The Celtics and Knicks meet at Madison Square Garden for the season opener for both teams. They faced each other twice in the preseason with the Knicks winning 114-107 on October 9. The Celtics were playing on the second night of back to back games and were sitting their top 6 players. The Celtics then came back and beat the Knicks 123-110 on October 17 with the Knicks sitting 3 of their starters.
This is the first of 4 meetings between these two teams this season. They will meet for a second time at Madison Square Garden on February 24. They will meet twice at the TD Garden on November 13 and April 11. The preseason games weren’t a great gauge of where these two teams are due to Boston sitting key players in their first meeting and the Knicks sitting key players in their second meeting.
The Celtics finished with a 57-25 record last season and 11-5 against Atlantic Division opponents. They took the Heat to 7 games before falling in the Eastern Conference Finals. In spite of making the Finals twice and the Eastern Conference Finals 5 times since their last title, the Celtics made some big moves in the offseason. They lost Grant Williams, Robert Williams III, Marcus Smart and Blake Griffin. They added Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday and are hoping that they will be enough to get them over the hump for Banner 18.
The Knicks took the opposite approach after finishing 47-35 last season and 8-8 against Atlantic Division opponents. The Knicks pretty much stood pat, keeping their core together. They are playing the same starting 5 that they used last season. They lost Obi Toppin but added Donte DiVincenzo. They have continuity on their side and are hoping that will help them to do better than last season.
Along with the continuity from last season, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart all played together on Villanova’s 2016 championship team. In addition. Brunson and DiVincenzo both also won another championship with Villanova in 2018. So the continuity with 3 players goes all the way back to their college days at Villanova and their chemistry is continuing with this Knicks team.
Both teams will start the season out healthy with no players from either team on the injury list at this time. I’m guessing that the Celtics will start the same 5 players that they used in their last preseason game with Holiday, White, Brown, Tatum and Porzingis in a smaller lineup with Al Horford coming off the bench. Joe Mazzulla has said that he may vary the starters from game to game so he may start a surprise lineup.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Jrue Holiday
SG: Derrick White
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Kristaps Porzingis
2 Way Players
Probable Knicks Starters
PG: Jalen Brunson
SG: Quentin Grimes
SF: RJ Barrett
PF: Julius Randle
C: Mitchell Robinson
2 Way Players J
Duane Washington, Jr
Charlie Brown, Jr
Jrue Holiday vs Jalen Brunson
Jalen Brunson has been playing very well for the Knicks and is one of the main reasons they have been doing so well as a team. Last season he averaged 24.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game. He shot 49.1% from the field and 41.6% from beyond the arc. The Celtics are hoping that bringing in Jrue Holiday will pay dividends right from the first game as he will need to defend against a very good Jalen Brunson and keep him from having a big game.
Jayson Tatum vs Julius Randle
Tatum put on extra muscle over the off season and that will come in handy against a very strong player like Julius Randle. Randle averaged 25.1 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game last season. He shot 46% from the field and 34.3% from beyond the arc. Tatum needs to keep him out of the paint and off the boards.
Jaylen Brown vs RJ Barrett
Barrett averaged 19.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game last season. He shot 43.4% from the field and 31.0% from beyond the arc. Brown needs to play tough defense to keep Barrett from putting up a lot of points in this game.
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. Tom Thibodeau always wants his players to defend on a high level and I’m sure the Celtics will face some tough defense and they have to match that. The Celtics have shown they are capable of playing very good defense but they need to be consistent and commit to it every quarter of every game.
Rebound - 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. They need to crash the boards as a team and work harder than the Knicks to grab rebounds.
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 and they can lose a lot of games by allowing their opponents to be the team that plays harder. They are playing their first game without Marcus Smart, who inspired the team to be aggressive by his example. Hopefully someone else steps up into that role on this team.
Play Hard 48 Minutes - Last season the Celtics came out slowly and allowed their opponent to build a big first quarter lead. At other times they built a lead and then stopped playing hard and allowed their opponent to come back and surge ahead. We have already see the Celtics let up in the third quarter in a preseason game. They have to start strong and play hard throughout the game right up until the final buzzer. They need that killer instinct that they didn’t seem to have last season.
Opening Night on the Road - Both teams are playing their first game of the season and there are likely to be some opening night jitters on both sides. The Celtics will be playing with a new starting lineup and several new players and may need to build chemistry while the Knicks are basically the same team that they had last season. The Celtics need to overcome the distractions of playing on the road and in front of a hostile crowd and stay focused on playing the right way.
Officiating - Officiating always has the potential to be an x-factor. Each officiating crew calls the game differently. The Celtics always struggle more when refs call every little ticky tack foul. Hopefully they call it evenly and let both teams play. The refs always start the season with points of emphasis and make it difficult for teams who aren’t used to those things being called. They will also be calling technical fouls on flops and that could make things more difficult as they try to differentiate between actual fouls and flops. 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 from playing the game. Hopefully they won’t complain about every call as they have in past seasons.