Celtics vs. Knicks Betting Preview: How to Bet the Total at MSG

Action Network contributor Kenny Ducey previews how to bet Saturday's matchup between the Celtics and Knicks.

Celtics vs. Knicks Odds

Celtics Odds -4
Knicks Odds +4
Over/Under 224
Time 7:30 p.m. ET
Odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

Two rivals will meet for the first time this season when the Boston Celtics travel to Madison Square Garden on the second night of a back-to-back to take on the New York Knicks, who also played on Friday night. Both have an opportunity to build their second winning streak of the season.

Considering how fun this season series was last year, we should be in for a good game. What’s the best way to bet it? Let’s break it down.

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Celtics’ Defense Still Coming Around

The Celtics haven’t really been playing Celtics basketball to start the season. They’ve somewhat underwhelmed with a 5-3 record to this point, going just 3-5 against the spread, and they have to make their mark defensively, ranking 18th in that regard.

Boston played some suffocating defense in a win over the Wizards a week ago and posted a 103.6 Defensive Rating against Cleveland on Wednesday, so perhaps things are beginning to turn there. With that said, Friday was an uninspired performance on that end. The Celtics led by double digits for most of the second half but allowed Chicago to march right back in the game, scoring at will inside.

Generally speaking, though, things have been good in that area. The Celtics rank eighth in defended field goal percentage inside of 10 feet and ninth overall. Al Horford has remained a solid presence down low, and this collection of guards and wings has forced contested jumpers.

An interesting little battle to watch in this game will be the one between the second units. For Boston, Malcolm Brogdon has been coming off the bench to spell Marcus Smart and Derrick White to excellent results. He had 29 points in Friday’s victory over the Bulls and the Celtics are a +1.6 per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

The issue? White is a +8.3 and Smart a -6.7. The splits are very clear about which guards should be getting the bulk of the run, and while Smart did get the short end of the stick against Chicago it was only because he had five fouls.

Knicks (Finally) Getting Creative With Lineups

Speaking of second units, Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau redefined his a bit in a win over the Sixers on Friday. He inserted Quentin Grimes into the starting lineup for Evan Fournier and moved RJ Barrett to the small-ball five. Then, to close out the game, he paired an unlikely duo in Obi Toppin and Julius Randle.

Thibodeau has been fearful of these two playing alongside one another for years, because it means there is no rim protector on the floor and no true five given both men like to space the floor. It worked like a charm, however, and the two-man lineup is now a +66.7 per 100 possessions in the 10 minutes they’ve played together.

That’s a comical number due to the small sample, but you get the point. The Knicks seemed unstoppable once those two were paired up in the fourth.

Toppin is among a second unit that has also shined this season. The core triumvirate of Toppin, Immanuel Quickley and Isaiah Hartenstein off the bench is a +10.4 per 100 possessions, which is far better than any of the combinations amongst starters.

To do some housekeeping here, allow me to pass along two notes. First would be that the Knicks are 18-8 against the spread under Tom Thibodeau, covering by an average margin of 8.3 points. The second is that while the Knicks’ offense has lagged a bit, they’re still sitting pretty in 13th when it comes to defensive efficiency, doing an excellent job inside.

Celtics-Knicks Pick

Both teams have been rather dreadful against the spread with Boston covering just the three times and New York picking up its first cover since a 3-0 start to the year. So, it’s hard to say we can trust one team over the other at this point.

I think the Knicks’ second unit is the best thing going in this game, and while we may see them close here I think the better option is just to bet on that combination. Toppin was excellent on Friday night, giving the Knicks 17 points off the bench, and Cam Reddish was a team-high +19 with 11 points.

The Knicks currently lead the league in second quarter points per game, but not far behind are the Celtics in sixth. The Knicks have the worst defense in the second quarter as well, and Boston ranks inside the bottom 10. There is a pattern here.

I think taking the second quarter over makes sense, given the weapons both teams have off the bench. I also love the idea of betting on these two teams before they get tired.