The New York Knicks face off with the Boston Celtics at 7:30 tonight at MSG. They go up against a scrappy, but still pretty terrible, Celtics team and to get a better idea of what the Knicks were in for tonight I brought in John Karalis of Red’s Army and Tom Westerholm of CelticsHub. Enjoy!
The Celtics have won just 2 of their last 16 games. What has been the team’s biggest problem(s)? Also, how can the Knicks capitalize on them?
John: The biggest problem is that they’re not very good. Let’s just get that out there from the start. They have players that could be good. They have players that will improve over time (we hope), but right now, the guys that are out there on a regular basis aren’t very good. You’ll see plenty of times Rajon Rondo will find guys open for good looks that just won’t go down. The Celtics don’t capitalize on every opportunity they get right now. That’s the reason the Celtics blow big leads. They don’t have anyone who can consistently drain run-stopping shots. “Every team makes a run” becomes “Every team’s run can last a full quarter” against the Celtics.
So the Knicks need to first not take the Celtics for granted. If they simply attack the boards and clean up the Celtics misses, they can get out in transition, exploit mismatches, and slowly build a big lead. I will caution teams, though: Do not coast against the C’s. They CAN get hot. They have built 15+ point leads quite often. Their problem is that they blow those leads. But if the Knicks coast and settle for long jumpers, Rondo and Phil Pressey will both gladly push the tempo and make teams pay for laziness.
Tom: It’s a cop out answer, but the biggest problem has simply been a lack of talent. You may or may not have heard, but the Celtics kind of suck, even for the Eastern Conference. The Knicks can capitalize by being a little bit less awful. Even if Carmelo Anthony is defended well by Brandon Bass (which we’ll get to), the Knicks have so many more offensive weapons — and the Celtics historically have struggled so badly with the Felton/Chandler PnR — that it’s pretty hard to imagine Boston winning.
I know it’s only been five games, but is Rajon Rondo’s play thus far worrisome?
John: Not at all. He’s not shooting well at all, but he’s only been back a couple of weeks from a yearlong ACL recovery. I wouldn’t expect him to come in and pick right up where he left off. His minutes have been limited, he’s got a new coach, and he’s got new teammates. An adjustment period is to be expected. He can still pass, though, and he’s made some great ones. Once guys know what to expect, they’ll catch more passes cleanly, and they’ll finish a higher percentage. I’ve said from the beginning that the post-All Star break Celtics will probably be a lot better than the pre-break Celtics, and I still believe that to be true.
Tom: No, not at all. He’s rusty, he’s still working himself back into shape, and he doesn’t quite trust his knee yet. Where old Rondo would have planted and changed direction on a dime, current Rondo looks hesitant and a little nervous to test the body part that made him miss a year of basketball. This is all extremely normal for an ACL injury, and frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t look like himself for the rest of the year.
This is all completely fine: He isn’t needed until next year anyway, and (from a cold-hearted, dickish perspective) it may drive his market price down in free agency. Meanwhile, his jumper looks a little improved, and he appears to be looking for his own shot. If the Celtics plan to rebuild around him, these are encouraging signs.
The Celtics are struggling to score this season, but which player would you say the Knicks are going to have the most problems defending? How should the Knicks go about limiting him offensively?
John: Well, Rondo is the obvious matchup to watch. If he can get into the paint, then he can have flashes of his former self. Again, if the Knicks get lazy and their rotations are slow, there’s nothing that will stop a great point guard from finding guys for layups. Beyond that, keeping Jared Sullinger off the boards is probably your biggest defensive concern. He has a knack for getting in there and keeping possessions alive. Same with Kris Humphries, who has played pretty well for the Celtics of late; they will hurt teams by getting after their own misses.
Tom: *thinking* *thinking….* *still thinking…….* Jared Sullinger is probably the best offensive player on this squad, but he has been playing through an injured hand, which has limited his efficiency. Jeff Green is probably the best answer. When he’s engaged and aggressive, he’s dangerous, and the Knicks don’t have a natural foil for him. The best option is probably Iman Shumpert, who is quick and aggressive enough to drive Green nuts, but Green is considerably taller and longer than Shump.
But Green has struggled with consistency all year in the primary scorer’s role. Asking him to consistently be the number one option without Pierce and Garnett to deflect defensive attention has been a tall task.
Even though the Celtics are struggling on offense, their DRtg is still a respectable 14th in the league. What are the team’s strengths defensively? Should we expect a lot of Brandon Bass on Melo?
John: Bass has done a very good job guarding top-notch wings. He is surprisingly effective against Melo, and he’s had some good stints against LeBron James. Melo won’t be able to post Bass, and Bass has no problem muscling Melo out on the wing, so yes, I’d expect plenty of that. The Celtics are doing a decent job of forcing jump shots by sagging on screens and preventing whole scale breakdowns on D. They have a tendency to be a little overly aggressive if teams move the ball around and force rotations.
But they’re doing all right defending the pick-and-roll, which is obviously a big thing in the NBA. If a team wants to work hard, they can break the C’s defense down with ball movement, but teams tend not to want to work that hard to beat a bad team.
Tom: Rookie head coach Brad Stevens has placed a lot of emphasis on stopping the ball at the point of attack on the perimeter. This is big for the Celtics because A) They have good perimeter defenders (see: Avery Bradley, Jeff Green when he wants to be, Gerald Wallace at times, etc.) and B) Their rim protection consists of Kris Humphries, Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass. Stevens is notorious for being a film geek who pours over hours of footage, so you can be sure he has seen the small amounts of success Brandon Bass has had on Melo. I would definitely expect to see some of that matchup.
So, how do you think the game plays out?
John: I don’t go into many games expecting wins by the Celtics right now. If the Knicks play up to their capabilities, they can slowly build a comfortable lead and win. But I’ve seen an undisciplined Knicks team this season that seems to gladly coast when they feel like they can. There’s nothing schedule-wise that suggests this should be a trap game for the Knicks. There’s no reason for them to be lazy. But there’s a part of me that expects this year’s Knicks to make life way too hard. The Celtics have a history this season of burning better teams that take them lightly.
I wouldn’t be shocked to see another 10-2 run to start the game for Boston. From there, it’s up to New York to decide if they’re better than their record, or if they’re really the team just a couple spots ahead of the Celtics on the outside of the playoff picture.
Tom: It’s one thing for a team to have the best player on the floor. It’s something else entirely for them to have 3-4 of the best players on the floor, and with Jared Sullinger’s hand injury, Avery Bradley’s sprained ankle, Rajon Rondo’s incremental recovery and Jeff Green’s inconsistent play, the talent disparity is pretty substantial.
That said, Boston often plays well for three and a half quarters before losing with style, so don’t be surprised if this comes down to the last two minutes. Also don’t be surprised if the Celtics lose by 40. This team is really bad.