Even after the Ime Udoka scandal, the Celtics will be a tough matchup for the Knicks in the 2022-23 season.
The Boston Celtics are coming off an excellent year. While they lost to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals in six games, they showed that homegrown talent like they have with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can help to carry a team to (near) glory.
Coming into this season, they have been mired in controversy due to the yearlong suspension of their head coach Ime Udoka, who had an inappropriate relationship with a member of Boston’s staff. So, the Celtics will be heading into the year with a new interim head coach and with the pressure of repeating their success from last season.
The storied franchise has had their fair share of success for the last several seasons. Since the 2014-15 season, they’ve been in at least the first round of the playoffs according to Land of Basketball.
Against the Knicks, the Celtics had an interesting year last year. They went 2-2 against the Bockers, with two thrillers against New York that led to two losses for Boston. One, of course, was the opening night extravaganza which featured a double-overtime showdown between former Celtic Evan Fournier and Boston’s young core of Tatum, Brown and Marcus Smart.
The other was RJ Barrett’s buzzer-beater against the Celtics, which served as a turning point for a Boston team that had to that point been floundering under the high expectations put upon them and their process of developing their core.
Nonetheless, they are primed this year to continue their success. They had a few key additions with the signing of guard Malcolm Brogdon and center/forward Blake Griffin. They also added sharpshooter and former Knick Danilo Gallinari, but he unfortunately tore his ACL while playing for the Italian National Team during a FIBA World Cup qualifying game.
Another big injury for them is their young center, Robert Williams III. Williams played through a knee injury during the playoffs and is now sidelined heading into this regular season.
With all this being said, I don’t foresee the Knicks being able to steal more than one game against the Celtics this season.
Where they matchup on both ends of the court
While both teams made pretty minor adjustments in the offseason, the Knicks objectively were starting off at a lower point than the Celtics in terms of team makeup considering, well, they had not just gone to the Finals. Boston needed to secure more reliable shooting and ball handling, hence the signings of Brogdon and Gallinari. But that’s pretty much it for them.
New York and Boston did a flip when it came to defense. While the Knicks regressed from being ranked fourth overall in defense for the NBA during the 2020-21 season to 11th place in that metric last season, the Celtics were number one overall in defensive rating last season. This was led by guard Marcus Smart, who won the award for Defensive Player of the Year this past season. He was the first guard to do so since Gary Payton in 1996.
If the Celtics are able to replicate that success on defense this season, they should have no problem controlling most of the Knicks’ roster. But if they’re missing Williams for a significant amount of time, that could prove troublesome in their pursuit to contain Mitchell Robinson.
Barrett is another strong forward that poses a threat to the Celtics. While Tatum and Brown can both guard when they want to, Barrett has already shown flashes of offseason work during the preseason in which he’s been able to finish at the rim with more strength. If he actually starts getting foul calls, it’ll be a nightmare for any opposing team.
That all being said, though, Boston has the upper hand overall because they’re coming off such a good season defensively. For them to regress as much as the Knicks did in that category would be surprising, especially considering the very limited changes they’ve made to their roster from their near-championship run from last season.
Boston has two All-Star caliber starters. New York has, likely, one
I will probably be hated for this notion, but the fact remains that the Celtics have two young stars in Tatum and Brown starting for them, whereas the Knicks have maybe one in Brunson. While Barrett is expected to make another leap this season, we don’t know exactly how big of a leap that will be. And, Randle still needs to bounce back and improve, AGAIN, before we can start talking about a return to the All-Star game this season.
New York’s advantage: their bench
While Boston’s starting five is impressive, it’s New York’s reserves that could really pack a punch for an opposing team’s bench. It’s a known, sad fact that our second unit routinely outplayed our starters last year, sometimes even outplaying opposing teams’ starting rotation.
It remains to be seen what roster moves Boston plans to make headed into the regular season, especially considering the resurgence of Al Horford as a legitimate wing threat from three-point range and with the addition of Brogdon to the starting rotation.
The games between these two teams will nonetheless be exciting, even if I feel they’ll be pretty understandably predicted in Boston’s favor. You can’t doubt a team that just made a legitimate Finals run, but we’ll see if they’re able to do a number on a new and slightly improved Knicks team full of energetic role players and their best new point guard in years.