Game Preview: Celtics at Knicks

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – It’s never nice to ruin someone’s holiday, but that’s just what the Boston Celtics (38-34) will be looking to do when they take on the New York Knicks (45-26) at 7:30 p.m. Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.

A victory for Boston would act as a returning of the favor to New York, seeing as the Knicks ruined the Celtics’ otherwise fantastic Tuesday this week. A week ago, the Celtics were happy to return home from a brutal three-game road trip. They wanted to bounce back to the win column Tuesday night, but the Knicks ruined the homecoming by crushing the C’s 100-85 in TD Garden.

Seven days later, Boston has an opportunity to return the favor. Redemption would surely feel sweet on Easter Sunday as the Celtics can ruin New York’s seven-game winning streak.

Accomplishing such a goal will be a tough task considering how well the Knicks have been playing of late. They haven’t lost since March 17, when the Clippers outlasted them 93-80.

New York’s stretch of great play is quite impressive considering that it has played without key players for the majority of it. Starting center and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler hasn’t played since March 13 due to a bulging disc in his neck. Additionally, Amar’e Stoudemire (knee), Kurt Thomas (foot) and Rasheed Wallace (foot) have all been out for extended periods of time.

With a shortened list of available big men, head coach Mike Woodson has been forced to go with a small lineup. Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton are starting in the backcourt, shifting Iman Shumpert to small forward. New York’s top three players off of the bench, J.R. Smith, Jason Kidd and Steve Novak, are also all perimeter-oriented players.

J.R. Smith vs. Avery Bradley

If the Celtics want to win Sunday's matchup, they will need to contain the likes of J.R. Smith.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

Boston was able to contain most of those players on Tuesday, but Smith went off in one of the best performances of his career. He scored a game-high 32 points on 13-of-24 shooting, which helped him finish the contest with a game-high plus-17 in the plus/minus category.

Smith’s performance, coupled with Carmelo Anthony’s 29 points, proved to be too much for the Celtics to handle. Truth be told, those two players have been too much for most teams to handle, as they are combining to average 54.3 points per game (28.2 for Anthony, 26.1 for Smith) during New York’s seven-game winning streak.

Smith and Anthony showcased their skill sets Tuesday night in Boston and wound up spoiling the Celtics’ return to TD Garden. Now it’s up to the Celtics to contain them and deal the Knicks a loss on Easter Sunday.

Must Box Out

Shooting percentages tell us that the Celtics should have won Tuesday’s meeting between these two teams. Boston outshot New York from the field and from 3-point range, all while making more free throws.

So how did the C’s lose? Put it all on second-chance points. Boston allowed New York to score 29 of them on 13-for-16 shooting. As Doc Rivers explained, allowing such numbers won’t help a team win games.

“They just had a lot of extra shots to miss and they made a couple of them,” said Rivers, who previously noted that New York attempted 21 more shots than his team did. “Really, that was the difference in the game.”

That can’t happen again on Sunday if the Celtics hope to grab a win.

Pierce in the 20s

The way these two teams match up nowadays leads to Jeff Green defending Carmelo Anthony. That means that Paul Pierce isn’t defending Anthony, which is a great thing for Pierce.

Boston’s captain should be able to conserve his energy on defense and expend it all on the offensive end. This was the case on Tuesday but the Celtics only got Pierce 10 shots. That’s not nearly enough on any night, let alone one in which Pierce is getting a bit of a break on the defensive end of the floor.

If the matchups play out on Sunday the way they did on Tuesday, Pierce should take no less than 15 shots. Anything less would be a failure.

Continued Hustle from Shav

Shavlik Randolph put together the best game of his career Friday night against the Hawks. He totaled nine points and a game-high 13 rebounds, including seven at the offensive end. Offensive rebounds have been rare for the Celtics this season but Randolph looks like he may be able to help change that fact.

The Knicks have not struggled on the offensive glass this season, particularly against the Celtics. New York grabbed 15 offensive boards Tuesday night en route to 29 second-chance points. The Knicks were active on the offensive glass again Friday night against Charlotte, as they totaled 12 more offensive rebounds.

The only way to combat another team’s pursuit of offensive rebounds is to have your players throw their bodies around and hustle their tails off. That’s what Randolph does best and the C’s need that to continue.