Game Preview: Knicks at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – The rivalry between the Boston Celtics (20-21) and New York Knicks (25-14) returns to the city of Boston at 8 p.m. tonight. The two teams last battled it out on January 7 in New York, with the C’s prevailing 102-96.

That contest was as heated as they come. Each team was whistled for 21 personal fouls and two technical fouls, and it was Paul Pierce who silenced MSG with a game-clinching jumper in the final minute.

If that matchup was any indication of what’s on tap for tonight, we’re in store for another instant classic. In fact, instant classics have been a regularity when these two teams have met over the course of the last few seasons.

The past five meetings between the Celtics and Knicks have been decided by an average of just 4.4 points per game. Boston won three of those contests, including its victory on January 7. These teams have played nine games since the beginning of the 2010-11 season and none of them have been decided by more than 10 points.

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce's step-back jumper over Tyson Chandler sealed Boston's win over the Knicks on January 7.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

It would be quite a surprise if that trend changes tonight. These teams seem to be evenly matched and neither is riding a wave of momentum heading into tonight’s matchup. Both the C’s and Knicks would admit that they aren’t playing particularly great basketball of late.

Boston has followed up its season-best, six-game win streak by losing four in a row. New York is in a similar boat, as it has lost four of its last six games and six of its last 10 overall. Three of the Knicks’ four wins in January were against sub-.500 teams.

The Celtics and Knicks may be struggling but they typically bring the best out of each other when they meet on the court. We witnessed that two and a half weeks ago, and now we’ll get to see it again, this time in Boston.

Turnover Differential

One area that has plagued the Celtics during this losing streak is turnovers. They have committed an average of 15.8 turnovers over the past four games, including 18 in each of the past two games.

Boston has to clean that up tonight against the Knicks. New York thrives on winning the turnover battle. It actually leads the league in turnover differential by forcing 4.3 more turnovers per game than it commits.

The C’s committed just 11 turnovers on January 7. The Knicks, meanwhile, committed 14. It’s no coincidence that those numbers led to a victory for Boston.

Overcome Carmelo

The Celtics made life difficult for Carmelo Anthony earlier this month. The All-Star forward scored 20 points on a woeful 6-for-26 shooting night. Great team defense, as well as individual hounding by Pierce and Jeff Green, kept Anthony in check.

Don’t expect that to happen again tonight. Anthony is one of the purest scorers this league has to offer. An off night for him is a rarity, and that’s why he ranks third in the league in scoring with 29.2 PPG. Boston must do its best to challenge Anthony’s shots yet again tonight, but it can’t expect New York’s star to struggle the way he did on January 7.

The Rondo Effect

Boston’s victory over the Knicks a couple of weeks ago was especially impressive when you take into account that Rajon Rondo did not play in that game. He was serving a one-game suspension that was handed down by the league earlier that day.

Jason Terry stepped into the starting lineup to replace Rondo and he struggled in that role. Terry contributed four rebounds and five assists, but he shot just 1-of-7 from the field and finished with two points.

Rondo’s presence tonight will change the dynamic of this game. He will be the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game and is the league’s best passer. He’ll also be facing off against 39-year-old Jason Kidd, who is a very good player but isn’t the defender he once was.

There’s something about playing against the Knicks that brings out the best in Rondo. In his last seven games against New York, he has averaged 14.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 14.7 APG. He will undoubtedly have an effect on this game that wasn’t present when these teams met for the first time this season.