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First to the Floor: are the Knicks a bad matchup?

The Celtics yet again struggled against a unique and solid Knicks team.

New York Knicks v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

In this episode, Ben, Jake, and I breakdown the disappointing loss to the Knicks. That makes the Knicks 2-1 against the Celtics on the season, and looking back to last year, 3-2 in the last five despite the Celtics having a considerably better record over that span. It begs the question: are the Knicks a bad matchup? First, let’s take a look at some of these recent games before we decide.

January 6, 2022

Celtics 105 - Knicks 108

This was a painful one. You probably remember this one best for the last play: RJ Barrett hitting an absurd running 3 that he banked in to win the game. The Celtics shot a very good 17 for 45 from three but were outdone by the Knicks and Evan Fournier. They shot 18 for 36 with Fournier going 10 of 14 by himself! Just a disappointing game that was, up until that point, a disappointing season.

Don’t think this one tells us much about the matchup other than to show that for some reason, the Knicks seem to shoot really well from 3 against the C's. Both teams are quite different at this point though.

January 8, 2022

Knicks 75 - Celtics 99

A pretty unremarkable one. Celtics are hot from 3, but don’t shoot a ton of them. They’re pretty average from the floor overall shooting 47%, while the Knicks put up an absolute brick-fest, something they’re less likely to do with Jalen Brunson now in the fold. Celtics limit the turnovers with just 10, and ride the shooting to take an otherwise fairly ugly win in Boston.

November 5, 2022

Celtics 133 - Knicks 118

JB lights up the Knicks in MSG with 30 points on 6-of-11 from 3. The Knicks actually shot incredibly well from three this game at over 40%, but it didn’t matter as the C's shot the absolute lights out at MSG going 27-of-51. All of the other stats are pretty even, including turnovers and free throws attempted, with the exception of rebounds, which the Knicks won pretty convincingly. This game was firmly a shooting variance game, this time in the Celtics’ favor.

January 1, 2023

Knicks 120 - Celtics 117

Basically dead even shooting from 3, but the Celtics lost the turnover battle by 5 in a 2-point game. Randle (37 points) and Brunson (29 points) got just about anything they wanted all game, and the Celtics couldn’t get much going offensively (shot 41%). Even still, Tatum willed the C's to a close one by dropping 35-14-4. Robert Williams was a game high +21. Both teams missing key starters in Marcus Smart and Mitchell Robinson.

Which brings us to last night. Randle and Brunson were held in relative check but for some questionable calls, especially in favor of Brunson. There was a massive gulf in 3-point shooting, which I would not expect to last during a 7-game series. Basically everyone on the Celtics missed shots they usually make.

Unlike the January 1 game, Mitchell Robinson played in this one, and I thought he did a really good job out-Robbing Rob Williams. He was active on the glass and was a consistent deterrent at the rim. In my opinion, I think his presence was the reason the Celtics started this game by going outside-in. It was an attempt to drag Robinson out of the paint and open the lane. Give Robinson and Thibs credit though, they stuck to their guns and let the Celtics keep shooting despite the quality of the looks.

The Celtics two wins against the Knicks are two games where they hit their threes at an above average/insane rate. Their losses all come with them shooting 35% below. Given how Thibs wants to defend - pack the paint, force you to make shots - a lot of this matchup seems to come down to whether the Celtics are making them.

I think this most recent game bodes well for the Celtics’ defense, especially since they had given up 118 or more to the Knicks in two straight, they just did the defense zero favors by letting the Knicks run off of all the misses.

So, are the Knicks a bad matchup? I don’t think so. I think this Knicks team has a very high floor, but a fairly low ceiling. In other words, their variance in performance isn’t as drastic as the C's, so if you don’t play well against them, you will almost certainly lose. I would expect that in a seven game series, the Celtics would handle their business.

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