By Ryan Schneider
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At one point during the fourth quarter on Sunday against the Denver Nuggets I raised my speakers to full volume, put my hands behind my head, closed my eyes, and drank in one of the most beautiful sounds on the planet. 19,763 passionate Knicks fans, chanting “defense-defense” one pivotal possession after another. The Garden will surely have an even more intensified feeling tonight as the Knicks welcome the Atlantic Division leading Boston Celtics to town.
The Knicks have a lot to prove over the next couple of days. Tonight it’s Boston and Friday it’s the Heat. And you know that basketball “experts” all over the country are just looking to slam the Knicks on their first stumble against a solid opponent. It is safe to say that Knick fans will learn far more about the potential of this team tonight and Friday than they have in wins over the Wizards, Raptors and T-Wolves.
What you have tonight is a testosterone riddled, youth-filled, run-and-gun New York Knicks team, matched up against a championship caliber, veteran-laden, defensive-minded Celtics squad. Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense scores 108.5 points per game, while Doc Rivers’ lock-down mentality has teams struggling to score in the 90’s. Talk about runnin’ and gunnin’– the Knicks have shot 617 three-pointers to the Celtics’ 303. That’s a 314 shot discrepancy! Despite the low frequency of three’s, the Celtics are the seventh best team in the league at shooting the long-ball (thanks largely in part to Ray Allen).
Ok…good, great we got some numbers. We see the statistical differences between the two squads…now let’s break down the match-up and talk about what the Knicks need do to pull out a win tonight.
Key Match-up of the game:
Raymond Felton vs. Rajon Rondo:
In order for the Knicks to be successful tonight, Felton needs to be able to limit Rondo’s play-making opportunities. Rondo is best when he is able to slice through the lane and set-up Ray Allen on the perimeter, or KG for his money 15-foot jumper. Rondo doesn’t shoot the ball great, and we all know that, but sometimes the worst thing you can do is give him 5-6 feet of space to work with. It gives him the freedom to operate without pressure, therefore setting up his teammates with wide-open looks. Felton has shown at points this year, that he can be a lockdown defender. It won’t be whether he holds Rondo to less than 10 points, but if he can limit Rondo to less than double-digit dimes.
On the flip side, Felton has been terrific this year, but…the one knock to this point would be the 3.6 turnovers a game. If there is one thing Rajon Rondo feasts on, it’s steals. He’s like a pickpocket on the subway, and can rip the ball from anyone at any given time. Raymond’s ability to take care of the ball tonight, will limit Rondo’s opportunities to break away for easy buckets.
A Defensive must:
Become real close with Sugar Ray:
Ray Allen is the best shooter in the league…there is no arguing that point. He is also the best player in the league at running his man off screens. Allen is constantly moving, constantly active, and is a constant headache for his defenders. The key to successfully guarding Allen, is the lock and trail technique. Basically finding a way to remain in constant contact throughout his effort to run off a screen. Allen is best when he comes off any sort of screen with six inches of daylight. Give him that much room, and his quick release gives any shot a 43 percent chance of finding the bottom of the cup. So, if it was my decision I would put Fields on Allen to start, and throughout the game throw the quicker and more defensively apt Toney Douglas at him. If the Knicks can limit Allen’s open opportunities they take a pivotal aspect out of the Celtics game. While they may not shoot a lot of threes, the ones they do take and make are oftentimes daggers.
Attack, Attack, Attack…
Coming into tonight you know that the Celtics are going to want to grind it out. Walk it up the floor, run their sets, run 20 seconds off the clock. So the Knicks need to disrupt that. D’Antoni’s team is at their best when they shoot in the first ten seconds of the shot clock. When Felton attacks off a quick ball screen, opposing defenses can’t guard all the space on the floor. You have a sniper in Danilo Gallinari, just waiting for an open look, Fields back-cutting, and Chandler lifting from the opposite wing for an oftentimes uncontested three. Most-dangerously, Amare is the guy setting the ball screen. And as the whole league has come to learn, Amare has been phenomenal at making plays with the smallest of space. The Knicks are at their worst when they get into the last 8 seconds of the shot clock. I believe it’s why they oftentimes struggle to score in the fourth quarter. As teams gear it up defensively, the Knicks are uncomfortable running set plays.
Closing it out…
The Knicks are in a prime opportunity to solidify themselves as one of the top 10 teams in the league. Amare and his squad will be challenged mightily tonight. Remember the Celtics took the Lakers down to the last two minutes in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Of course the biggest key of all, is will STAT continue to dominate? He has been the Knicks’ Mariano. When the blue and orange are stuck in the mud Amare pulls up, comes out of nowhere and gives them a lift. He has already won over the Garden faithful with his inspired play…and now has the opportunity to start creating a winning legacy. My opinion has always been if you want to be the best go out and beat the best. The Knicks have beaten the worst so far, now its time to up the ante.
- Huge Test For Knicks With Celtics, Heat Headed To MSG (newyork.cbslocal.com)
- Highlightin’ Hoops: Knicks’ Stoudemire… MVP? (newyork.cbslocal.com)