BOSTON (CBS) – The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks meet for the 14th time in the NBA Playoffs when their first round matchup gets underway Sunday night at the TD Garden.
The Celtics are the favorites to win, but the Knicks could pose some problems for the elder C’s. New York won seven of their last 10 games to close out the regular season, and the trio of Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups would wreak havoc against any opponent. Here is a breakdown of the matchups the Celtics will have to deal with.
Rajon Rondo vs Chauncey Billups
Rondo had an up-and-down (mostly up) year for the Celtics, and played well in his three games against the Knicks. He had a career high 24-assists as part of a triple-double in the Celtics 105-101 win in October, and averaged nearly 17 assists per game against New York. The Celtics constantly say, “As Rondo goes, we go,” so him moving the ball well will be key for the Celtics offense. On defense, he will have to keep Chauncey Billups in check and help defend Carmelo Anthony.
Billups averaged nearly 18 points per game since joining the Knicks at the NBA trade deadline, but only shot 33-percent from three-point range. Still, Billups is a proven playoff performer and cannot be taken lightly by the Celtics. If they get caught paying too much attention to Anthony and Stoudemire, Billups can make them pay. His defense is suspect, but the Knicks don’t really play defense.
Ray Allen vs Landry Fields
Allen had one of his best offensive seasons at the age of 35, but has cooled off as of late. He complained about not getting the ball enough, so the Celtics should find him as much as possible against the New York. Allen played a big role in the Celtics 96-86 comeback win in New York in March, despite a poor shooting night. He should be able to take advantage of the Knicks defense over the next two weeks.
Fields had been one of the bright spots for the Knicks even before the addition of Anthony. The rookie guard averaged nearly 10 points per game this season but saw less of the ball with Melo and Billups commanding more touches. He is a decent rebounder for his position, pulling down nearly seven boards a game. Fields is also a guy who can make the Celtics pay if they focus too much on the likes of Anthony and Stoudemire.
One of the marquee matchups of the first round will be Paul Pierce against Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is one of the best scorers in the NBA, but Pierce is the better overall defender. Pierce will have plenty of work defensively, but it’s the kind of matchup he loves. He should also try to return the favor and make Melo work on the defense. Pierce averaged 26 points against the Knicks this season, but the Celtics do have other options if he decides to focus more on his defense.
Pierce Talks About Guarding Melo 5758888
Slight Edge: Knicks
Kevin Garnett vs Amar’e Stoudemire
Another marquee matchup which will command a lot of attention in the paint. Young versus Old, Offense versus Defense. Stoudemire took over a flounder Knicks franchise and made them relevant on his own. Now that he has a running mate in Melo, it makes him that much more dangerous. He will make Garnett work on defense, and pull down plenty of rebounds. Look for Amar’e to give the Knicks plenty of second chance opportunities, something the Celtics have struggled with all season.
KG On Amar’e Stoudemire
However, playoff Garnett is a different animal than regular season Garnett. KG had three very successful regular season matchups against New York, scoring 22.7 points while shooting .625 from the field. He averaged over 11 rebounds in three games, and with his intensity ratcheted up expect more of the same. This will be the matchup to watch, as both players can change the game on both the offensive and defensive ends.
Slight Edge: Celtics
Jermaine O’Neal vs Sheldon Williams
The biggest question mark for the Celtics is at center. Without Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics are vulnerable in the middle. Jermaine O’Neal has been very impressive since returning last month, but can he keep it up throughout with the intensity of the postseason? This round should it be no problem, since the Knicks have just as big a question mark at center. Celtics fans can recall that Sheldon Williams is not a starting center in the NBA, so Boston should try and take advantage of his presence, or lack there of, in the paint as much as possible.
Jeff Green, Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal, Nenad Krstic, Delonte West versus Toney Douglas, Jared Jeffries, Ronny Turiaf, Shawne Williams
This is a glaring problem for both teams. The Celtics have much more depth, and the Knicks bench is made up of mostlycast offs and veterans since the Carmelo Anthony trade. But the C’s bench has struggled and, besides Glen Davis, is unproven in the postseason. It’s still unknown what Shaquille O’Neal can bring to the court and for how long and Delonte West could not stay healthy for long stretches. Jeff Green has looked shaky in the Celtics system since coming over from Oklahoma City, and the Celtics will rely on him to come off the bench and defend Anthony.
The bench should not be a problem against the Knicks, but will be a much bigger cause for concern down the road.
Doc Rivers vs Mike D’Antoni
Doc Rivers has proven the last three years his teams thrive in the playoffs. Doc knows how to motivate his older players and has them craving another championship run. Now his big challenge will be to get the new guys comfortable and playing with enough confidence to make an impact when they are on the floor.
Much like Rivers, D’Antoni has had to make major changes late in the season with the acquisition of Anthony. Known more as an offensive coach, D’Antoni has to instill some defense into his team if he wants any chance of winning the series.
The Celtics should be able to wrap up the series in five or six games, but the Knicks will not go easy. The Celtics took all four games in the regular season, but throw all of that out the window. If the regular season tells us anything, these games are going to be battles until the end.
The Celtics starters did get a week off between late-season rest and four days off between the regular season and playoffs, so that should help them catch their wind a bit before they go on another championship run. The Celtics need to make sure they wrap this series up quickly, and not use too much energy before playing the likes of the Heat or Bulls in future rounds.