The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks are primed to face each other in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs starting this Sunday.
This series marks the first playoffs for Knicks since 2001. The team looks reenergized with the newly acquired stars Amare Stoudemire, Chauncey Billups, and Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks are “so hot right now” having recently enjoyed a 7 game winning streak going into this series.
The Celtics, unlike the Knicks, look tired and slump into this first round playoff matchup. Despite the loss of the strong interior presence of Kendrik Perkins (posting a 15-12 record since his loss)in a mid-season trade the Celtics defeated the Knicks in all four regular season meetings. The Cs have historically come alive in the playoffs and look primed to get to the NBA Finals for the second straight year.
Let’s break down the series by position:
Rajon Rondo vs. Chauncey Billups
The usually sure-handed Rondo had a very inconsistent year due to changing line-ups (including the departure of his best friend Kendrik Perkins) and injuries. He is the quicker player and better passer of the two. The 34-year old Billups will rely on his deft shooting (17.5 PPG) to offset Rondo’s many skills. Jared Jeffries’ defensive prowess may be called in to keep the ball away from the Celtics guard and force him to put up jump shots.
Landry Fields vs. Ray Allen
Allen is coming off another monster shooting year. In a season in which he became the NBA’s career leader in 3-pointers made the sharpshooter is averaging career bests in shooting percentage (49.1) and 3-point shooting percentage (44.4). The Celts seem to live and die by his shot. In that past 20 contests as the Celtics were slumping Allen notched only one 20-point game. Fields is a wild card here. His rebounding and hustle plays have curtailed after the big trade for Anthony. He seems lost at times still finding his role on the team and particularly on offense. If slow to contribute watch for Fields to sit on the bench and watch Anthony Carter and /or Bill Walker in action against Allen.
Carmelo Anthony vs. Paul Pierce
Both Anthony and Pierce are players you want taking the final shot for your team. Due to his size and strength Anthony is more wily and difficult to defend than Pierce here. He has even added a three point shot to his repertoire, shooting 43% from behind the arc with the Knicks. Pierce is clutch and has come up big in the spotlight. This matchup will make or break the series.
Amare Stoudemire vs. Kevin Garnett
“KG” has seen his best years. He is an adequate scorer and defender but not quite the enforcer he once was (or that Kendrick Perkins is). He still brings energy and leadership to the floor every night. Amare is one of the top one-on-one scorers in the league and has the capability of being a decent defender and an adequate rebounder. As a matter of fact he was in the MVP conversation up until the Carmelo trade. Stoudemire also has the most playoffs experience on this team. The Knicks could use his leadership.
Ronny Turiaf vs. Shaquille O’Neal
O’Neal has been hampered with injuries as he has only seen 5 1/2 minutes of action in the past 2 ½ months. He is still a question mark for game one. His replacement, Jermaine O’Neal, isn’t much healthier having missed games due to injuries. This may force the C’s to rely on bench player Nenad Kristic. The New York Knicks lunch pail banger, Ronny Turiaf, will vacuum up rebounds, make hustle plays, and commit many fouls. Turiaf will be relieved by Shelden Williams and defensive specialist Jared Jeffries.
The Celtics players have a lot of offensive depth including Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic. Delonte West is a serviceable backup point guard and lone three point threat. For the Knicks, Bill Walker and Shawne Williams will be relied upon for their 3 point capabilities. Back up pg Toney Douglas still needs to be more consistent in his shooting and running an offense.
Mike D’Antoni vs. Doc Rivers
Both coaches had to adapt to their team’s mega trades this season. Doc Rivers defensive-minded strategy changed after his center Kendrick Perkins was traded away to Oklahoma City. D’Antoni had to discard his patented “7 seconds or less” playbook to accommodate new players. Both coaches are on a short lease as Doc enters his final season and D’Antoni has one year left on his contract. Sure D’Antoni has led the Suns as far as the Conference finals but Doc has the only NBA Finals experience of the two (2008, 2010). If D’Antoni can convince Carmelo to play within the flow of his office then the team has a chance to be effective against the league’s top defense.
Prediction: Celtics in 6