After trampling over the Brooklyn Nets last night, the Knicks are on the second half of a back-to-back in Boston tonight.
January is almost over, guys!
This month has felt unnecessarily long. That feeling has been worsened by watching the Knicks run out of gas often on the road trips. The good news is that the squad has finally strung two consecutive wins together, something they haven’t done since mid-December (versus the Lakers, Nets, and Thunder). Tonight, they look to take the lead in the season series against Boston.
With this being the last day of a dreadful month, the Knicks have fallen closer to the bottom of the league in points scored as well as points allowed. Part of that is because they’re among one of the most turnover-prone teams. The upside is this month has been the team’s best shooting month from the three-point line–40.5 percent, per NBA Stats. They’ll need to get up those shots falling from long distance in order to keep the C’s in their sight.
The Celtics are one of the league’s stronger defensive teams when it comes to territory behind the arc. They hold opponents to 33 percent from outside. One of the keys to maintaining such a high level of intensity on the perimeter is the young kid from Duke.
The other man from Duke on the Celtics’ roster, Kyrie Irving, will be out tonight with a right quad contusion. Good news for a Knicks team looking for a victory.
Tim Hardaway Jr. versus Jayson Tatum
Tim Hardaway Jr. missed the previous matchup between the two teams. However, his absence didn’t matter because that was a Michael Beasley game. Junior is fully back healthy and looking quite spry. This should be a thrilling matchup between the two alums from familiar college foes.
Tatum is one of my favorite rookies to watch, which is impressive given how good this rookie class has looked thus far. Despite the Celtics being first in the division, they’ve cooled off quite a bit from their fast start. They host New York after holding off the Nuggets in a nail-biter in Denver, where Tatum shot over 50 percent, chipping in 20 points, a steal, and a block. Tatum is a crafty shooter. He’s currently the third-most accurate shooter in the league and the best rookie from long distance. It is imperative that Hardaway Jr. plays Tatum tight and makes an effort to take away or at least keep up with his first step.
Since Junior has returned, he’s shooting 47 percent overall and averaging nearly 19 points per game. The obvious weakness is that he (and the team, by extension) still can’t prevent those easy fast-break buckets. For January, Hardaway Jr. himself is getting two fast-break points per game while his opponent is pretty much torching him; 12.6 on the road. The Celtics boast a young core in Tatum, Kyrie Irving, and Jaylen Brown that love to run the open court. The key in this match-up between the wings, though, is for Hardaway Jr. to force Tatum to his left and hope teammates are quick to deliver help defense inside. Kyrie Irving being out of the lineup tonight will make this less of a concern, but it’s still something to watch for.
It is mind-boggling that Kristaps Porzingis had the worst game of his career against Boston. A single point is unfathomable for the Unicorn. But it happened. Thankfully, KP is looking like his usual self these days. He’s down to attempting 17 shots per game—an improvement from the large load he was carrying in December. It’s apparent in his midrange game as well as in his usual interior defense.
The Celtics have had their share of bad losses this month. Even though they are holding opponents to under 100 points, they are putting up an average of only 103 points. The Knicks have no problem putting the ball through the net on the road. The problem is keeping that pressure on in the clutch. Expect this to be a high-scoring game with the Celtics controlling the pace in the comfort of their home.