Josh Sage writes: The New York Knicks face the Boston Celtics tonight, in Madison Square Garden, while both teams are riding winning streaks of at least eight games. Now while everyone seems to shrug off the Knicks 8 game winning streak because they’ve faced several bad teams, no one seems too flustered by the fact that Boston’s 10 winning streak was built on victories to lousy teams as well.
The Celtics’ victories during the streak have come against the Atlanta Hawks (16-10), the New Jersey Nets (6-19) twice, the Toronto Raptors (9-16), Cleveland Cavaliers (7-17), Portland Trailblazers (12-13), Chicago Bulls (15-8), Denver Nuggets (15-9), Philadelphia 76ers (9-15) and the Charlotte Bobcats (9-15). Only three of those teams still have a winning record, one of which New York defeated last game. The game against Portland can’t be considered a strong victory since the Trail Blazers are not the same team they’ve been the past few years, due to the diminished abilities of their only star player Brandon Roy, and the Hawks only ever beat the bad teams. The Celtics 10 game winning streak, while impressive, is not overwhelming evidence to support the theory that the Knicks’ own 8 game streak will without a doubt end tonight.
When the Knicks and Celtics first faced each other on October 29th, the C’s were lead by Rajon Rondo’s career night (24 assists) as Boston narrowly avoided a late game collapse. The Knicks had five players in double figures, this from an offense still trying to find it’s legs, and had it not been for an uncharacteristic 9 missed free throws for New York (4 from Amar’e) the Knicks would have walked away with the victory.
From watching that game, and the progress the Knicks have made since, two things become obviously clear. The Knicks have to clamp up on the Celtic shooters, because once someone is open Rondo will find them. Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett move very well without the ball and make life all too easy for Rondo, so the Knicks need to stay with their man and force Rondo to create space for his players. The kid’s good but he’s no Steve Nash, it’s the ability of his teammates to move without the ball that leads to crazy assist nights for Rondo. The second thing to keep in mind is that New York’s youth is their biggest asset. They need to use their superior speed and mobility to keep the aged Celtic defenders on their heels, driving into the lane and to the free throw line, where they must hit the majority of their attempts. If they can recreate one of those nights where both Gallo and Amar’e attempt 8-10 free throws a piece, then New York will be in prime position to take this game late.
One game however is not enough to properly gage how best to overtake a team, so let’s examine the Celtics last loss. Before their winning streak began, Boston lost to a terrible Raptors squad, that scored 102 points on them in route to the win. While Rondo was absent from that game, the performance of Andrea Bargnani shows that young forwards can go off on Boston’s older (much slower) bigs, scoring 29 points and reaching the charity stripe 13 times [Editor's note: technically Bargnani actually is a center, but that just means that he might go up against the slowest Celt of them all: Shaq].
With the Big Shamrock dealing with a leg injury, the Knicks must take advantage of the superior speed and mobility that Amar’e, Fields, Chandler and even Gallo will have over the much older Celtics mainstays. New York will have to out hustle, out work and just run the C’s ragged for a whole 48 minutes in order to win this game. The Knicks lack of defensive consistency (to say the least) dictates that NYK cannot allow this game to go down to the last shot, because no one can trust Mike D’Antoni to draw up a clutch defensive play to seal the victory.
In the Celtics’ 1-point victory over the 76ers, Boston allowed 7 Phillie players to score in double figures, winning the game in the final seconds due to a defensive blunder by Philadelphia. Once again Boston seemed to have an issue with those youngsters, Jodie Meeks (19 points), Andre Iguodala (14 points, 11 assists), Jrue Holiday (12 points), Louis Williams (16 points) and Thaddeus Young (16 points) all gave the older Celtics fits. Speed kills, and it certainly was killing Boston’s air of defensive superiority on that night. Had the 76ers had any kind of poise late, they would have (& should have) won the game.
Despite the blowout that many expect, this should be a very good game, competitive throughout, and will most likely come down to four key things:
1) The Knicks/Celtics 3-point shooting. Which team will have the artillery dropping tonight?
2) The Celtics defense. Can they shut down the ball movement and superior speed of the Knicks?
3) Can the Knicks get to the free throw line for around 20 attempts? If they can, it will be difficult for Boston to pull this one out.
4) Which point guard will have the better night? If Raymond Felton goes off for a double-double, New York is in good shape. If Rondo goes off for 15+ assists, New York is in trouble.