Here’s Your Knicks v. Celtics Playoff Primer

For the second time in three years, the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics are set to do battle in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

This story tells you all you need to know about Celtics’ fans’ view of the Knicks.

“Ah, the Knicks, Boston’s little brother in basketball.  Keep your chin up guys, you’ll get us next time.

The smug cockiness jumps right off the page.

It isn’t just the Celtics fans that are disrespectful, though. Heading into a regular season meeting in 2010-2011, while both teams were playing at a high level, Paul Pierce had some honest, true, and disrespectful words for the Knicks:

New York wasn’t even on Boston’s radar…

When the two teams met in the first round later that year, a series that featured injuries to two of New York’s top three players in Amar’e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups, Melo’s supporting cast included the likes of Toney Douglas, Landry Fields, Billy Walker, Shawne Williams, Sheldon Williams, Roger Mason, Anthony Carter and Jared Jeffries.

This was New York’s first playoff appearance since 2003-2004 and despite getting swept, two moments of the meeting will always stick out to me.

1. Game One will go down as the last time we saw Amar’e Stoudemire play at his peak.

Simply put, Stoudemire was incredible.  Heading into Game Two, he screwed up his back doing some sort of pre-game dunk.  It took months for him to recover and he has yet to regain the form he was in prior to the injury. In a perfect world, this is how we should all try to remember Amar’e.

2. With these extreme circumstances facing the Knicks in the next game, the performance that Carmelo Anthony put together in a loss lives on as one of his best games in a Knicks uniform.  With no Chauncey Billups and a useless Amare Stoudemire, Melo almost single-handily carried New York to a win and a 1-1 series.

Everything fell apart after the two tight loses in Boston and the Celtics completed the sweep.

However, times have changed since the two teams met in 2010-2011.  At that time, Boston was the three seed with 56 wins, while the Knicks were 42-40 and a team in transition.

Now, though, the Knicks are the favorites and the Celtics are the underdogs.  New York comes in as the two-seed with 50+ wins, while the Green & White struggled to finish above .500.  The Knicks have constructed a different looking roster in the two offseasons since their playoff defeat at the hands of Boston.  Instead of a poorly assembled, group of misfit place holders, Melo is expected to take the court with Ray Felton, Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tyson Chandler, Pablo Prigioni, Kenyon Martin, Chris Copeland and Steve Novak — a group of players that know and understand their roles.

For the first time since 2003-2004, the Knicks won the season series with the Celtics, taking three out of the four games.  To put it simply, you might as well forget those four games even happened.

The Celtics took the first meeting, but Ronnie Brewer, Marcus Camby and Amar’e Stoudemire all played legitimate minutes.  The second meeting featured Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, Stoudemire and James White.  Tyson Chandler and Kevin Garnett did not participate in the final two matchups.  Given all that information, there is nothing to be taken from these games.

Since Garnett has joined the Celtics, the team has not lost in the first round of the playoffs.  Garnett has obviously always played a big role (outside of the one year he missed the playoffs with an injury) in this and that role will be expanded now that the post-season is here.  During his six seasons with Boston, in the regular season, the man they used to call “The Big Ticket” has averaged 30.98 minutes.  Come playoff time, Doc Rivers has boosted that number, on average, to 36.15.

This is significant because of the individual impact Garnett has on the entire Celtics team.  This season, Boston has been a net +5.4 better when Garnett is playing, compared to when he isn’t.  That number is on the low-end of his impact.  His average net impact over the previous five seasons was +11.44.  The extra five to seven minutes a night Garnett is on the court immediately makes his team better.

New York also has to deal with a nemesis that will go down in my generation Knicks fans’ brains with Reggie Miller and Michael Jordan.  It’s an exclusive club that Paul Pierce is in.  In 54 career games against the Knicks, Pierce has averaged 23.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 4 assists on 45.7% shooting, 38.6% from behind the arc and 82.2% at the line.  All of those numbers are slightly higher than his career averages.

Here are some unfortunate memories:

That was a big game, too — New York was in the midst of an eight game winning streak and the Celtics had won 10 straight (the Pierce comments mentioned in the beginning of this piece, came from before this particular game).

I remember this one being extremely obnoxious. I truly thought the Knicks had it.

This season… I wish someone in the front row picked up his chair and chucked it at Pierce as he was showing his appreciation to the MSG fans.

The two players discussed above, along with Doc Rivers, are why I am worried about the Celtics, even though they don’t look as formidable as they have in the past.

When examining this version of the Celtics, though, you can’t look at the season as a whole (even though I will at certain points in the story…it’s impossible not too).  There are 38 games featuring Rajon Rondo, and a section without Kevin Garnett towards the end of the year, which are useless.

The time frame I looked at was from January 27 to March 13.  It isn’t perfect, but it is the closest you can get to the team the Knicks will see in the playoffs.  The two major differences being the fifth most used line up featured Jared Sullinger and there is a limited amount of Jordan Crawford (I think this could be the case with Crawford in the playoffs also).  When going into this, I honestly had no idea whether the numbers would be good or bad.  I didn’t have a clue what their record was.

In this 21 game stretch, the Celtics were 15-6.  They were a below average offense, but their defensive efficiency was at what would have been the league’s best average, if it were to be extrapolated over the entire season.

Boston’s turnover % was below average and its offensive rebound % was a league low.  The Knicks should end up with extra possessions across the course of the game because of their league best turnover % and their steadily improving work on the offensive boards.  New York’s defensive rebounding has also stayed at a top five level, despite being forced into playing ridiculous small line-ups for small chunks of the season, and being without Tyson Chandler for 14 games.

Because of the extra possessions the Knicks will get, and the poor offensive production (it will look better against New York’s slightly below average D), it takes Boston playing at an extremely high level, defensively, to defeat the Knicks.

The numbers below, which show Knicks shooting %’s and locations, are from

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When you break it down, New York takes (excluding backcourt shots) 31.8% of its shots at the rim, 6% in the paint, 26.7% mid-range, 8% corner 3 and above the break three 26.5%.

According to Synergy Sports, the Knicks’ top three methods of offense are spot up jumpers, isolation and pick-and-roll.  The ratings in all three of these areas were “excellent.”

Boston’s defense guarding mid-range, corner 3s and above the break 3s is at an elite level, going off of the numbers from  Without a real rim protector in the frontcourt, though, they are vulnerable to teams attacking the hoop.

Against the Knicks’ top three methods of offense, Boston defends spot-ups “excellent,” pick-and-roll “excellent,” (the role man “average”) and isolation “excellent.”

It is a battle of strengths.  Will the Knicks highly efficient offense win out or will Boston’s defense?

At the other end of the court, the Celtics are a team that relies heavily on mid-range jump shots, but are also towards the top third of the league in corner three pointers attempted.

This is the result of having an offense built around Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

Pierce’s shot chart:


Garnett’s shot chart:



According to Synergy, the top three means of offense for the Celtics are spot-up (“very good”), transition (“poor”) and pick-and-roll (“average”).  New York does not rate well defending those situations.

One of the Knicks’ biggest weaknesses this year has been defending opposing team’s guards who have the ability to break down a defense off the dribble.  This is not one of the Celtics strengths, fortunately.  They play a methodical offense that lacks individual player creativity outside of Paul Pierce and at times (more frequently recently), Jeff Green.

On the other hand, Kevin Garnett’s ability to pull Tyson Chandler away from the basket will hurt New York’s at the rim defense if Green, Pierce and, to a certain degree, Avery Bradley, are able to break down their man in one-on-one situations.

It will be interesting to see how the two teams go about matching up defensively.  In three of the last four games, Rivers has gone with a Garnett, Bass, Green, Pierce and Bradley starting line-up.

I didn’t see anywhere if this was something Doc was planning on rolling with in the playoffs or if it was just an experiment at the end of the season.  However, If that’s the lineup, Woodson has an interesting decision to make:  Does he continue to start Felton, Prigs, Shumpert, Melo and Tyson?  With those groups, Woody might be forced to hide Ray or Prigs on Bass and the other on Bradley.  Melo and Shump would have to defend Green/Pierce in some form.  I’m not sure I like those matchups, defensively, but the balance of this team winning with offense and not worrying about who guards who is a delicate balance.  In this situation, J.R. Smith will have to come off the bench extremely early (probably will anyway) or you could move Jason Kidd back into the starting line-up for Prigs.  Putting Kidd on Pierce intrigues me in a weird way.

If Rivers goes back to a more traditional starting line-up, moving Green or Bass into a sixth man role and swapping one of them with Terry or Lee, the matchups get simplified.  You would think Pierce and Melo don’t defend each other at the start of the game, so they can both save energy for offense.  Shump takes on the Pierce challenge, Melo works on Bass or Green, Tyson stays with KG, Ray defends Terry/Lee and Prigs gets the Bradley assignment.  That puts New York in a more comfortable situation.

Finally, we come to the question, “are the Celtics a team that gets in Melo’s head?”

Everyone remembers this:

This season against Boston, Anthony has averaged 25 points, on 35% shooting from the field and 30% from three in four games. Conversely, in the same amount of games last season, he averaged 30.8 points with a 49% FG and 41% 3P FG.

While with the Knicks, Melo has obtained both success and failure against a terrific defensive team in the Celtics. I don’t believe Boston is magically in his head. However, the Celtics happen to defend Anthony’s strengths well, which will lead to him having a more difficult time scoring against them than against most teams. It doesn’t mean Anthony isn’t capable of performing at a high level, but it’s not going to be easy.

I don’t expect anything in this series to be easy for the Knicks. Boston is a veteran savvy team that knows how to execute in playoff situations. They are well coached and have two players, in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who understand what it takes to win playoff games.

Unlike the last time these two teams played, though, New York also has a squad equipped for a legitimate playoff battle.

New York proved more capable of dealing with the rigors of an 82 game season than the Celtics. It was the first time they were able to do that since 2006-2007. Now, we find out if it translates to playoff success.

Prediction: Knicks in 6

  • gibbsr.

    Good article it will be a tough series

  • Jamie

    Well done Bryan! Go Knicks!