The NBA Playoffs have finally arrived and HoopsHabit will have extensive coverage throughout, starting with the first round. Here is the preview between the No. 2 seed New York Knicks and the No. 7 seed Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference.
An old NBA rivalry will once again be renewed in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs when the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics face off in a battle between two of the league’s most storied franchises.
The teams enter the playoffs under completely different circumstances, as the Knicks will boast their best regular-season record since the 1996-97 season, while the Celtics have had by far the worst season since acquiring Kevin Garnett in 2007. For the Knicks, they have finished first in the Atlantic Division for the first time since 1993-94 and enter the playoffs as the East’s clear No. 2 seed. They won the regular season series 3-1 over the Celtics, who also have had to deal with a season-ending injury to point guard Rajon Rondo.
Both teams field a number of championship-winning veterans, big-game players and the two teams have displayed no love lost in their matchups this season. Things have become heated on a number of occasions and it would seem likely that in a playoff atmosphere, this will be one of the toughest and most gruelling series’ in the first round.
The Knicks enter the series as the favorites, but it is anything but an easy draw for New York, Boston is a battle-tested, resilient and hard-nosed team that will force the Knicks to be at their best to advance. New York is riding a wave of late season momentum they hope will carry through to this much anticipated first round matchup.
The point guard matchup could prove to be one of the most pivotal in this series. Raymond Felton has embraced his return to New York, where he seemingly feels the most at home and put up solid season numbers of 13.9 points per game and 5.5 assists. While the majority of the Knicks’ offense comes from Carmelo Anthony and the bench unit often runs through J.R. Smith, it is Felton who remains the one who can create both for himself and others on the court; he is especially vital to getting big man Tyson Chandler involved.
On the other side, Avery Bradley is one of, if not the, best perimeter guard defender in the league and will be looking forward to making an impact after having his first playoff appearance last season cut short by injury. Bradley will be key to pressuring the ball and slowing down the high tempo Knicks offense, if he can take Felton out of the game the Knicks will be forced to rely on isolation-heavy offense and will give the Celtics a better chance to slow them down.
Advantage: Knicks – Will be a close one but Felton has a slight advantage due to his versatility on offense, he can attack the defense himself and also create for his teammates.
With an unfortunate injury to starter Pablo Prigioni most likely keeping him out of the series opener, it will be 18-year veteran Jason Kidd that will step into the starting lineup for the Knicks. While J.R. Smith will play the majority of minutes at shooting guard, Kidd will be relied on early to control the tempo of the game, provide a steadying influence and reliable outside shooting option. Kidd is no longer the ball-dominant, All-Star point guard he was before, but he is still a steady contributor and will be given the early assignment on the Celtics’ primary scorer in Paul Pierce.
Paul Pierce, the Celtics captain and one of the most experienced and decorated players in the league, will enter the 2012-13 playoffs with even more responsibility than usual with the absence of Rajon Rondo. Pierce is a renowned performer not just in the playoffs, but especially in Madison Square Garden, where he has produced some of his greatest individual performances throughout his career. While Pierce’s career may be winding down, he is still capable of completely taking over a game offensively and will never be afraid of taking the big shot down the stretch. The Knicks will have to use a committee of defenders on Pierce throughout the series in an attempt to contain him.
Advantage: Celtics – Despite technically starting out of position, Pierce will be able to take advantage of most matchups the Knicks can throw at him.
Iman Shumpert continues to develop into one of the Knicks’ most key players and this series against the Celtics will be a true test of how far the young swingman has come. He could potentially be the most important defensive player for the Knicks with the likes of Pierce, Jeff Green and Jason Terry the key to getting the Celtics offense going. Shumpert will need to convert his opportunities offensively to ensure the Celtics defense cannot sag off him and help on Carmelo Anthony, while defensively he will often be tasked with guarding the hottest Celtics scorer.
Jeff Green is the biggest X-factor to the Celtics’ postseason success and he will be relied on extensively by coach Doc Rivers in all facets of the game. He will likely spend the majority of the game matching up against the NBA’s leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony, while he will also be expected to produce around 20 points a night. Green has excelled since cementing a place in the Celtics starting lineup and the team has great belief in the young forward he can elevate his game on the big stage. He will likely play the most minutes per game of any Celtic and if he shines, it will go a long way towards a Celtic upset.
Advantage: Celtics – Green and Shumpert may rarely match up directly, but Green has a better offensive game and his length should bother the Knicks on defense.
Power Forward: Carmelo Anthony vs. Brandon Bass
What a season for Carmelo Anthony. The All-Star forward for the Knicks has led a revival of the franchise while finishing the season as the league’s leading scorer. Anthony is the Knicks first, second and third option on offense and he will be relied on repeatedly to close out games for New York throughout the playoffs. Anthony may be under more pressure than any other player in the 2012-13 playoffs and time will tell how he responds. The Celtics will use a number of defensive matchups against him in order to try and slow him down but with his versatile, often unstoppable, offense it will be a matter of making sure the rest of the Knicks cannot get going with him. Carmelo is the best player in the series, he is the one most capable of completely taking over a game and can do it in a number of ways. He will be looking to take advantage of any defensive mismatches and if he can keep up his late-season scoring. The Celtics will be in for a tough time trying to defend him. Brandon Bass, meanwhile, is the reliable, role-playing cog in the Celtics’ starting lineup who will need to be at his best to give the Celtics a chance at an upset. Bass will need to be consistent with his mid-range jump shot in order to keep the floor spaced and not allow the Knicks to double on Pierce or Garnett. Meanwhile, it will be a big question where coach Doc Rivers will play Bass defensively; he is seemingly the odd man out with no other true power forward on the court, he will not be able to contain Anthony and will likely be forced to switch off on to one of the Knicks’ smaller players. If Bass can avoid being taken advantage of defensively while constantly chipping in between 10 and 15 points for the Celtics, he could be a huge factor.
Center: Tyson Chandler vs. Kevin Garnett
Now this is where the entertainment will be; two hard-nosed, defensive, tough-minded veterans in the paint that will spend the entire series banging bodies while battling for rebounds and post position. Tyson Chandler is the anchor of the Knicks’ defense and despite recent injury concerns he says he is 100 percent ready to go for the series. Especially with the small ball line-ups the Knicks like to play, Chandler is essential for their success defensively, protecting the rim and is especially crucial on the boards. He has championship experience with the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks and will need to be a leader when things get rough in this Boston series, which is expected to be one of the most physical in the entire playoffs.
The shackles will be off when the playoffs start for Kevin Garnett, who has spent the season on a strict minutea restriction from Doc Rivers in order to preserve his veteran big man. Garnett is the vocal leader of this Celtics team, especially defensively, and sets the tone for the team with intensity and effort. Garnett is now primarily stationed in the paint, where he will be responsible for primary rebounding duties for the Celtics and will no doubt get extremely physical with Chandler and the other Knicks’ big men. Garnett is not going to shy away from a contest and will be right in the thick of the physical battles down low. He will be barking and getting in the face of the Knicks’ players and backing it up with consistent production on both ends. KG saw a huge jump in his effectiveness in the playoffs last season and Celtics’ fans will be hoping for a repeat of that against the Knicks.
Advantage: Celtics – Garnett and Chandler will have a similar impact on this series defensively but Garnett’s shooting range and consistent offense gives him an edge over Chandler.
The Knicks boast something that the Celtics do not and that is a true sixth man and potential game-turner in J.R. Smith. Smith has had the best season of his career in New York and will be among the favorites for the NBA’s sixth man of the year award. He is a nightly threat to put up 20 or more points of the Knicks bench and provides them with another primary scoring option if Anthony is off the floor or being doubled.
The Knicks will rely on a pair of veterans to back up the frontcourt in Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin, while former All-Star Amare Stoudemire continues his recovery from injury. Both Martin and Camby will provide a steady dose of interior defense and rebounding and while limited offensively they can both knock down the open looks. Steve Novak gives the Knicks a knock down outside shooter and floor spacer along with surprise rookie Chris Copeland. The Knicks have rounded out their bench in recent days signing center Earl Barron and veteran swingman Quentin Richardson who is well known to have personal issues with both Pierce and Garnett.
The Celtics will be hoping that after a disappointing regular season, former championship winner Jason Terry can find his groove in the playoffs, where he is a known clutch performer. Terry has struggled to make an impact this season for the Celtics and will need to find his rhythm quickly in the post season to give the Celtics a reliable scorer off the bench. If the Celtics need offense down the stretch of tight games expect Terry to be on the floor.
The rest of the Celtics bench is a huge question mark. Courtney Lee is an experienced playoffs campaigner and will be relied on for his defense and ability to knock down the outside shot, but the rest of the rotation is a bit of a mystery. The Celtics recently brought over Shavlik Randolph, Terrance Williams and D.J. White from China and it appears that at least Randolph and Williams may have a place in Doc Rivers’ playoff rotation. Randolph is the Celtics’ best rebounder and will split the back up duties with veteran big man Chris Wilcox who will provide some athleticism and run the floor. Trade deadline acquisition Jordan Crawford could be an X-factor, he is capable of coming in and putting up points in bunches if the team is in need of offense.
Advantage: Knicks – Having a legitimate, proven sixth man in J.R. Smith as well as proven veterans in the front court makes the Knicks bench much more reliable than the Boston one.
Coaching: Mike Woodson vs. Doc Rivers
Two experienced coaches will be lining up and with so many lineup options for both teams, the chess battle between these two will be an interesting one. Woodson has done a great job this season adjusting to injuries and finding the most successful rotations; he will again need to do that in the first round, having lost Prigioni to injury. Woodson has a number of options in small ball lineups–the ability to run two point guards, play Carmelo at the small or power forward positions, as well as the ability go big with defensive frontcourt players. Woodson has decent playoff experience, but has yet to lead a team to a conference finals or beyond; he will look to take his coaching career to the next level.
Rivers will have a shorter rotation and the emphasis will be on stopping Carmelo Anthony. With Jeff Green and Paul Pierce, Rivers has two great options to put on Anthony but the key will be finding a position for Brandon Bass to defend without being exposed. Rivers will have to constantly match Woodson’s substitutions with his own to ensure he keeps the right defensive match ups. He will also have the added task of not overplaying his veterans and keeping them fresh from game to game. Doc has won a championship alongside Pierce and Garnett, he has become one of the leagues most decorated playoff coaches and will be looking to inspire his team of underdogs.
Advantage: Celtics – Rivers has amassed a great deal of playoff coaching experience in recent times, he will instil a belief into his players that they can win and there are few better at drawing up clutch, offensive plays than Doc.
Key Matchup: Jeff Green vs. Carmelo Anthony
While technically they will not start at the same position, Green will spend the majority of the series matched up against Carmelo Anthony and will be responsible for slowing down the league’s leading scorer. Green has the length and athleticism to trouble Carmelo, but as we have repeatedly seen it is often a case of trying to slow him down more so than having any chance of stopping him. It’s unlikely you will hold Carmelo below 25 points per game over the series, the key for Green will be to make sure it comes on as many shot attempts as possible. Meanwhile on the other end, Green will need to contribute as the third key scorer for the Celtics. Anthony is the leader and the key for the Knicks, they will go as far as he can carry them in the playoffs, meanwhile Jeff Green is the X-factor in the Celtics playoff success, if he can slow down Anthony and produce consistent offense the Celtics will be on the front foot.
For New York to Win:
Quite simply the Knicks will need to get consistent offense from other players than Carmelo Anthony. We all know that Carmelo will likely go for 30 a night, but if the Knicks role players are unable to give him reliable support offensively the Celtics will be able to weather the storm and focus all of their defense on Anthony. The Celtics are not a potent offensive team so the Knicks should be able to contain them defensively, but the key will be overcoming the Celtics’ stifling playoff defense and supporting their star.
For Boston to Win
The Celtics are going to need a gritty, spirited effort on defense to give themselves a chance in the series. Garnett and Pierce will ensure the team keeps rolling through whatever adversity they face but the younger players will need to bring high intensity and energy to every game. Jeff Green is going to need a great series on both ends of the court while one of the Celtics guards, Bradley, Terry or Lee is going to need to provide a solid scoring option in every game.
Prediction: Knicks in 7
This could potentially be the best series in the first round, depending on what kind of basketball you enjoy. This will be a tough, physical series between two teams with no love lost and out with a point to prove. Expect numerous confrontations, tech fouls and verbal exchanges from some of the toughest players in the league. This is not going to be a quick or easy series for whoever comes away with the win. The first two games in New York will be the key, if the Celtics can steal one we could see a big upset.
Tags: Avery Bradley Boston Brandon Bass Carmelo Anthony Celtics Courtney Lee Doc Rivers Iman Shumpert J.R. Smith Jason Kidd Jason Terry Jeff Green Kenyon Martin Kevin Garnett Knicks Marcus Camby Mike Woodson Nb New York Paul Pierce Playoffs Raymond Felton Shavlik Randolph Steve Novak Tyson Chandler