The Celtics continue their home stand with a visit from the New York Knicks. The Knicks beat the Celtics in Boston 105-75 on January 17. At the time, the Celtics had the best record in the East at 8-4 and were on a 5 game win streak. The Knicks were 6-8 and had a 5 game losing streak. The Celtics were without both Jayson Tatum and Rob Williams. That game seemed to have sent the Celtics on a downward spiral.
The Celtics are once again 8th in the East, tied with the Knicks, who are 7th because they lead the season series 1-0. The Celtics are also half a game behind Charlotte (6) and one game behind Atlanta (4) and Miami (5). Both the Celtics and Knicks are 5-5 in their last 10 games. The Celtics are 15-10 at home while the Knicks are 11-16 on the road. Both teams are coming off a loss. This is yet another game that is very important for seeding.
These are two of the original teams in the league and have had a storied rivalry over the years. The Celtics lead the series between these two teams 296-183 and they lead all time in Boston 159-64. Before their win in January, the Knicks had not won in Boston since 2018. The Celtics swept the Knicks 3-0 last season. The Celtics and Knicks will play once more on May 16, the final day of the regular season.
The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games, having played the 76ers at home on Tuesday. The Celtics are 4-6 on the second night of back to back games. They won their first 3 back to backs and then lost 6 straight and then finally won their last one. They are 0-2 when both of the games are at home. This is the 6th game of a 7 game home stand for the Celtics.
The Celtics will likely be without Evan Fournier for the second game in a row for health and safety protocols. Tristan Thompson was not on the latest injury list and so may play in this one. As with others coming back from a long absence, he will likely see limited minutes. Since it is the second night of back to back games, Kemba will likely sit and Grant Williams may once again get the start. Or, Brad may start Semi Ojeleye for his defense on Randle. The Knicks are without Mitchell Robinson, who is rehabbing from a foot injury.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Grant Williams
C: Robert Williams
Evan Fournier (covid) out
Kemba Walker (rest) out
Probable Knicks Starters
PG: Elfrid Payton
SG: RJ Barrett
SF: Reggie Bullock
PF: Julius Randle
C: Nerlens Noel
Kevin Knox II
Mitchell Robinson (foot) out
Grant Williams vs Julius Randle
Randle is averaging 23.0 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 5.8 assists. He is shooting 46.6% from the field and 41.6% from beyond the arc. He finished the January matchup with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists. The Celtics have to stay with Randle both in the paint and on the perimeter. Slowing Randle down will be key in this game.
Jaylen Brown vs RJ Barrett
Barrett is averaging 17.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. In January’s game Barrett put up 19 points, 11 rebounds 3 assists and 2 steals. He is shooting 44.4% from the field and 34.9% from beyond the arc.
Payton Pritchard vs Immanuel Quickley
This will be a matchup of rookie point guards. Both players have been getting accolades for their play this season. Pritchard is averaging 7.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists in 20 minutes per game. He is shooting 45% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc. Quickley is averaging 12.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 20 minutes per game. He is shooting 38.4% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc. He had 17 points and 8 assists in the first game between these two teams.
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 107.7 (4th), which isn’t surprising for a Tom Thibodeau coached team. On the other hand, the Celtics have a defensive rating of 111.7 (18th). 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 44 rebounds per game while the Knicks are averaging 45.7 rebounds per game. Rebounding is important to keep the Knicks from getting second chance points and extra possessions. 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. Evan Fournier gave the second unit a boost but unfortunately will not likely play in this one. They need players like Semi Ojeleye, Peyton Pritchard and Grant Williams and Luke Kornet to contribute on both ends of the court. The Knicks’ reserves average 64.5 points per game and so the Celtics will need their reserves to step up or have the starters put up big numbers.
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. In their games against the Rockets and Hornets, the Celtics had 35 and 29 assists and not surprisingly, the team looked good and the Celtics won. The Celtics had just 19 assists vs the 76ers and spent way too much time dribbling and playing iso ball.
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.
Home Game - The Celtics are once again at home and this is their 6th straight home game. The Knicks have not been a very strong road team with an 11-16 road record. Celtics fans are once again in the building and should give the Celtics a boost. Although, the Knicks earlier win over the Celtics was also in Boston, the Celtics must defend home court.
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.