Celtics host Knicks looking to shut down Linsanity

New York Knicks (18-18) at Boston Celtics (18-17)
Sunday, March 4
1:00 PM ET
Regular Season Game #36, Home Game #22
TD Garden
Referees:  Scott Foster, Eric Lewis, Olandis Poole
This is the third meeting between these two division rivals (or maybe not rivals, depending on who you listen to). They met for the first time for a wild game on Christmas Day.  In that game, the Knicks overcame an 8 point deficit in the 4th quarter to beat the Celtics 106-104. However, the Celtics didn't have Paul Pierce in that game and the Knicks had some help from the officials.  Sasha Pavlovic had the honor of guarding Carmelo Anthony, who scored 37 points, 17 of which came in the 4th quarter.

They met again in Boston on February 3 in another game that came down to the final possession.  In this game, it was the Celtics who fought back from 12 down in the 4th quarter behind 30 points from Paul Pierce to take a 91-89 win.

The first meeting, the Celtics were missing Pierce and Piertrus and the Knicks had not yet discovered Jeremy Lin.   The second meeting was a rusty Rondo's first game back from the injured wrist.  It was also Lin's first game for the Knicks and he went 0-3 with 1 assist and 1 turnover in 6 minutes.  Ray and Avery will both play today. 

The Knicks are well rested as they haven't played since Wednesday the 29th.   The Celtics last played on Friday but had an easy time against the Nets.   The Knicks are 12th in the league in scoring while the Celtics come in at 26th.  On the other hand, the Celtics are 6th in FG% at .457 while the Knicks are 21st at .434.   Both teams tend to turn the ball over too much.  The Knicks rank 2nd in the league with 16.7 TO per game while the Celtics come in 9th with 15.5 TO per game.

In the playoff picture, the Celtics have finally gotten to a game over .500 while the Knicks are right at .500.  The Celtics are 1/2 a game ahead of the Knicks and are the 7th seed while the Knicks have moved into 8th.  The positions would reverse should the Knicks come out a winner in this one.   The Celtics sit 2 1/2 games behind Atlanta for the 6th.  The Celtics need to try to get into the 6th spot to avoid playing the Heat or Bulls in the first round so they need to win every game possible.

While Paul Pierce insists that the Knicks and Celtics aren't a rivalry,  things certainly do get heated between these two teams when they play.   The Christmas Day game had 6 technical fouls called while the second game between them had 4 T's called and that's pretty much the norm when these two teams go at it.  Expect another heated and hard fought battle in this game as well. 

Probable Starting Matchups
Point Guard
Rajon Rondo  14.2 PPG,  4.9 RPG,  9.8 APG   1.7 SPG
Jeremy Lin   14.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG,  6.1 APG   1.5 SPG
For weeks now, you couldn't look at a sports page without seeing something about Jeremy Lin.  I'm sure that didn't escape Rajon Rondo's notice either.   Rondo always gets up for big matchups and right now, there are none bigger.  Look for Rondo to have a big game and to show that Grand Theft Rondo is bigger than Linsanity.    

Ray Allen  14.8 PPG,  3.0 RPG,  2.7 APG,  .486 3P%
Landry Fields  10.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG,  2.9 APG,  .262 3P%
Fields has a height advantage over Ray (2") but Ray has the experience advantage.  If Ray is once again out, the height advantage disappears.    Fields is a good defender but will be hard pressed to stay with Ray through all of the screens so hopefully Ray will be able to get his shot off as the Celtics need his scoring.

Paul Pierce  17.5 PPG,  4.9 RPG, 5.4 APG,
Carmelo Anthony  21.5 PPG,  5.8 RPG,  4.1 APG,
This is one of the marquee matchups in the league.  Both players are tough and both can take the ball to the hoop or hit from outside and both can find an open teammate if they don't have the shot.  Melo has a habit of swinging elbows and so Celtics need to be careful not to catch one in the head.  Pierce seemed to snap out of his slump in the last game and hopefully he has a big one in this game.

Brandon Bass   11.6 PPG,  6.1 RPG,  1.0 APG,  0.8 BPG,
Amar'e Stoudemire  17.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.3 APG,  0.8 BPG,
Stoudemire has a 3 inch height advantage over Bass.  Bass is stronger though and may be able to push Stoudemire out of his comfort zone on defense.  This could be a tough matchup for the Celtics.    

Kevin Garnett   15.1 PPG,  8.1 RPG,  2.6 APG,  1.1 BPG
Tyson Chandler 11.7 PPG,  9.7 RPG, 0.9 APG,  1.4 BPG
KG matches up much better with Chandler than JO did. Chandler isn't known for playing tough defense and so KG may have an easy time getting his shot off.  

Celtics Reserves
Mickael Pietrus
Chris Wilcox
E'Twaun Moore
JaJuan Johnson
Sasha Pavlovic
Marquis Daniels
Greg Stiemsma
Keyon Dooling
Avery Bradley

Jermaine O'Neal (wrist)  out

Knicks Reserves
Jared Jeffries
Steve Novak
Mike Bibby
Toney Douglas
Jerome Jordan
JR Smith
Baron Davis

Josh Harrellson (wrist) probable
Iman Shumpert (tendonitis)  questionable
Bill Walker (elbow)  out
Keys to the Game
Bench Play  -  The starting lineups for these two teams are fairly close as far as production.  The difference is going to be when the reserves come into the game.  The Celtics are missing a key sub since Brandon Bass is starting and they may be missing a second key sub if Ray can't go and Pietrus has to start again.  Also, Avery Bradley sprained his ankle in the Nets game and is questionable for this game.  The Celtics have the better bench but with 2 key subs possibly starting and a 3rd questionable for the game, the remaining reserves need to step up big time.

Defense -  The saying that defense wins championships is very true.    The Celtics ability to get stops will be a big key in winning this game.  It would be nice to see them come out from the start playing lock down defense and not allow the Knicks to get going.  The Celtics seem to be finding their defensive identity once again as they applied some full court pressure in the Nets game and they locked them down for much of the game.  They need to keep that as a priority in this game.  

Move the Ball - When the Celtics move the ball and make the extra pass and find the open man, they are a very tough team.  They notched 35 assists in the game against the Nets and they have to keep that mindset to move the ball and find the open man.   They also need to make smart passes because careless passes will result in fast break points for the Knicks.  They need to play unselfish but smart team ball from start to finish in this game.  

Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team.  They have to win the 50-50 balls.  They must be more aggressive in diving for loose balls, going for rebounds, and driving to the basket.  The more aggressive team usually gets the benefit of the calls and also usually wins the game.  We know the Knicks are going to be aggressive and the Celtics must be more so.

Rebound - The Celtics must make an effort to crash the boards and win the rebounding battle.   They can limit the Knicks second chance points as well as their fast breaks by beating them to the rebounds. Since the Knicks score more points but have a lower FG%, they need more possessions in order to win.  They can get them by grabbing rebounds, especially on the offensive end.    The Celtics need to gang rebound and have every player go to the boards when a shot goes up.  The team that wins the rebounding battle is usually the team that wants the win more and therefore is usually the team that wins the game.

The Rondo/Linsanity Effect
The Knicks have won almost every game since Jeremy Lin emerged as an instant sensation.    One notable loss was to the Nets when Deron Williams took it on himself to shut down Lin and completely out play him.  If Rondo can also shut down Lin and outplay him,  the Celtics will have a good chance of winning the game.