The Celtics travel to New York to take on the Knicks in the third of four meetings this season. The Celtics won the first meeting 133-118 at New York on November 5. The Knicks won the second meeting 120-117 on January 26 in Boston. They will meet again in Boston on March 5. They tied the series 2-2 last season with each team winning twice on their home court.
The Knicks are playing in the 2nd game of a 3 game home stand. They beat the New Orleans Pelicans 128-106 on Saturday in a game that they led wire to wire. They will host Brooklyn on Wednesday before playing 2 straight on the road, including a game against the Celtics in Boston. The Celtics are playing in the 3rd game of a 3 game road trip. They won the first two games in Indiana and Philadelphia. They will start a 3 game home stand on Wednesday.
The Celtics remain 1st in the East. They are clinging to a half a game lead over the Bucks, who have won 14 straight games. They are 4 games ahead of 3rd place Philadelphia and 6.5 games ahead of 4th place Cleveland. They are also 2 games ahead of West leading Denver. The Celtics are 20-10 on the road and 8-2 in their last 10 games. They are 27-12 against Eastern Conference teams and 9-1 against Atlantic Division foes. They have won their last 3 games.
The Knicks are 6th in the East. They are tied with 5th place Brooklyn and 2 games behind 4th place Cleveland. They are 2.5 games ahead of 7th place Miami and a spot in the play-in tournament. They are 6.5 games ahead of 11th place Chicago and out of the playoffs. The Knicks are 17-15 at home and 8-2 in their last 10 games. They are 24-16 against Eastern Conference teams and 5-8 against Atlantic Division opponents. They have won their last 5 games.
The Celtics have gone 9-2 since the Knicks beat them 120-117 in OT in Boston. Jaylen Brown had a chance to put the Celtics ahead with just over 7 seconds left in regulation but missed 2 free throws and the Knicks went on to win that game in overtime. The Knicks have gone 7-4 since that game. The Celtics are 300-187 overall all time against the Knicks. They are 126-108 all time in games played in New York.
It was nice having everyone except Danilo Gallinari available for the game on Saturday in Philadelphia. But, that didn’t last long as Jaylen Brown is expected to miss this game for personal reasons. Derrick White is listed as probable for this game with soreness in his ankle. He is expected to play but will be a game time decision. I expect him to start in place of Jaylen Brown if he is able to play. The Knicks have no one on the injury list at this time.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Derrick White
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Jaylen Brown (personal) out
Derrick White (ankle) probable
Probable Knicks Starters
PG: Jalen Brunson
SG: Quentin Grimes
SF: RJ Barrett
PF: Julius Randle
C: Jericho Sims
2 Way Players
Marcus Smart vs Jalen Brunson
Brunson came over to the Knicks from the Mavericks this off season and has fit very well with the Knicks. He is averaging 23.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game. He is shooting 48% from the field and 40.7% from beyond the arc. In the first 2 games against the Celtics he averaged 25.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 8.5 assists. He shot 52.4% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc.
Al Horford vs Julius Randle
Randle is averaging 25.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. He is shooting 46.4% from the field and 34.5% from beyond the arc. In the first 2 games this season Randle averaged 33 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists while shooting 52.3% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to keep him out of the paint because he can do damage there on the boards and inside scoring but they also need to stay with him on the perimeter because he can score from there as well.
Jayson Tatum vs RJ Barrett
Barrett is averaging 19.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game this season. He is shooting 46.4% from the field and 34.5% from beyond the arc. In the first 2 games against Boston this season, he averaged 23 points, 4 rebounds 2.5 assists and 1 steal while shooting 45.5% from the field and 50% on 3’s.
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 113.4 (15th), which is surprising for a Tom Thibodeau coached team. On the other hand, the Celtics have a defensive rating of 111.0 (4th). The Celtics have shown they are capable of playing very good defense but they need to be more consistent and commit to it every possession of every game. The Celtics must especially guard the paint as the Knicks average 51.5 points in the paint per game.
Rebound - The Celtics are averaging 45.2 rebounds per game (6th) while the Knicks are averaging 47.0 rebounds per game (3rd). Rebounding is important to keep the Knicks from getting second chance points and extra possessions since the Knicks are 1st in the league with 17.1 second chance points per game. Much of rebounding is effort and desire. When the Celtics put out extra effort on the boards it usually transfers to the rest of their game.
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 as we saw in the last game against the Knicks. They have to start strong and play hard throughout the game right up until the final buzzer.
Play the Right Way - The Celtics have to stay focused and play the right way. They need to move the ball and look to get the best shots on every possession. They need to play as a team and trust each other and have each others’ backs on defense. They need to take care of the ball and make good passes and not dribble into a crowd. If the 3s aren’t falling, they need to take the ball into the paint. They need to keep their heads in the game and not lose focus.
On the Road - The Celtics are playing in the 3rd game of a 3 game road trip. They can’t let travel, staying in hotels, and playing in front of a hostile crowd take away from their focus. Often teams lose focus on the final game of a trip as they look forward to getting home again. The Celtics have to stay focused on playing the right way and not on the distractions of playing on the road.
Revenge and Seeding - The Celtics have their loss to the Knicks from January 26 still fresh on their minds. That was their only loss to an Atlantic Division rival and their loss was for the most part self inflicted. They should be looking to avenge that loss. They also need to win to stay ahead of the Bucks and stay in first place. The Bucks aren’t losing and the Celtics have to keep winning to stay in front.
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.