Game Preview: Knicks at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – Linsanity is making its way to Boston exactly a month after it began.

The Boston Celtics (18-17) and New York Knicks (18-18) will meet at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon in a highly touted matchup between the two Atlantic Division foes. It will be the first time these teams have met since Jeremy Lin exploded onto the NBA scene exactly a month ago, on Feb. 4.

Interestingly enough, the last meeting between these two teams set the table for Lin’s meteoric rise. Boston defeated New York on Feb. 3 by a score of 91-89, a game that featured a cameo appearance from Lin. He logged seven minutes of playing time that resulted in two points, two rebounds and one assist.

Lin was productive during his short stint on the floor during that game, but that isn’t what launched him into stardom. Instead, it was the surrounding factors that played into the Celtics-Knicks matchup.

The Feb. 3 tilt went down to the wire and forced Mike D’Antoni to play all of his starters for at least 36 minutes. That is a lot of minutes on any night, but leaving all of your starters on the floor for that long in the midst of a back-to-back-to-back set is even more of an issue.

New York’s visit to Boston was the second game of its only three-games-in-three-nights stretch of the season. Its starters played big minutes in the first game against Chicago on Feb. 2 and big minutes again in the second game against Boston the next night. That meant that D’Antoni needed to dig into his bench for the third game, against New Jersey, to find someone to eat up minutes.

Lin became that man on Feb. 4 and he has never looked back. The second-year point guard has gone on to average 22.3 PPG and 9.0 APG in his 13 games since he and the Knicks flew out of Boston last month.

New York’s revival can be largely attributed to Lin’s arrival on the scene, but let’s not forget the other weapons the Knicks boast. Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire are among the best players at their respective positions and could go off at any time. The Knicks are also very strong at shooting guard and center, where Landry Fields and Tyson Chandler, respectively, hold down the fort defensively.

That group, without Lin, wasn’t enough to beat the Celtics in TD Garden last month. A strong performance from Paul Pierce powered Boston to victory as the captain dropped 30 points, seven boards and five assists on the Knicks. Pierce’s performance outshined that of Carmelo Anthony, who put up 26 points of his own.

The Celtics were cruising at that stage of the season while the Knicks were struggling. Now they’re separated by just one-half game in the standings and battling for playoff position.

Playoff seeding won’t be the only thing on the line when the ball goes up on Sunday. These two teams are also competing for an Atlantic Division championship, and whichever team wins this matchup guarantees themselves no less than a split of the four-game regular season series.

Linsanity may be the headline story, but these two teams know that a lot will be riding on this nationally televised game.

Preparation Time

We just covered the importance of this game, so you can be sure that each team will be as prepared as possible heading into tipoff time tomorrow. There is, though, a big difference on how much preparation time these two teams have had.

Boston took the floor on Saturday to get in a rare practice session and sharpen up before Sunday’s game. That’s one day of preparation to not only work on their own stuff, but also to get a look at what the Knicks will be doing tomorrow.

The Knicks, meanwhile, have been off since Wednesday night’s 120-103 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s three full days of preparation time for this game, which is essentially what most teams get heading into Game 1 of a first-round playoff series.

As you can tell, New York certainly has an advantage in this area. We’ll find out of the Celtics can overcome that disadvantage on Sunday.

Finally, Ray Allen, who sat out Friday night's game (sick), did not practice Saturday and is questionable for Sunday.

Turn Lin Over

The one drawback to Lin’s game is that he is extremely turnover prone. He has averaged 5.7 turnovers per game since taking over the starting point guard role. Lin is actually coming off of the top assist-to-turnover game of his career, as he dished out 13 dimes compared to just one turnover Wednesday night.

That was a great game, but a trend is a trend. Lin turns the ball over when he’s pressured and that trait hasn’t disappeared in one game. The Celtics will have a great opportunity to take advantage of that flaw on Sunday.

How might Boston do that? One of the main options would be to employ the ball-hawking full-court press that they showed off Friday night. It completely turned that game into their favor and could easily do so again on Sunday if they throw it in Lin’s direction.

Who Will Defend Who?

Boston is riding a three-game winning streak and that is in large part to its new starting frontline of Brandon Bass at power forward and Kevin Garnett at center. Doc Rivers has loved what he has seen out of that duo over the past three games, particularly Garnett at the five spot.

Rivers was asked on Saturday how he thought his team would perform while defending New York’s pick-and-roll offense, but he flipped the question around when he answered it. He’s more concerned with not knowing how the Knicks plan to have their frontline match up with his frontline.

“The one thing with this is you’re not sure who is going to guard who at the five and the four each night for them,” Rivers said. “With us defensively, we like kinda knowing who we’re going to guard, but we don’t like cross-matchups. That’s the only thing that’s been a little tricky in this.”