The Knicks have a chance to make history with a massive turnaround between last season and this year. The final obstacle is the dreaded Celtics. A win on Sunday would give the Knicks home court in the first round of the playoffs.
How times have changed. The mere thought of the New York Knicks (40-31) playing a play-in game felt ambitious; playing for home-court advantage feels like a fever dream. That is what is at stake on the final game of the regular season as the Knicks welcome the Boston Celtics (36-35) to Madison Square Garden for a midday matinee.
In order to secure the fourth seed, the Knicks needed to win yesterday, which they did in overtime over the Charlotte Hornets. They also needed just a bit of luck, a Miami Heat loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks did their part as well and now one more home win today and the Knicks will open their first playoff series in eight years at the Garden.
On the other side are the Celtics who had the winds taken out of their sails once Jaylen Brown was lost for the season. If the Knicks bring their A-game, there is no reason this should not be a victory.
If the Knicks can close the season out with a win they would finish with a 25-11 home record, compared to 16-20 on the road. Beyond the numbers, the Knicks play noticeably more cohesively at home, which is why securing home-court advantage is so vital. The slow starts are not as common and the energy in the Garden is unmatched even at reduced capacity.
That energy helped fuel a 17-point comeback on Thursday and an overtime win Saturday. Come playoff time, when a lot of Knicks will be in their first postseason game, the team can use every possible advantage.
Julius Randle has already made quite the compelling case to make an All-NBA team. Saturday only strengthened his case. Randle notched his sixth triple-double of the season, scoring 33 points and recording 13 assists and 10 rebounds, and his team needed every bit of his performance with R.J. Barrett having a funky game.
A light 33/13/10 triple-double from King Julius as he leads us to win #40 👑 pic.twitter.com/pM1Bukfkay
— The Knicks Wall – x (@TheKnicksWall) May 15, 2021
A good last impression could serve as an exclamation point for the season Randle has put together. A lot of Celtics could be out tomorrow, but not Jayson Tatum. A successful duel against Tatum would serve as another reminder that Randle belongs among the upper echelon of the East.
UPDATE: The Celtics are, in essence, resting their top players as they have locked into the seventh seed.
Among those unavailable today for Boston are Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Kemba Walker, and Tristan Thompson.
#NEBHInjuryReport vs. New York (2/2):
Jayson Tatum (Left Ankle Impingement) – OUT
Tristan Thompson (Left Pectoral Strain) – OUT
Kemba Walker (Left Cervical Nerve Irritation) – OUT
Robert Williams (Left Foot, Turf Toe) – OUT
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 16, 2021
After today the Knicks will be off until May 22nd, when the playoffs start. Tom Thibodeau has seemed to been easing into his playoff rotation since the tail end of the west coast trip, but could today be the rollout of what the playoff rotation will be?
For example, will Elfrid Payton continue to be what Keith Bogans was for the 2010–11 Bulls? History tells us yes.
Bogans, like Payton, offered little else than familiarity. He started all 82 regular-season games and all 16 playoff series. The good news is Payton’s minutes have slowly evaporated. Over his last 10 games, Payton has seen his minutes stay in the 15-minute range compared to the 25 minutes he was playing a majority of the season.
The things to watch out for are situational moments. Will Payton stay in during the third quarter if the Celtics start to take control? Will Frank Ntilikina be the guy Thibs goes to when he needs a stop? Could Derrick Rose enter games a few minutes earlier than usual?
Knowing Thibodeau he might not show too much, but this is a must-win game even if the team won’t say it, but the rotation will tell the story.