at Boston Celtics (49-19) at New York Knicks (35-34)
Monday, March 21
7:30 PM ET
Regular Season Game #69 – Road Game #34
TV: NBA-TV, CSNNE, MSG
Madison Square Garden
Referees: Monty McCutchen, Eric Lewis, Sean Wright
This is the 3rd of 4 meetings between these division rivals this season. The Celtics won the first two games but they were before both teams had an upheaval at the trade deadline. The Celtics have been struggling somewhat to regain their chemistry after the trades but the Knicks have struggled even more. The Knicks are just 7-8 since the trade and that has elicited complaints from Anthony about not getting enough touches and shots as well as complaints about the Knicks defense being too difficult for him to learn.
This game has playoff implications for both teams. The Celtics are once again tied with the Bulls for the top spot in the East. With the Bulls playing the Kings at home, the Celtics need a win in this game to keep pace. The Knicks are in the 7th spot and half a game behind Philly for the 6th seed.
The Celtics are 6-4 in their last 10 games and are coming off a big come back win against the Hornets. The Knicks are 4-6 in their last 10 games and have lost 2 in a row against Detroit and Milwaukee. The Knicks have also lost 5 of their last 6 games. The Celtics have had a day off while the Knicks are playing in the second of back to back games. The Knicks have had more success in back to back games than the Celtics and are 9-8 in the second game and 4-2 at home in an away-home set.
With both teams struggling in recent games, it will be a matter of which team wants this one more and can regroup and focus on playing their game to get the win. The Celtics need to get their defense in gear to stifle the Knicks potent offense and the Knicks need to ramp up their defense to overpower the Celtics. The Celtics showed signs of doing just that in the second half of their last game as they shut down the Hornets while coming back from a 15 point deficit to get the win. The Knicks struggled against both the Pistons and the Nuggets and haven't been able to find their groove as yet.
I'm sure the Knicks still remember their last loss to the Celtics at MSG. Paul Pierce hit a jumper with 0.4 seconds left to give the Celtics a lead and for a few moments it appeared that Amar'e Stoudemire's 3-pointer at the buzzer gave NY the win. But the officials ruled that the shot came just after the final buzzer as Boston won 118-116. A big game against a rival has a way of bringing out the best in players and teams. The team that wants it more and plays that way will come away with the win in this one.
Probable Starters Point Guard
Rajon Rondo vs Chauncey Billups
Ray Allen vs Landry Fields
Paul Pierce vs Carmelo Anthony
Kevin Garnett vs Amar'e Stoudamire
Nenad Krstic vs Jared Jeffries
Boston Bench Mob
Jermaine O'Neal (knee) out
Shaquille O'Neal (Achilles) out
Von Wafer (calf) out
Roger Mason Jr
Paul Pierce vs Carmelo Anthony
Pierce has called Melo his toughest matchup in the league. This will be Pierce's first look at Anthony as a Knick. Anthony has career averages of 24.1 points and 6.7 rebounds in 13 games against the Celtics. Paul Pierce is averaging 28.5 points and 12 rebounds against Melo. Since the trade the Knicks are 7-8 and Melo has complained about his lack of shots and the Knicks' confusing defensive schemes. On the other side, Pierce has been struggling in his last couple of games. In his last two games he is 3-19 from the field and 1-10 from beyond the arc. He is due for a big game and a matchup against Melo may be just what he needs to have one.
Kevin Garnett vs Amar'e Stoudemire
KG has been one of the few Celtics playing well consistently over their last stretch of games. Stoudemire is averaging 33 points on .590 shooting and nine rebounds over 39.1 minutes in two meetings with the Celtics this season. KG has 22 points and 11.5 rebounds in two games against New York. Amar'e is definitely going to challenge KG on both ends of the court and hopefully KG will be up to the task of keeping Amar'e from putting up big numbers on the offensive end and also getting his shot off against Stoudemire's defense.
Rajon Rondo vs Chauncey Billups
It is still true that as Rondo goes, so go the Celtics. Rondo showed some signs of breaking out of his slump in the last game. Hopefully re-injuring his finger won't set him back and he will continue to break out in this game. Billups has lost a step or two in recent years but he is still a danger to hit big shots and Rondo will need to play tough defense on him. Rondo should get the better of this matchup if he plays even close to his potential.
Keys to the Game
Defense - This will be the classic battle between offense vs defense. The Celtics must keep their defensive intensity throughout the entire game. They especially must guard the perimeter where the Knicks are a very good 3 point shooting team. But they also have to depend the paint where the Knicks are also very strong at driving and posting up.
Take it to the Hoop - The Celtics are best when they take the ball to the basket and either get the score or the foul or kick the ball out for an open shot. Lately they have been settling for a lot of outside shots and abandoning their inside game. Good things happen when they are aggressive and taking the ball inside.
Rebound- The Celtics have to crash the boards in order to limit the Knicks second chance points and fast break opportunities. The team that wins the rebounding battle will usually win the war because the effort they put out on the glass also affects the other areas of their game.
Move the Ball
When the Celtics move the ball, make the extra pass and find the open man, they are tough to beat. It's when players hold the ball and try to do too much on their own that the offense struggles.
McCutchen has been officiating games since 1993 and wears number 13. McCutchen missed the 1998-99 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. He is a former elementary and middle school teacher and is fondly remembered by his students as a really nice guy. In searching for information on him, I found a Cavs' blog that blamed their April 4 loss to the Celtics last season on the officiating of Monty McCutchen. That was the game where Mike Brown was ejected and the Cavs made a furious comeback but fell short. Other than that, there's not a lot of controversy about McCutchen. The Celtics are 2-0 this season and 7-3 in their last 10 games with McCutchen on the court. In the win over Indiana, the free throws were even but in the win over Miami, McCutchen and company gave the Heat 41 free throws to just 25 for the Celtics. The Knicks are 2-1 this season and 4-6 in their last 10 games with McCutchen. His home W/L record this season is 29-25.
This is Lewis' sixth season as an NBA official. He has worked for the NBA-D league during 3 seasons, 2 seasons in the USBL, 8 years in the NCAA, and officiated in Florida high school for 8 years before making it to the NBA. The Celtics are 6-4 in their last 10 and 2-2 so far this season with Lewis as a ref. The free throw totals were fairly close in all 4 games with opponents taking 95 free throws and the Celtics taking 91 over the 4 games. The Knicks are 4-0 this season and 6-4 in their last 10 games with Lewis. His home W/L record this season is 30-24.
Wright's first season in the league was 2005-06. Before he started his career in the NBA he spent 4 years in the officiating in the NBDL, and also officiating in college and high school level. Sean Wright is from New York City, which may or may not influence his calls in this game. The Celtics are 2-1 this season and 6-4 in their last 10 with Wright on the court. The loss this season was the game vs Chicago where the Bulls shot 35 free throws to 22 for the Celtics. At one point just after the half, Derrick Rose alone had almost doubled the Celtics free throws as a team. That performance elicited these comments from Bulls fans:
Book these refs for the playoffs please
Who hired these refs? Lets give them promotion after the game
Wow have never seen Rose draw so many fouls and get so many FTs.
Ron Garretson, Tommy Nunez, Sean Wright
Best refs of all time.
Best refs EVAR!!!
The Knicks are 3-0 this season and 3-7 in their last 10 games with Wright. His home W/L record is 36-19.
Focus and Effort
The Celtics have put out a few lackluster performances lately and they can't afford to come out with a lack of focus and effort in this game or the Knicks will take advantage of it. On the other side of it the Knicks have lost 2 in a row and will be focused to avoid a 3 game losing streak. The Celtics need to be sure they are just as focused on getting the win.