Arbella Game Preview: Game 3 - Celtics at Knicks

Arbella

BOSTON – The New York Knicks – err, Carmelo Anthony – nearly beat the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the teams’ first-round playoff series without much help from Amar’e Stoudemire and none from Chauncey Billups. They may be forced to attempt that uphill battle again in Game 3.

The series has shifted to New York and Game 3 will tip off in Madison Square Garden at 7 p.m. Friday night. Stoudemire and Billups both missed the Knicks’ practice on Thursday and their services for Friday’s pivotal contest are up in the air.

Stoudemire injured his back during a warmup session prior to Game 2 on Tuesday night. He played less than 18 minutes after feeling that sharp pain prior to tip off and claimed that he, “couldn’t hardly move.”

The injury was titled as back spasms during the contest, but MRI results confirmed the team’s initial prognosis that Stoudemire had pulled a muscle in his back. He received treatment from home on Thursday and did not attend New York’s practice.

That news would make you believe that the All-Star power forward is doubtful for Game 3, but it sounds as if he still has a strong chance at playing Friday night. According to the Associated Press, Mike D’Antoni was optimistic that Stoudemire would be available for Game 3, and he is listed as day-to-day.

Billups is a different story. His strained left knee in the final minute of Game 1 and hasn’t been close to returning since. Billups reportedly had the knee drained this week and also took a cortisone shot. He is officially listed as questionable, but there is not much optimism about the possibility of him being on the court Friday night.

If either or both of those players miss Game 3, the Celtics will be in the advantageous position of having to defend only one All-Star player, Anthony, rather than two or three. However, Anthony showed in Game 2 that he alone has the power to keep the Knicks competitive.

Anthony played his best game in a Knicks uniform on Tuesday and finished with game highs of 42 points and 17 rebounds. He was dominant to a point where the Celtics had to resort to trapping and double-teaming him on every possession in the final minutes of the game.

That tactic was successful enough to allow Boston to sneak out of Game 2 with a victory and a 2-0 series advantage. Squeezing out close wins at MSG might be a bit more difficult.

New York’s fans have waited seven long years to experience a playoff game in their home arena, and that moment will finally arrive on Friday night. Believe it or not, nearly every player on each side of this series has yet to experience a playoff game in MSG, and Ray Allen pointed out on Wednesday that he is in that group. Though he hasn’t experienced an actual playoff atmosphere in the Garden, he already knows what to expect.

“They’ll be hostile, they’ll be raucous, they’ll be excited,” Allen said of the New York fans. “Regardless of who’s on their team, they’ll just be like, ‘We’re in the Playoffs! We’re here! ‘ “

While hostility and excitement may be at an all-time high of this millennium in MSG, Doc Rivers pointed out that his players don’t exactly shy away from such situations.

“I think our guys love that atmosphere,” Rivers said.

The closest that atmosphere has been to blooming in MSG may have been on Dec. 15 of this season when these teams collided. Boston and New York took 10- and eight-game win streaks, respectively, into that contest, which was broadcast in primetime on ESPN. The game went down to the wire and was decided by a jumper from Paul Pierce over Stoudemire.

That game certainly lived up to its billing, and this series has as well. Nail-biters have been the norm between the Celtics and Knicks this season, but New York might need another superhuman performance from Anthony in order to make that trend continue in Game 3.

Finish Defensive Possessions

Some have made claim that the Celtics haven’t played great basketball during this series, but that claim better not include the defense. Boston’s performance at the defensive end of the court has been incredible through two games, limiting New York to just 89 PPG and less than 39 percent shooting from the floor.

Those are numbers that wreak of domination, no matter what Anthony and Stoudemire have been able to do on their own. The only issue, however, is that Boston hasn’t exactly finished off those possessions in which it has gotten stops.

Step No. 2, after forcing those misses, is to complete the possession by securing the rebound. That didn’t happen in Game 2, which allowed New York to dominate the boards. The Knicks finished with 52 total rebounds compared to Boston’s 37. Twenty of New York’s rebounds came at the offensive end of the court.

Those rebounds weren’t a result of the Celtics not hustling. Instead, New York dominated the glass thanks to Boston’s inability to finish its defensive rotations. If the C’s can complete those rotations in Game 3 and get into New York’s bodies, that rebounding differential will look a whole lot different by the end of the night.

Pierce’s Aggressiveness

Pierce has averaged 17 field goal attempts per game in the first two games of this series, but they haven’t been of the aggressive nature. Many of these shots have come off of open spot up shots on the perimeter, rather than driving to the basket.

With knowledge that the Knicks may be relying heavily on Anthony to carry them for a second straight game, it might be in Boston’s best interest to go to its regular season scoring champion on the regular. If Pierce is in attack mode and drives to the basket early and often, it’s likely that he’ll either get easy baskets (if Anthony plays it safe to avoid fouls) or get Anthony into foul trouble (if Anthony defends aggressively). The Celtics would take either of those results, and both would surely help them in pursuing another win.

Energy Off the Bench

Rivers said it leading up to Game 2 and it didn’t happen: the Celtics need their bench players to provide energy off of the bench. Their reserves totaled only 14 points and 11 rebounds, compared to 23 points and 21 boards by the Knicks’ reserves.

The message was delivered by Rivers to the media leading up to Game 2, but it clearly wasn’t processed by Boston’s bench players. However, Glen Davis, likely unknowingly, on Wednesday nearly regurgitated Rivers’ quote from earlier this week .

“It’s just energy players,” Davis said of his bench crew. “We have to do a better job of matching the intensity of the other team’s energy players.”

Now that Boston’s bench has had a couple of days for that message to set in, it may be primed for an impactful game. Rivers noted that at some point in this series, his starters won’t play well and the reserves will need to step up. It’s possible that such a game could arrive on Friday night.