The Celtics host the New York Knicks for the fourth and final meeting this season. The Celtics won the first meeting at New York 133-118 on November 5. The Knicks won the second meeting 120-117 on January 26 in Boston and they won the third meeting 109-94 on February 27 in New York. They tied the series 2-2 last season with each team winning twice on their home court.
This is the second straight road game for the Knicks. They beat the Heat in Miami on Friday on a last second shot by Julius Randle. They will play at home against Charlotte on Tuesday before heading out West for a 4 game road trip. The Celtics play at Cleveland on Monday in back to back games. They will return home for a game against Portland on Wednesday before a 6 game Western road trip.
The Celtics are now 2nd in the East, half a game behind the first place Bucks, who had their 16 game win streak broken by the 76ers on Saturday. The Celtics are 3.5 games ahead of 3rd place Philadelphia and 6 games ahead of 4th place Cleveland, who they face on Monday. They are now tied with West leading Denver. The Celtics are 25-8 at home and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 28-14 against Eastern Conference teams and 9-3 against Atlantic Division foes. They are coming off a loss to the Nets.
The Knicks are 5th in the East, 7.5 games behind 2nd place Boston. They are 1.5 behind 4th place Cleveland and 2 ahead of 6th place Brooklyn. They are 4 games ahead of 7th place Miami and a spot in the play-in tournament. They are 19-12 on the road and 9-1 in their last 10 games. They are 27-16 against Eastern Conference opponents and 7-8 against Atlantic Division teams. They have won their last 8 games.
The Celtics will be without Robert Williams III after he tweaked his hamstring in Wednesday’s game against Brooklyn. Malcolm Brogdon is questionable with ankle soreness and will be a game time decision. Danilo Gallinari remains out to rehab the ACL tear. Coach Mazzulla has started Blake Griffin at center in the past so I’m guessing that he does so again but he may go in a number of different directions to replace Timelord, including Mike Muscala, Grant Williams, and Luke Kornet or even Derrick White and move Tatum to power forward. The Knicks have no injuries listed.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Blake Griffin
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Robert Williams III (hamstring) out
Malcolm Brogdon (ankle) questionable
Probable Knicks Starters
PG: Jalen Brunson
SG: Quentin Grimes
SF: RJ Barrett
PF: Julius Randle
C: Mitchell Robinson
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 23.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game. He is shooting 48.7% from the field and 41.1% from beyond the arc. In the first 3 games against the Celtics he averaged 22.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 6.7 assists. He shot 48.1% from the field and 16.7% from beyond the arc.
Al Horford vs Julius Randle
Randle is averaging 25.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. He is shooting 46.7% from the field and 35.4% from beyond the arc. In the first 3 games this season Randle averaged 29.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists while shooting 50% from the field and 37.9% 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 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game this season. He is shooting 43.1% from the field and 33% from beyond the arc. In the first 3 games against Boston this season, he averaged 18.7 points, 5 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 40.4% from the field and 46.2% on 3’s.The Celtics need Jayson Tatum to find his shot again as he struggled against the Nets going 0-7 from beyond the arc.
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) while the Celtics have a defensive rating of 111.2 (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 51.4 points in the paint per game.
Rebound - The Celtics are averaging 45.0 rebounds per game (7th) while the Knicks are averaging 46.8 rebounds per game (3rd). Rebounding is important to keep the Knicks from getting second chance points and extra possessions since the Knicks are 2nd in the league with 17.0 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, like on Friday against the Nets, 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. They also need to play with effort and energy for all 48 minutes.
Home Again - The Celtics are at home and have the advantage of the crowd behind them and not having to travel and having the comforts of home around them. Even though the Knicks have more losses at home than they do on the road, playing on their home court still should give the Celtics the edge in this one.
Pride- The Celtics were embarrassed by the Nets on Friday when they blew a 28 point lead and lost the game in front of their home crowd. They are fighting with the Bucks, who have won 16 straight games, for the first seed in the East. They need to win every game and not allow teams to beat them because they play harder. They need to have pride and play hard and not just go through the motions.
Officiating - Officiating always has the potential to be an x-factor. Each officiating crew calls the game differently. Some call it tight and some let them 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. Most of all, they need to stop complaining every time they get a call they don’t like. That only tends to aggravate the refs and make things worse.