Series Preview: Celtics vs. Knicks
NEW YORK – The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks will meet in the first round of the NBA Playoffs for the second time in three seasons. This meeting, however, will be far different than the one that resulted in a Celtics sweep in 2011.
The Knicks are the higher seed this time around, and the pieces in the matchup are much different. Only three Celtics (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jeff Green) are active on this year’s playoff roster that were also active for the C's run in 2011. Likewise, the Knicks have only two players (Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire) remaining from their 2011 playoff team.
Here’s how the current versions of the Celtics and Knicks match up.
The Coaches – Rivers vs. Woodson
Per usual, Doc Rivers has the upper hand in this coaching matchup. He has almost won as many regular season many games (578) as Mike Woodson has coached in (598). Rivers has also won 11 playoff series, while Woodson has won just won just three. Most importantly, Rivers is 1-0 against Woodson in the playoffs, as Boston advanced past Woodson’s Atlanta team en route to the 2008 title.
Point Guard: Bradley vs. Felton
Raymond Felton outmatches Avery Bradley when it comes to offense. Felton is New York’s fourth-leading scorer with nearly 14 points per game to go along with a team-leading 5.5 assists per game. Bradley averages only 9.2 PPG but he is in the midst of his best offensive month of the season. He scored 10.5 PPG in eight April games while setting new monthly highs in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
These two will be role players on offense, but Bradley is a difference-maker on defense. He is known as one of the best on-ball defenders in the league and he will be looked at to slow down Felton and anyone else he guards (ahem… J.R. Smith).
Shooting Guard – Pierce/Green vs. Shumpert
The Knicks are unlikely to have one of their starting guards after Pablo Prigioni went down with a sprained right ankle. If Prigioni doesn’t play, Iman Shumpert would likely shift over to shooting guard.
That could be a very good thing for the Celtics. Paul Pierce and Jeff Green will split the shooting guard and small forward duties and both of them would have a great size and length advantage over Shumpert. Though Shumpert is a strong defender, Pierce and Green should be able to get off any shot they want.
It's not likely that Shumpert will play a large offensive role in this series. Instead, the Knicks will need him to hold strong at the defensive end.
Small Forward – Pierce/Green vs. Copeland
Chris Copeland is expected to start at small forward if Prigioni can’t play. Copeland finished this season with a player efficiency rating of just less than 17, which equates to a very solid NBA player. He scored at least 20 points in each of New York’s final three games of the season, including back-to-back 30-point games to close the season out.
Copeland would technically be the small forward, which would pit him against Pierce or Green. If those matchups come to fruition, two of Boston’s two best scorers will have the advantage at both ends of the court.
Power Forward – Bass vs. Anthony
Brandon Bass and Carmelo Anthony will technically be matched up at power forward but they aren’t likely to spend too much time defending each other. Bass would likely face off against Copeland while Anthony faces off with either Green or Pierce.
Anthony is a natural small forward and took home his first scoring title this season with an average of 28.7 PPG. He can fill it up from anywhere on the court and the offense will undoubtedly run through him. Bass and whoever else guards Anthony will need to be on high alert at all times.
The Celtics will also rely on Bass to score, as his mid-range jumper is critical to Boston’s offense. Boston needs Bass to shoot the ball well and be a factor on the glass.
Center – Garnett vs. Chandler
These teams’ centers could very well decide the series. The Celtics are a completely different team with a healthy Kevin Garnett, as are the Knicks when they have a healthy Tyson Chandler.
Garnett has been dealing with a sore left ankle for nearly a month now. He has played in only three games since March 23. He did, however, play well in those contests and has been resting since April 13. The Celtics will need him to play 30-plus minutes during this series.
Chandler is nicked up, too. He has a bulging disc in his neck that has forced him to miss 16 of the last 20 games. He hasn’t played since April 7. He is New York’s defensive backbone. If the Knicks don’t have a productive Chandler, they will be a much less productive team.
Sixth Man – Terry vs. Smith
Each of these teams has a guard who comes off of the bench with a hefty scoring punch. J.R. Smith is New York’s second-best offensive player, while Jason Terry serves as a sparkplug for the C’s when his shot is on.
Smith is likely to win the Sixth Man of the Year award after averaging 18.1 PPG and 5.3 RPG as a reserve this season. He has averaged more than 22.0 PPG over the last two months, which includes 32-point effort against the C’s on March 26.
Terry has brought much less to the table this season with an average of just 10.1 PPG. His numbers were terrible against New York this season, as he scored just 5.5 PPG on 32.1 percent shooting in four games. Terry’s ability to at least double that scoring average will be critical to Boston’s chances.