Having beaten down the Boston Celtics twice in the last week, including a 108-89 laugher last night, New York’s playoff prospects look quite good in the event that the two teams meet in the first round. Without notorious Knick killer Rajon Rondo in the fold, Boston doesn’t look to be a team that matches up well with the Knicks. Granted, Boston lost to New York without the invaluable Kevin Garnett, but the Knicks have been playing without the equally as invaluable Tyson Chandler. Without Rondo, Chandler and Garnett in the fold, the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony is both the best player on either team and a matchup nightmare for the Celtics. Without Boston having any rim protectors and Green being an average defender, Anthony was able to muck things up for Boston’s defense in the past two games. His jump shot wasn’t hot, but he was able to get to the rim, grabbing offensive boards and causing havoc in the paint.
The big difference between the two teams is the offenses. While the Knicks boast the league’s third most efficient, scoring 108.1 points per 100 possessions, Boston is 22nd scoring just 100.7 points per 100 possessions. For context, the Knicks are ahead of Denver, San Antonio and the Clippers, while Boston trails Memphis, Toronto and Cleveland. Though Boston can play a small lineup with the Knicks, given that Garnett is really their only good defensive big, that doesn’t give them much of a defensive advantage against the Knicks. Jeff Green would be the 4 opposite Melo, and that’s not good for Boston. Green is an average defender, and Anthony should have his way with him. If they cross match Pierce onto Anthony and Green onto somebody on the perimeter, like Kidd or Shumpert, that’s still an advantage for the Knicks. Anthony will draw attention in the post or in isolation from the Celtics, i.e a double team, which will allow him to swing the ball to the perimeter and force Green to make the proper rotations. Green is not a great perimeter defender and the Knicks will have good looks to hit threes.
JR Smith is the big wild card here. If he continues this recent style of play, the Knicks should have no problems with Boston. He’s been unbelievably efficient channeling his inner James Harden, as he’s cooled on shooting contested 20 foot leaners, rather focusing on getting to the rim, getting to the line, and shooting threes when open. The notoriously inefficient Smith is averaging 28.8 points a game on 54.5% shooting over his past five games. More impressively, he’s gotten to the line 9.6 times a game. Though he shouldn’t be a serious contender for sixth man of the year, Smith has played like one over the past month. If he can continue this style of play into the playoffs, he will be a very effective offensive player and the Knicks will be a much more efficient offensive team.
Defensively, there isn’t much to say here. Boston scored just 85 and 89 points in the two Knick games this week and as I mentioned before, they’re the 20th best offense in basketball. Jason Terry isn’t the same player he used to be, Jeff Green is unbelievably hot or cold, and with no Garnett they have no presence down low. They will be better offensively when Garnett returns and they can run their pick and pop offense through him. Regardless, they’re a team that relies on a ton of jump shots, most of which coming from mid-range. Where the Knicks really struggle is when a team likes to post up or run pick and roll and get guards into the paint. Boston is a good post up team, but they don’t have the shooting, they rank 16th in NBA in 3P%, to kill the Knicks when they screw up and double team guys like Jeff Green. In the pick and roll, the Celtics don’t have a quick guard that’s going to consistently get to the paint, a la Jeff Teague. Assuming Kenyon Martin is healthy (fingers crossed), he gives New York a defensive big coming off the bench that matches up well with Boston. He should shut down the paltry combination of Bass, Wilcox and Shavlik Randolph and he’ll have an advantage on both the offensive and defensive glass as well. I’d even feel good about Martin chasing around Green in a smaller Boston lineup. Overall, I really like how the Knicks defense matches up against a putrid Boston offense. The Knicks may not shut down the Celtics completely, but they should be able to play good enough defense to handily win a playoff series.
Along with their dwindling talent level and average team success in a poor Eastern Conference, Boston seems to be losing it’s grip on their dominance over the Knicks. They lost the season series 3-1 and were beaten badly in two match-ups this past week. Though the Celtics are still the Celtics in identity, they’re no longer the Celtics we’re used to seeing in terms of talent. New York has better players, a better record and an overall more complete team. Boston looks locked into that 7th seed. The Knicks are fighting with Indiana for the 2nd seed behind Miami. As I was heavily rooting for the Knicks to somehow play Atlanta or Milwaukee in the first round, I’ve changed my mind. I’d still rather play Atlanta because of the Pierce/Garnett factor, but as a fan I’m no longer afraid of the prospect of playing Boston. Without Rondo, I think the Celtics pail in comparison to the Knicks and I like New York’s chances handling Boston in a playoff series.
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