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Boston Celtics at New York Knickerbockers Game #16 5/16/21

The Celtics look to close out the season on a high note as they take on the New York Knicks.

New York Knicks v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The Celtics travel to New York for their 3rd and final meeting this season. The series is tied 1-1 going into this game. The Knicks won the first game 105-75 in Boston on January 17. The Celtics came back and won the second game 101-99 on April 7 once again on Boston. This will be the only regular season game between them played at Madison Square Garden this season.

Both teams are playing in the second game of back to back games. The Celtics have had 14 back to back sets and are 6-8 on the second night and 2-2 when the games are both on the road. The Knicks have also played 14 back to back sets and are 9-5 in the second game. The Celtics are playing in their 3rd straight road game while the Knicks are playing in their 3rd straight home game.

The Celtics are 297-183 all time vs the New York Knicks. They are 137-117 at Madison Square Garden. The Celtics have won their last 5 games in New York and they won the last game played in Boston. Both are playing in their second straight afternoon game. The Celtics are 5-7 in afternoon games while the Knicks are 8-1 when they play in the afternoon.

The Celtics are locked into the 7th spot in the East and will have to win in the play-in tournament in order to make the playoffs. They still don’t know who their opponent will be as Charlotte (8th), Washington (9) and Indiana (10) are all tied with one more game for each of them. The Celtics are 4-6 in their last 10 games and 15-20 on the road. They are looking to end the season with their second straight win.

But it won’t be a cake walk because the Knicks are still playing for their playoff seeding. The Knicks are currently 4th in the East, but tied with the 5th place Hawks and a game ahead of the 6th place Heat. They will be playing to keep their home court advantage in the first round and so I don’t see them resting players or taking this game lightly. The Knicks are 24-11 at home and 6-4 in their last 10 games. They have won their last 2 games.

Once again, the Celtics will be short handed with Kemba Walker (neck), Marcus Smart (calf), Robert Williams (toe), Tristan Thompson (pectoral), and Jaylen Brown (wrist) all ruled out for this game. Jayson Tatum (ankle) and Evan Fournier (knee) were probable for Saturday’s game and played in that game and as of now, are not on the injury list for this game. I’m going to guess that Brad starts the same lineup as he used for Saturday’s game but he very well could change things up. For the Knicks, Mitchell Robinson (foot) is out and Luca Vildoza is a game time decision.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Payton Pritchard
SG: Evan Fournier
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Semi Ojeleye
C: Luke Kornet

Celtics Reserves
Tremont Waters
Tacko Fall
Carsen Edwards
Aaron Nesmith
Jabari Parker
Romeo Langford
Grant Williams

Robert Williams (toe) out
Jaylen Brown (wrist) out
Kemba Walker (neck) out
Marcus Smart (calf) out
Tristan Thompson (pectoral) out

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Knicks Starters

PG: Elfrid Payton
SG: RJ Barrett
SF: Reggie Bullock
PF: Julius Randle
C: Nerlens Noel

Knicks Reserves
Alec Burks
Taj Gibson
Jared Harper
Kevin Knox II
Frank Ntilikina
Norvel Pelle
Theo Pinson
Immanuel Quickley
Derrick Rose
Obi Toppin

Mitchell Robinson (foot) out
Luca Vildoza (not injury related) game time decision

Head Coach
Tom Thibodeau

Key Matchups

Semi Ojeleye vs Julius Randle
Randle is averaging 24.0 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 5.9 assists. He is shooting 45.7% from the field and 41.2% from beyond the arc. He finished the January matchup with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists and added 22 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists in the April game. The Celtics have to stay with Randle both in the paint and on the perimeter. Slowing Randle down will be key in this game.

Evan Fournier vs RJ Barrett
Barrett is averaging 17.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game. In January’s game Barrett put up 19 points, 11 rebounds 3 assists and 2 steals and in April, he had 29 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. He is shooting 43.9% from the field and 39.8% from beyond the arc. Brad may choose to sit Fournier for the final game and if so, Nesmith or Langford may get the start here.

Honorable Mention
Derrick Rose and Immanual Quickley
Both of these players are playing very well for the Knicks. With so many Celtics out, I’m not sure who will be matching up with these two guards but they will have their hands full. Rose is averaging 19.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists and is shooting 57.4% from the field and 48.6% from beyond the arc in his last 12 games. Quickly is averaging 11.6 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 2.0 assists and is shooting 39.6% from the field and 39.5% from beyond the arc. The Celtics bench is depleted but these two players especially need to be defended well.

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 107.9 (4th), which isn’t surprising for a Tom Thibodeau coached team. On the other hand, the Celtics have a defensive rating of 111.9 (15th). The Knicks also are 1st in the league holding opponents to 33.9% on 3 pointers. They also are 4th holding opponents to 43.8 points in the paint. They Celtics will find scoring difficult against them and so need to play tough defense themselves if they hope to get a win.

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 44.2 rebounds per game while the Knicks are averaging 45.2 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 a few spurts this season. They simply have to out-work their opponents for all 48 minutes.

Move and Move the Ball- The Celtics have to keep moving and also 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 score or draw the foul.

Back to Back on the Road - Both teams are playing in back to back games. The Celtics are on the road and will have to keep their focus in spite of the hostile fans, the travel, and the rest of the distractions that players face on the road. Will the short handed Celtics have the energy to close out the game strong on the back to back?

Matinee Game- For the second game in a row, both teams are playing in the afternoon. Both teams won their game on Saturday, but the Knicks are much more successful in afternoon games than the Celtics are. The Celtics have played in 12 afternoon games and are 5-7 in those games. The Knicks have had 9 afternoon games and are 8-1 in those 9 games.

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.

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