Arbella Game Preview: Game 2 - Knicks at Celtics
BOSTON – The NBA Playoffs have felt a lot like the NCAA tournament over the past four days, and the series between the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks is no exception.
Boston’s Game 1 victory on Sunday came by way of a game-winning 3-pointer from Ray Allen that sent the TD Garden into a frenzy with 11.6 seconds remaining. Another tight contest could be on the docket in Game 2, which will tip off at 7 p.m. tonight on TNT.
Nail-biters have been the norm between the Celtics and Knicks this season. The teams met four times during the regular season, with one, the season finale, being played by nearly all reserves, and three of those contests came down to the final minutes. Boston won all four regular season meetings and only one of those victories came by double-digits. However, even that 96-86 win, which came on March 21 in New York, required a 10-0 run by the Celtics in the final three minutes to be secured.
Those close games carried over to the Playoffs, because Sunday’s contest was about as tight as it can get. After Toney Douglas hit a 3-pointer to put New York ahead 85-82 with 37.3 seconds remaining, the C’s went on a 5-0 run to close the game thanks to perfect execution on two out-of-bounds plays.
After that thrilling Game 1, do the stars of this series believe that the next three-to-six games will play out in the same fashion?
“Absoultely,” said Amar’e Stoudemire Sunday night. “We knew that coming into this game, this series. It’s been like that every game in the regular season.”
It may be difficult for the Knicks to continue that trend tonight, because they’ll likely be taking on the Celtics without one of their top three players.
Chauncey Billups came up lame in the final minute of Game 1 with a strain in his left leg, and he was dubbed by Mike D’Antoni as “very questionable” at New York’s practice on Monday. Billups himself did not give a single indication that he’d be available for tonight’s game, and he seemed perplexed by the situation he’s currently in.
“I don't know… I don't know,” he said on Monday. “It's really sore today. We'll see what happens. We'll see how it goes."
Without Billups, New York would be forced to start second-year guard Toney Douglas, who has averaged only 2.6 APG over his first two seasons in the NBA. Douglas is much more of a scoring point guard, as evidenced by his team-leading 10.6 PPG off the bench this season, so it’s highly possible that New York’s 16-assist number from Game 1 could take a dip in Game 2.
As far as Boston is concerned, the Celtics believe that they must come into tonight’s game with a sense of urgency that they lacked against teams that were missing a star player during the regular season. Paul Pierce referenced that tendency at Monday’s practice, saying his team has to be “more focused” if Billups doesn’t play.
Doc Rivers isn’t as concerned with his team’s focus heading into Game 2 as he is about the execution at the defensive end of the floor.
“I think our defensive game plan has to be run early,” Rivers said on Monday. “We really got away from what we worked on, and we were kind of making up stuff. That happens when you’re just excited about playing and you try to do too much.”
Once Boston settled into Playoff-mode and “joined the Playoffs” from a defensive standpoint, as Rivers said after Game 1, New York’s offense struggled. The Knicks shot only 32.6 percent in the second half of Game 1, including a 1-for-11 shooting performance by Carmelo Anthony.
Comparing those numbers with the Knicks’ 54.3 percent shooting in the first half, highlighted by 12 points apiece from Anthony and Stoudemire, would lead you to believe that the Celtics made drastic adjustments at halftime. Don’t believe your eyes, cautioned Rivers.
“We didn’t make one defensive adjustment the entire game [Sunday],” Rivers said.
That statement will tell you that when the Celtics put their minds to it, they can contain New York’s powerful offense. It’s not clear whether that job will become easier or more difficult if Billups doesn’t play tonight, but what we do know is that there’s a great possibility of this game going down to the wire.
Anthony is one of the greatest offensive players the NBA currently has to offer, so the chances of him going 5-for-18 from the field in a second consecutive game are highly unlikely. Anthony totaled only 15 points in his first playoff game as a Knick, and he’ll surely be looking to double that total when he takes the court tonight for Game 2.
The question isn’t if Anthony is going to bounce back with a much better game, it’s how will the Celtics counter it? Will Paul Pierce handle the load by scoring more points? Will Boston be able to stop all of the players around Anthony? Will the C’s be able to keep pace with Anthony’s scoring? Will the Celtics’ body language drop if Anthony takes over?
These are the questions that will be answered tonight. The hope is that the answer to all of them leads to a 2-0 series lead.
The Energy Guys
New York doesn’t have a legitimate center on its roster, and that’s why the Celtics should have an enormous advantage in the post. Boston wound up outrebounding the Knicks 44-34 in Game 1, but two players who play a lot of minutes around the paint for New York had very solid games.
Ronny Turiaf, who starts at center, and Jared Jeffries, who brings his 6-foot-11 frame off of the bench, combined to grab 14 rebounds on Sunday night, including six at the offensive end. Those two players’ energy stood out to Rivers, and he commented on them at Monday’s practice.
“I thought they kept the ball alive. I thought Jeffries and Turiaf’s energy – their energy players gave them more energy than our energy players,” said Rivers. “So our energy players [tonight] have to have an impact in the game.”
Those guys on Boston’s side are named Glen Davis and Delonte West. They combined to for only four points and five rebounds in Game 1. Those numbers will certainly need to increase in Game 2.
Rajon Rondo had great body language in Game 1 and racked up statistics all over the board. He nearly grabbed another triple-double in the postseason with 10 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Those numbers are great, but the C’s would love to see more aggressiveness out of him at both ends of the floor.
New York’s defense played well in Game 1 – far better than its defense in the regular season – but Rondo should be able to knife the Knicks up if he wants to. His total of nine assists likely would have been higher if Boston shot a better percentage from the field, and that should be the case tonight.
Look for Rondo’s aggressiveness to be at a high level tonight and for him to push the mid-teens in terms of assists. He should also increase his defensive numbers after finishing with zero steals in Game 1. To give you an idea of how rare that is, he played 69 games in the regular season and did not grab a steal in only nine of them.