conference teams. The Knicks are 12th in the East and are looking for their second straight win. The Knicks are actually better on the road than they are at home. They have a 5-10 record at home and 8-6 record on the road. They are 3-7 in their last 10 games and are 8-13 against other Eastern Conference teams.
Both teams could be very short handed in this game. For the Celtics, they had a recent influx of players into the health and safety protocols. Al Horford, Grant Williams, Jabari Parker and Juancho Hernangomez are all out due to being in the health and safety protocols. This makes the Celtics really short (literally) at the power forward position. Dennis Schroder was a late scratch due to a non-covid illness on Friday and is listed as out for this game. Romeo Langford left Friday’s game with a neck injury and didn’t return. Langford is questionable for this game.
The Celtics have signed Justin Jackson to a 10 day contract with the league’s hardship exception. Jackson, a 6’8”, 220-lb forward, last played with the Mavericks’ G-League team, averaging 22.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.3 assists and shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from beyond the arc. Jackson was the 15th overall pick in the 2017 draft. I’m not sure if he will be in uniform for this game but he more than likely will be.
If Langford can play he would likely be back in the starting lineup. If he is out, I’m just guessing that Aaron Nesmith will start or maybe Josh Richardson. As of right now, the Knicks have RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes, Kevin Knox II, Miles McBride, Immanuel Quickley, and Obi Toppin all out due to health and safety protocols. Derrick Rose injured his ankle in the first half vs the Rockets and is listed as questionable for this game. If Rose is out, I would think Kemba Walker would at least get a chance to play again but maybe
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SF: Aaron Nesmith
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (neck) questionable
Dennis Schroder (illness) out
Jabari Parker (covid) out
Grant Williams (covid) out
Al Horford (covid) out
Juancho Hernangomez (covid) out
Sam Hauser (covid) out
Probable Knicks Starters
PG: Derrick Rose
SG: Alec Burks
SF: Evan Fournier
PF: Julius Randle
C: Nerlens Noel
Wayne Selden, Jr
RJ Barrett (covid) out
Quentin Grimes (covid) out
Kevin Knox II (covid) out
Miles McBride (covid) out
Immanuel Quickley (covid) out
Obi Toppin (covid) out
Derrick Rose (ankle) questionable
Luka Samanic (foot) questionable
Two Way Players
Jayson Tatum vs Julius Randle
Randle is the Knicks best player and he is playing very well for them. He is averaging 19.5 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game. He is shooting 42.8% from the field and 34.2% from beyond the arc. In the first game vs the Celtics, he put up 35 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 blocks. The Celtics need to slow him down on offense and keep him off the boards.
Jaylen Brown vs Evan Fournier
Fournier is averaging 12.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. He is shooting 40.4% from the field and 36.8% from beyond the arc. He plays much better against his former team than he usually does, however. In the season opener, he had 32 points, 6 rebounds 3 assists and 4 steals. The Celtics can’t underestimate him and need to defend him very well.
Marcus Smart vs Derrick Rose
Assuming that Rose’s ankle is ok and he is able to play in this one, he would be my pick for this key matchup. He is averaging 12.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists. He is shooting 44.9% from the field and 40.3% from beyond the arc. He has spent much of the season coming off the bench but with the benching of Kemba Walker and the number of other players out, he has been starting. He is questionable due to the ankle injury, however. I’m not sure who would start here if Rose is unable to play.
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 Knicks have a defensive rating of 110.7 (24th), which is surprising for a Tom Thibodeau coached team. On the other hand, the Celtics have a defensive rating of 107.1 (10th). The Celtics have shown they are capable of playing very good defense but they need to commit to it every game.
Rebound - The Celtics are averaging 45.8 rebounds per game while the Knicks are averaging 44.8 rebounds per game. Rebounding is important to keep the Knicks from getting second chance points and extra possessions. The Knicks are 7th in the league with 14.5 second chance points per game. Much of rebounding is effort and desire as evidenced by players like Payton Pritchard getting offensive rebounds when surrounded by much taller players. When the Celtics put out extra effort on the boards it usually transfers to the rest of their game.
Bench Play - The Celtics have to get production from their bench. The Knicks’ reserves average 39.4 points per game, which is fifth best in the league. With so many players out on both teams, the Celtics will need their remaining reserves to step up in order to help make up for players who are out.
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 as that is when they play the best. When the Celtics have fewer than 20 assists, they usually don’t play well and most times don’t win.
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 need to hustle and be aggressive for 48 minutes every game. They can’t come out with low energy or let up midway through the game. They have to play hard for all 48 minutes.
Covid - Both teams are missing key players due to covid and health and safety protocols. The Knicks have had longer to work on strategy and practice without those players than the Celtics have since the Celtics had 6 players ruled just on Friday. Which team will fill in the best for the players who are out? Also, several of the Knicks players are listed as questionable as of right now so some may be able to come back. Next man up.
Revenge - The Celtics need to remember that their first loss came at the hands of the New York Knicks in the season opener. They fought hard and the game went to double overtime before the Knicks prevailed 138-134. The Knicks are a division rival and so the Celtics should have that loss on their mind and come out and play hard to get a win in this one.
Officiating - Officiating always has the potential to be an x-factor. Each officiating crew calls the game differently. The Celtics struggle more when refs call every little ticky tack foul. Hopefully they call it evenly and let both teams play. The Celtics need to adjust to how the refs are calling the game and not allow bad calls or no calls to take away their focus on playing the game.