By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks actually match up fairly well with the Celtics on the floor. Let’s take a look:
Chauncey Billups vs. Rajon Rondo – Draw
I don’t get why everyone is terrified of Billups having to guard Rondo. Even if his foot speed has slowed down, Billups will be able to back off of Rondo due to his terrible jumper, and prevent his dribble penetration. Rondo is not a scorer but will penetrate and dish to his teammates for easy shots. The Knicks need to resist coming over to help on Rondo. He wants that. The bigger question is whether Billups can overcome Rondo’s length and defense. Rondo can disrupt Billups and confuse the Knicks offense with his ball pressure. It will also be important for Billups to keep Rondo off the offensive glass, which should be possible with his size and strength. It will be interesting to see if Toney Douglas’ defensive intensity can bother Rondo’s play-making ability when he comes in off the bench. Jared Jeffries will see time on Rondo as well.
Landry Fields vs. Ray Allen – Big Advantage Celtics
It will be difficult for Fields to chase Ray Allen all over the floor, but there’s no one better suited for the job than Fields. This is a huge advantage for the Celtics, and it could mean a big series for the league’s all-time three point leader. Fields should be able to use his size and strength down low to rebound well against Allen. If the Knicks can manage to control Allen, they will have a better chance of winning this series. Don’t be surprised to see Anthony Carter and even Toney Douglas used on Allen as well. They will be at a size disadvantage but they can chase Allen around screens. If Allen decides to post up, so be it.
Carmelo Anthony vs. Paul Pierce – Small advantage Knicks
If the Knicks don’t win this matchup significantly, they can’t win this series. As hot as Carmelo Anthony has been, Paul Pierce is almost perfectly suited physically to defend him. Pierce is smart, strong, physical, and has the respect of the officials. Anthony is the best one on one player in the NBA but he has a tall order averaging 27+ per game against Pierce. Pierce will make Anthony work on defense, and is almost as clutch at the end of games. This will be epic.
Amar’e Stoudemire vs. Kevin Garnett – Small advantage Knicks
Much like Pierce, Kevin Garnett is the perfect player to defend Stoudemire. He is longer than Stoudemire, just as strong, and maybe a half step slower. He will try to force Stoudemire into a jump shooter, and then contest late with his length. Stoudemire needs to find a way to get to the basket on Garnett and score over the taller defender. Defensively, Stoudemire will have to do something he hasn’t all year long, contest perimeter jumpers, Garnett’s strength.
Celtics Center vs. Ronny Turiaf – Advantage Celtics
It will be hard to figure out exactly what this matchup is going to be. It looks like Shaq will be back for the playoffs, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Jermaine O’Neal or Nenad Kristic could slide in if Shaq isn’t ready. I’m guessing that Shelden Williams will play as much as both O’Neals or if the Knicks are having trouble rebounding. Ronny Turiaf is a good matchup for Big Baby, and expect to see Jared Jeffries in the middle of the zone defense, and on Rajon Rondo.
The Bench – Advantage Celtics
My early thoughts that Mike D’Antoni would cut down his rotation to eight for the postseason have changed. He has already committed to using the three headed center. Toney Douglas and Shawne Williams will certainly get plenty of run as the first guard and forward off the bench. I also think Anthony Carter will get between five and ten minutes a game guarding Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. Don’t be shocked if Bill Walker finds his way into the game during the series as well. The reason D’Antoni will use so many players is because none of them are very good and he’ll search for a good mix until he finds one. The Celtics on the other hand, have the best two bench players in the series, Glen Big Baby Davis and Jeff Green. Delonte West’s ankle should be OK by Sunday, and we already touched on Boston’s three headed center position. The Celtics, quite simply, have much better players.
The Coach –Advantage Celtics
Doc Rivers has a ring and got his team to the finals last year. Mike D’Antoni, for all his strengths as an offensive coach has never gone to the finals. Rivers gets his team to play harder, more together and better defense more consistently.
Intangibles – Advantage Celtics
The Celtics play harder and have better synergy on offense. They’ve been playing together for a long time and have a toughness about them that the Knicks can’t match. Both teams have plenty of playoff experience, even if Chauncey Billups is the only Knick with a ring. Still, this Celtics team has been through a lot and you know when things go bad, they will stick together. We don’t know that about this Knicks group yet.
When the Knicks have the ball… they will have to keep the game at an uptempo pace. The Celtics play great halfcourt defense and the Knicks will struggle to find shots if the game slows down. A quick pace with quick ball movement is the Knicks best chance at getting good looks. The Celtics, on the other hand will try to slow the game down and punish the Knicks with physical play in the halfcourt. Last time the two teams played, the Celtics defense ate up Chauncey Billups on the high screen and roll in the 4th quarter. That can’t happen again if the Knicks want to win the series.
When the Celtics have the ball… the Knicks will use a lot of zone defense to try to limit Rondo’s dribble penetration, the high screen roll, and Ray Allen’s ability to run around screens. The Celtics are a terrible offensive rebounding team, making the zone less detrimental. The Knicks still play poor defense, but Mike D’Antoni hopes to see more effort and grit in the playoffs. When the Knicks play man to man, expect Kevin Garnett to get a lot of pick and pop jump shots, since Amar’e Stoudemire doesn’t extend his defense. Rajon Rondo will try to get into the paint to create for his teammates, where much of the Celtics offense starts.
The Bottom Line: The Celtics are too savvy a team to lose in the 1st round. If the Knicks want to win this series they need to play their A game offensively, and be decent on defense. The Knicks must get two wins and a draw out of Billups/Anthony/Stoudemire vs. Rondo/Pierce/Garnett. With the Knicks poor defense, they need to outscore the best defensive team in basketball. It’s asking way too much.
Celtics in six.
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