The Celtics visit the New York Knicks for the third 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 138-134 in double overtime at Madison Square Garden. They will face each other again for the final time on in just two days January 8 at the TD Garden. The Celtics were 1-2 against the Knicks last season.
The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games. The Celtics are 5-2 in the second of back to back games and they are 0-1 when the games are road and then home. The Knicks last played on Tuesday when they got a home win over the Indiana Pacers. The Celtics are playing on the road after playing their last 4 at home. The Celtics are 298-185 all time vs the Knicks and they are 125-107 when playing at Madison Square Garden.
The Celtics are 10th in the East. They are 7-12 on the road and 4-6 in their last 10 games. They are 12-10 against other Eastern Conference teams. The Knicks are 11th 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 an 8-11 record at home and 10-9 record on the road. They are 6-4 in their last 10 games and are 12-16 against other Eastern Conference teams.
The Celtics are as healthy as they have been in quite awhile. Payton Pritchard is out in the health and safety protocols and Brodric Thomas is out with a back injury. The Knicks are also getting healthier. Kemba Walker is out with a sore knee and Derrick Rose is out with an ankle injury. Nerlens Noel is questionable due to conditioning in a return from covid. Both Noel and Kemba were limited in their participation in Wednesday’s practice.
Probable Celtics Starters
Brodric Thomas (back) out
Payton Pritchard (covid) out
Probable Knicks Starters
Kevin Knox II
Nerlens Noel (conditioning) questionable
Derrick Rose (ankle) out
Kemba Walker (knee) out
Jaylen Brown vs Evan Fournier
These two players were teammates last season and will once again be facing off against each other this season. Fournier is averaging 13.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. He is shooting 30.7% from the field and 36.7% from beyond the arc. However, playing against the Celtics seems to bring out the best in him as he is averaging 32 points in the two games against the Celtics this season.
Al Horford vs Julius Randle
Randle is averaging 19.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game. He is shooting 42.3% from the field and 32.7% from beyond the arc. He put up 35 points in one game vs the Celtics and 20 points in the other game. He has been playing very well for the Knicks and the Celtics need to stay with him on defense to keep him from having a big game.
Jayson Tatum vs RJ Barrett
Barrett is averaging 15.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game this season. He is shooting 40.1% from the field and 32.7% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need Tatum to get the better of this matchup because when he struggles, the Celtics also seem to struggle.
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 109.4 (18th), which is surprising for a Tom Thibodeau coached team. On the other hand, the Celtics have a defensive rating of 107.3 (7th). The Celtics have shown they are capable of playing very good defense but they need to be consistent and commit to it every game.
Rebound - The Celtics are averaging 46.1 rebounds per game while the Knicks are averaging 42.5 rebounds per game. Rebounding is important to keep the Knicks from getting second chance points and extra possessions. The Knicks are 10th in the league with 14.1 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.
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 win a lot of games by playing harder than their opponents.
Play Hard 48 Minutes - At times the Celtics have come out slowly and allowed their opponent to build a big first quarter lead. At other times the Celtics have built a lead and then stopped playing hard and allowed their opponent to come back and surge ahead. Other times, they play their opponent even up until the final minutes and then can’t seem to close out. They have to start strong and play hard throughout the game right up until the final buzzer.
Back to Back on the Road - The Celtics are playing in the second of back to back games. They also have several players just back from health and safety protocols and others who have had to carry a heavier load while the players were out. There could be some fatigue down the stretch. They need to stay focused and not allow a hostile Knicks crowd to take away from that focus.
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.