Welcome to our two-part breakdown of the New York Knicks/Boston Celtics first round series. Joe Caporoso and Chris Celletti decided to talk out their concerns, the match-ups and ultimately give their predictions on what will happen starting this Saturday. Read on for part one -
CC – This is probably who the Knicks had to play in the first round to get the playoff series monkey off their back, right? We all know how long it’s been since the Knicks advanced in the playoffs, and this team did everything it could to earn the second seed in the East and set themselves up for a long playoff run. But in order to get started they have to beat the Boston Celtics, the team who so warmly welcomed them back to the playoffs two seasons ago, the team who employs the guy who made the Honey Nut Cheerios reference or whatever, the team that has defined playoff success more so than anyone else in league history.
You could probably tell from this introduction, as well as my response in our roundtable discussion earlier this week that I’m not too thrilled with the Knicks drawing the Celtics. There admittedly isn’t much rational thought in this; the nervousness is borne strictly from the fan in me (let me amend that, the JET fan in me), so I’ll need some help talking myself out of my worry. Before I let you begin that though, let me get into one thing the Celtics do have a decided advantage in, and that’s on the sidelines.
I should start by saying that I think Mike Woodson has done a magnificent job this season. He has done what any good coach should do: he’s embraced the Knicks’ strengths and played to them. People were scared when Woodson took over because of his history in Atlanta with “Iso Joe”, thinking that the combination of him and Carmelo Anthony would turn the Knicks into an iso-heavy, slow, predictable offense. That’s exactly what the Knicks aren’t, and a lot of that credit goes to Woodson. His funky lineup choices have often clicked, especially the many two point guard combinations the Knicks ran out there this year. That has helped foster effective ball movement, and the Knicks take and make a lot of threes because of the many open looks they get.
Woodson’s playoff record is 12-22. This is the most talented team he’s ever had, but that’s still not a great record by any stretch. Conversely, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would rank Woodson ahead of Doc Rivers. Rivers’ cupboard isn’t nearly as robust as it has been in the past, but you know the Celtics aren’t going to be making too many dumb mistakes down the stretches of these games. Maybe I’m overplaying the coaching aspect of the series a bit, and it probably comes from watching Rivers grossly outcoach Mike D’Antoni through four games back in 2010, but I do know that Boston has the advantage on the sidelines. Am I reading too much into this?
JC - There is nothing wrong with having a little fear of the Boston Celtics bogeyman, how could any fan of another Atlantic Division team not at this point? The Celtics have the tradition. They have the recent ring. They have the veteran presence. They have Bill Simmons talking about Jeff Green outplaying Carmelo Anthony on NBA Countdown. Yet, I think your fears about Doc Rivers putting a clown suit on Mike Woodson might be a little overstated. Yes, over the course of their respective careers Doc has had more success, particularly in the playoffs but looking at this season individually Woodson has done his finest work to date and is also blessed with a superior roster and the best overall player in this series (that ‘Melo guy).
I’m not sure there is an answer on the clipboard to having Terrence Williams, Jordan Crawford, and Jason Terry’s corpse playing major minutes in your rotation. Doc will have the Celtics on their “A” game and playing aggressive, physical defense but unless Kevin Garnett is truly 100% (which I don’t think he is), the Celtics defense simply isn’t that lethal. The chances of Boston pulling the upset (yes, I’d classify it as an upset) depend on Garnett’s health/defense and of course notorious Knicks killer Paul Pierce. You want a reason to be worried about this series? It has to be images of Pierce hitting contested three pointers in the final minutes and then mean-mugging his way back down the court at MSG, right?
CC – Yes, the other thing that scares me big time is Pierce. Earlier this season when previewing one of the games between the Knicks and Celtics, I pointed to the fact that the Knicks needed to try and get a semi-comfortable lead in the latter stages. While that sounds overly simple (that’s the way to win any basketball game), the reason I said it is because the way for the Knicks, specifically, to beat the Celtics, is to make sure there’s no chance that Pierce can wreck the game in the final minutes.
Without Rajon Rondo, the Celtics are a mediocre team talent-wise. Outside of Pierce and Garnett, you’re right…I’m not too worried about the likes of Jordan Crawford or Courtney Lee or Jason Terry torching the Knicks. There’s a reason the Celtics finished the regular season 7th-worst in the league in offensive efficiency – the lowest of anybody who made the playoffs. Rondo makes that team go and without him, they’re just not very good offensively. Conversely, the Knicks were one of the most-efficient offenses in the league this season, and that will have to continue. If the Knicks play their game on the offensive end and make the most out of their possessions, as they have essentially all season, the Celtics probably won’t be able to keep up. And if the games are indeed super close late? Double or triple Pierce, please. Make somebody else hit a clutch shot, for once.
Changing gears to the team we actually cover here, one development from last night is that new starter Pablo Prigioni is uncertain for Game 1. If he can’t go, what do you think the Knicks do in terms of the starting lineup?
JC - Poor Pablo. The Knicks had racked up a 15-2 record with him in the starting line-up doing Pablo things…taking hesitant threes, making steals in the backcourt and finding crafty ways to propel ball movement on offense. There have been two suggestions I’ve seen, the first is simply putting Jason Kidd back in the starting line-up to stay with the two point guard approach. The second would be sliding Iman Shumpert to shooting guard and putting Chris Copeland at the 3. Personally, I think Woodson will go with Kidd in the starting line-up and that it is the right move. Prigioni is basically Kidd-Lite so why mess too much with the dual point guard approach you are having so much success with?
Copeland will have a larger than anybody could have expected role off the bench as a scorer and be the third option after JR Smith and Kenyon Martin. It is also fair to assume Steve Novak will get a brief stretch each half to spread the floor, hopefully hit a three or two and maybe throw in one of those awkward ball fakes. Do you think there is a chance that anybody beyond those four logs any significant minutes in this series off the bench? Are we sure Tyson Chandler is healthy enough to play his normal minutes and allow us to avoid Marcus Camby or Earl Barron music? And while I am throwing bench questions at you, tell me that Quentin Richardson won’t be doing anything in this series besides elaborate high-fives on the bench, right? RIGHT?
CC - Knowing Mike Woodson, Q-Rich will start at the 2. Wait, I really hope Woody doesn’t read this site, because I may have just gave him an idea…
I would start Kidd alongside Felton in the back court, with Shumpert, Melo and Chandler. That lineup, however, has not been all that great for the Knicks this season. According to 82games.com, that lineup scores just .95 points per possession, which is one of the lowest for any unit of five the Knicks put together this season. However, we all know that J.R. Smith is going to enter the game after about four or five minutes, and if you replace Shumpert with him, you have one of the Knicks’ most effective lineups – Felton-Kidd-Smith-Anthony-Chandler scored 1.21 points per possession and allowed .97 points per possession. Knowing this, part of me says the Knicks should just start J.R., since he’s going to end up playing 40 minutes anyway, but it’d be irresponsible to do that since he’s been coming off the bench all season.
Unfortunately, we don’t really know the true health of Chandler, but I’m not too worried about having to go small against the Celtics. Let’s keep in mind that Garnett is not 100% either, and if he’s not on the court, the Celtics could very well go small themselves with Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox or even Jeff Green getting some minutes at center. The Knicks play small-ball better than almost anyone in the league, so I think that’s advantage Knicks. To answer your question, I don’t see Camby or Barron getting many significant minutes. I’d only see that happening in foul trouble situations. Even if Chandler isn’t healthy, the guy is tough as nails and will play as long as he can walk.
This point was brought up by my brother Rob (Follow him on Twitter for maniacal New York Rangers commentary!), but all the days off in between the early games thanks to this wacky schedule could probably benefit the Knicks, with their age and injuries, right?
JC - I certainly don’t think it can hurt, especially considering Prigioni, Martin and Chandler are all nursing injuries. It is bizarre how it is going to take 6 days to play the first 3 games of this series but the extended rest will be a needed benefit for this roster. The Knicks need Chandler and Martin as close to 100% as possible to foul everybody who comes near the basket exceptionally hard and then throw their hands up at the referee.
Speaking of the referees, the Knicks composure has been an issue all season. Boston will be happy to bait them into a physical series knowing how ripe Carmelo Anthony, JR Smith, Martin and Chandler are for technical fouls. Anthony needs to take the lead here. He cannot let the officials get him off his game and he cannot get himself T’d up because the team falls in line behind him. We almost hit 2,000 words here without discussing the most important thing related to the Knicks and this playoff run: It is all about ‘Melo…smells like a part two to me.
CHECK BACK TOMORROW FOR PART 2 OF THE TOK KNICKS/CELTICS PREVIEW