The Knicks have a chance to get back to .500 while knocking rival Celtics down a peg in the Eastern Conference playoffs outlook.
The New York Knicks (25-26) head to Boston to face off against the Celtics (25-26) for a game that is huge for both teams in the midst of a neck-and-neck playoff race.
The Knicks are coming off yet another heart-breaking loss to the eastern juggernaut Brooklyn Nets on Monday night. New York’s lone All-Star Julius Randle led the way with his third triple-double in his last 12 games, posting an impressive stat line of 19 points, 15 rebounds, and 12 assists. R.J. Barrett and Reggie Bullock also helped lead the way with 22 and 21 points, respectively. Despite the strong performances from New York’s trio, it wasn’t enough to outlast a 40-point effort from Nets star Kyrie Irving.
Fortunately for the Knicks, the Celtics lost Tuesday night to the Philadelphia 76ers, causing them to fall to one game below .500 as well. Due to the NBA’s new implementation of the play-in tournament, securing a top-six seed in the conference is critical to avoid potentially losing a playoff bid in the play-in games. The Knicks and Celtics more than likely will be in a race directly against one another for that final sixth seed due to teams like the Hornets and Indiana Pacers who have been plagued with injuries, causing each to continue to fall within the conference’s seeding.
The last time New York and Boston faced off was January 17th, and since then a lot has changed for both teams. Celtics star Jayson Tatum did not play in that game as he still was recovering from his early-season battle with COVID-19, and for the Knicks, Austin Rivers was still in the rotation. The ‘Bockers ended up decimating the Celtics 105-75, but again, a lot has changed for both teams since that matchup. Tonight’s contest shouldn’t be a 30-point blowout, but the Knicks match up great against a struggling Celtics team.
The Celtics may be without starting point guard Kemba Walker (knee management) as he has been resting on the second night of back-to-backs all season. They are also expected to be without their newly acquired shooting guard Evan Fournier who entered the league’s health and safety protocols for the second time this season.
For the Knicks, center Mitchell Robinson (foot surgery recovery) remains out indefinitely. Norvel Pelle (finger dislocation), who New York recently signed to a 10-day contract, is listed as probable.
Force Celtics wings to ISO
The Celtics have one of the most isolation-heavy offenses in the NBA. Makes sense having two All-Star wings in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and a dynamic scoring point guard like Kemba Walker, right? Well, despite having the weapons to run such an isolation-heavy offense, the Celtics rank 25th in the league in isolation points per possession, per NBA Stats, but are eighth in the Association in isolation possessions per game.
The Celtics’ heavy reliance on playing isolation ball has undoubtedly affected last year’s Eastern Conference finalist to transform into the league’s worst passing teams. According to NBA Stats, they rank 24th in assists per game with 23.1 per game. But, as of late, their head coach Brad Stevens and general manager Danny Ainge have spoken about the importance of moving the ball and not playing as much hero ball. Over the weekend, the Celtics went 2-0 with 35 assists Friday night against the Houston Rockets, and 29 assists Sunday night against the Charlotte Hornets. In last night’s loss to a great defensive team in the Sixers, they only tallied 19 assists.
New York, with a lot of credit to first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau, has been one of the league’s best and toughest defensive teams. Per NBA Stats, the Knicks are fourth in the Association in Defensive Rating. They have been within the top five to 10 in almost every defensive statistical category as a team all season. The goal for tonight should be to take away passing and driving lanes and forcing the Celtics personnel to do what they want—which is to iso.
Boston is loaded with talent, but sometimes that talent just doesn’t mesh the way it should on paper. When you watch their offense, it’s a lot of “your turn, my turn,” which has not worked particularly well for them this season. If New York can force them into this while playing discipline man-to-man defense all night, it’ll greatly increase their chances of coming out of TD Garden with a victory.
After tonight, the ‘Bockers host Ja Morant and the Grizzles back in the Garden on Friday.