Including the preseason, this will be the fourth time in just over a month that the Celtics and Knicks lock horns. Boston spoiled Opening Night at Madison Square Garden back on October 25th and will look to remain undefeated against their Atlantic Division rival after losing the regular season series last year 1-3.
Under head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks boast the second best defense in the league at 104.7 points per 100 possessions; the Celtics are third at 104.9. Boston squeaked out a win in their first meeting 108-104 hitting just 12-of-39 from behind the arc and allowing New York to make 18-of-41 of their threes.
There’s certainly some luck when it comes to shooting percentages, particularly in the first game, but playing with each team playing their tenth game of the season, identities are beginning to form and solidify. It’s no surprise that a Thibodeau-lead team has hung their on the defensive end (even though they ranked just 19th the year prior). Their offense has taken a considerable hit in large part to the shooting slumps of their two stars, Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle. The latter is making less than 33.6% of his seventeen shot attempts and averaging three turnovers game.
Jalen Brunson | Jrue Holiday
Quentin Grimes | Derrick White
RJ Barrett | Jaylen Brown
Julius Randle | Jayson Tatum
Mitchell Robinson | Kristaps Porzingis
Isaiah Hartenstein | Al Horford
Josh Hart | Payton Pritchard
Immanuel Quickley | Sam Hauser
Donte DiVincenzo | Oshae Brissett
In Boston, even at 7-2, it’s hard to say what exactly the Celtics are at this point of the year. They’re winning games, sure, but do they have an identity? They by far have the highest net rating in the NBA at 13.4 with the third most efficient offense (118.5) and defense (104.9). In our CelticsBlog Slack, I asked the staff if they viewed this team as an offensive juggernaut or defensive constrictor. Sam LaFrance suggested that the defense is more consistent, but on nights when the nets are catching fire, none of that matters. In Saturday’s extinction of the Raptors, they held a team to under 100 points for the first time all year and assisted on 30 of their 47 field goals with just 12 turnovers.
“We’re still in the beginning stages. Our chemistry is just going to get so much better,” Porzingis said on Saturday night. “I’m telling you, it’s going to get a lot better.”
Back in October, the Knicks were able to whittle down double-digit leads throughout the game and were up for the majority of the fourth quarter because of some timely shooting and costly turnovers. That’s a trend that the Celtics have avoided in their last two blowouts of Brooklyn and Toronto this weekend with the emergence of the second unit.
If there’s an x-factor heading into tonight’s rematch, it might be the backend of the rotations. Three weeks ago, the Boston bench was out scored 38-12. Sixth Man of the Year candidate Immanuel Quickley had 24. Josh Hart and Isaiah Hartenstein chipped in 7 a piece. Al Horford had 8, Pritchard only 4. But over the homestand, the Celtics second unit has averaged 32.5 points per game with Sam Hauser hitting 15 out of his last 30 three-point attempts.
The Knicks are on the second night of a back-to-back after beating the Hornets on Sunday afternoon to complete a sweep of their three-game set at MSG. Boston is looking to do the same before heading out on the road for five of their next six games.
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