Following a nail-biting win against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Knicks head home to face 2021 Eastern Conference champions and division rival Boston Celtics. 

The New York Knicks (4-4) return home to face the Boston Celtics (5-3) at Madison Square Garden after a 106-104 win over a  Philadelphia 76ers team that was missing both Joel Embiid and James Harden. Both teams are tasked with back-to-back games, with the Knicks facing the Sixers and the Celtics facing the Chicago Bulls just a night prior. Last season, the Knicks and the Celtics split the season series, winning two games each.

Familiar Foe for Evan Fournier

After playing for the Celtics just two seasons ago, Evan Fournier got his revenge each and every time he played them last season. In three games last season against the Celtics, he averaged 35.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. This included his 41-point explosion in early January, with a comeback win that saw the Knicks go down by as much as 25 points. Putting all things aside with the shooting guard debacle: Evan Fournier should start this game for New York instead of Quentin Grimes.

Fournier’s great performances against the league’s most storied franchise make it a no-brainer decision for Coach Thibodeau to keep the Frenchman with the starters. While he has had success in the past against the Celtics, the Knicks recently cut him from the starting lineup. Will he see minutes in this one or will Fournier take the backseat for someone else to step up?

Knowing the Personnel

The Boston Celtics have some of the most talents in the league, and the Knicks should not take them lightly. Jayson Tatum is an MVP candidate in the making, continuing to prove his doubters wrong, averaging 30.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Alongside him is Jaylen Brown, who continues to be a threat inside and out. Both stars fall within the top 15 in scoring this season, as this will be a test for the Knicks defense early on this season. Throw in guys like Malcolm Brogdon, Marcus Smart, Derrick White, Grant Williams, and Al Horford, there is a reason why this team saw great success last season and looked to build upon that this season.

Thankfully for New York, Robert Williams is out currently and aiming to return later in the season, meaning that the Celtics’ interior defense and rebounding are more vulnerable. Outside of Williams and Danilo Gallinari (torn ACL), the Celtics are at full strength. It will be a tough night for the Knicks given that their entire starting lineup can space the floor and shoot well from behind the arc. Not to mention, the Celtics have a new head coach in Joe Mazzulla, so this could work in the Knicks’ favor as their team looks to put all the puzzle pieces together.

The Knicks will need everything out of their defense in order to keep this one competitive. Slowing down the Celtic’s stars will be key, but it will come down to closing out on shooters across the perimeter and rebounding if the Knicks want to keep this one competitive. On offense, they’ll need to facilitate the ball quickly and efficiently against a pesky Boston defense.

New Rotations for the Knicks

Last night against the Sixers, viewers saw something that we haven’t seen much of since Thibodeau’s hiring in 2020: experimental rotations. After starting the game with Grimes at shooting guard, the Knicks threw together some lineups we aren’t used to seeing, especially after Mitchell Robinson left the game towards the end of the first half with a sore right knee.

The best lineup we saw last night was a combination of Obi Toppin and Julius Randle, something that Thibodeau said wouldn’t be utilized during the season. It just so happens that this was how the game finished out with both power forwards closing the game. In total, the Knicks used a total of 12 players in last night’s win over the 76ers. It may have been an ugly game to watch, but it gave the Knicks coaching staff some clarity with which lineups to roll out going forward.

With Quentin Grimes fully healthy and starting last night, it seemed like Cam Reddish would have to take the backseat after having a pleasant surprise to the season. As it stands now, he has earned his spot in the rotation and even closed out the final stretch of this game over Fournier and Grimes. What will happen with the Knicks rotations against the Celtics? It’s extremely uncertain what will happen, but one thing needs to happen for sure: an increase in Obi Toppin’s minutes.

Toppin had yet another great game coming off the bench, scoring an efficient 17 points in just 20 minutes. It’s understandable why Toppin doesn’t see too many minutes on the floor given that Randle is one of their best players, but given his recent play and the uprising of Obi, something needs to change with their lineup. It will be interesting to see what the Knicks roll out on Saturday night.

Keys to the Game

  • The Knicks will need a good showing from their bigs. Given that the Celtic’s big men consist of Al Horford, Noah Vonleh, Blake Griffin, and Grant Williams, the Knicks need to take advantage. Compared to Julius Randle, Jericho Sims, Obi Toppin, and Isaiah Hartenstein, there should not be an excuse for getting outscored and outrebounded.
  • Perimeter defense will be crucial in this one. The Knicks currently allow around 13 three-pointers per game. Against a team that attempts around 40 threes a game and makes around 15, New York needs to close out consistently otherwise they might be in for a rough night.
  • Bench play could be the difference maker for the Knicks. While the Celtics rely on their starters to score the ball, the Knicks bench has been an important part of their team in the last few years, scoring around 43 points on average this season. A big performance from someone like Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, or Derrick Rose could spell trouble for Boston as their second unit proves to be lackluster.

The Knicks matchup versus the Celtics will tip off shortly after 7:30 pm.

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