Arbella Game 5 Preview: Celtics at Knicks

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BOSTON – Four steps stood between the Boston Celtics and history as they headed into Sunday’s Game 4 against the Knicks. Only three steps remain as they head into Game 5, which tips off at 7 p.m. Wednesday night in New York.

The Celtics are looking to become the first team in league history to come back from a three-game deficit in a seven-game series. Taking the second step toward that goal will be quite a different task than the first. The Celtics pulled off an exciting overtime win during Game 4 in front of their fans at TD Garden, but they will now play Game 5 in front of a raucous crowd at Madison Square Garden.

New York’s 31-10 record at home during the regular season was very impressive. Only the Heat, at 37-4, were better at home in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks also won their first two home games of the postseason as the Celtics struggled in the second half of each of those contests.

Madison Square Garden is one of the greatest basketball arenas ever created. It is packed with energy when the lights are shining bright, particularly in the playoffs. New York’s crowd is yearning for the Knicks’ first playoff series win in 13 years.

The Celtics understand that MSG will be a hostile environment. Overcoming the crowd’s energy will be difficult, but Boston is confident that it can accomplish that feat.

Kevin Garnett during pregame

Kevin Garnett understands that the Celtics will face a tough challenge in winning Game 5 in Madison Square Garden.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

“The challenges of being on the road are very difficult, obviously,” Kevin Garnett said on Tuesday. “We have a belief that we can win on the road. It’s all about going out and doing it. They play very, very well at home, so our work is cut out for us.”

It’s not as if Boston hasn’t won on the road in New York before. The C’s downed the Knicks in thrilling fashion on Jan. 7 at MSG. Boston also took leads into halftime in the first half of Games 1 and 2 at MSG.

In order for the Celtics to maintain a lead until the final buzzer, they must improve in many areas. The overriding theme, however, is that they must emphasize the importance of every single play.

Again, it’s Game 7,” said Jason Terry. “It’s every possession. It’s every shot. It’s every defensive stop. It means that much. And so if you come in with that approach, you’re going to put yourself in a position to win.”

Boston followed that approach just enough to take home Game 4 in overtime.

Make Melo Work... Again

It’s quite possible that no team has done a better job of guarding Carmelo Anthony this season than the Celtics did during Game 4. Anthony finished the contest with a game-high 36 points, but he shot an absurd 10-of-35 from the field, good for 28.6 percent. The only reason he logged a high number of points was because he got to the free-throw line for 20 attempts and cashed in on 16 of them.

The key to guarding Anthony is to make things tough on him. Contest every shot and don’t allow him to get open looks. That job falls on the trio of Brandon Bass, Jeff Green and Paul Pierce, all of whom will spend plenty of time guarding Anthony. They bottled him up during Game 4 and if they can do it again, the C’s might be in business.

With that being said, Anthony isn’t going to shoot 28.6 percent again during Game 5. He’s too good for that. But if Boston keeps him in the 30s or low 40s, they should be in good shape.

Ball Movement

The key to Boston’s offensive success is ball movement. Doc Rivers discussed on Tuesday that the Knicks are trapping Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett often during every game. The only way to take advantage of those traps is with crisp ball movement.

The Celtics have been indecisive in trapping situations. They’ve either been late in the initial pass, which falls on Pierce and Garnett, or they’ve made the incorrect decisions after the initial pass, which falls on everyone else. What they need to do is skip the ball around to the open shooter and fire up quality looks. They have the ability to beat New York’s rotations. We need to see it.

Avoid Foul Trouble

It’s pretty unbelievable that the C’s got out of Game 4 with a victory. They blew an enormous lead and somehow sidestepped disaster despite daunting foul trouble.

Four of Boston’s starters finished the game with at least four fouls. Bass fouled out toward the end of regulation and Green and Pierce finished off overtime with five fouls apiece.

The bulk of those fouls were committed on Anthony, hence his 20 free throws. The way for the C’s to avoid these fouls is to stay on their feet. Bass, in particular, should heed this advice, as he picked up several fouls while biting on Melo’s pump fakes.

The Celtics are already playing with a limited rotation. They cannot afford to play with a limited rotation and in foul trouble.