While the regular season isn’t officially over, Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks is a bit meaningless as all eyes are already turned to Saturday when the 2013 NBA Playoffs begin.
The Knicks as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference draw a good matchup in the No. 7 seed Boston Celtics, but even though the Knicks won the season series 3-1 against their division rivals, this series won’t be a cakewalk unless the Knicks take care of business.
There are still some concerns with facing the Celtics and if those concerns aren’t addressed, the Knicks could find themselves in for a much tougher first round series than they may originally be planning for.
With that being said, here’s a look at five concerns the Celtics present for the Knicks.
It’s all mental with the Knicks. The Celtics shouldn’t be able to stop scorers such as Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, but what the Celtics do is take teams out of their rhythm offensively. Then there is the mental aspect of what if the Knicks fall behind in the series? If that happens, all fingers will be pointed ‘Melo’s way. Then the questions will begin about another first round exit. The key here for the Knicks is to be mentally focused and execute their gameplan at both ends of the floor. Anthony especially has to be tough mentally.
2. Physical Toughness
This is still a Doc Rivers coached Boston Celtics team and they will not roll over. In addition, you can expect Kevin Garnett to bring his best effort. With KG on the floor, the Celtics will be a physically tough team at both ends of the floor. The Knicks will have to match the Celtics physicality to win the series.
3. Jeff Green
There’s always an X-factor when the Knicks play the Celtics and in this series it’s Green. It’s clear that Green will be in the Celtics’ starting lineup with Garnett and Paul Pierce and for the Celtics that’s good news. In 16 games as a starter, he’s averaging 20.8 points and 5.9 rebounds. His shooting percentages spike to 52 percent and 51 percent from the field and beyond the arc, respectively. In addition he is getting to the charity-stripe over five times per game. He will be a handful to stop.
In four games against the Knicks this season, Green is shooting 55.6 percent and is averaging 17.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest. This comes with 20 total trips to the free-throw line and a 5-of-13 mark from three-point land.
But Green could have the biggest impact on the series defensively, where he will likely draw the assignment on Anthony. He is a very good one-on-one defender, Per SynergySports; he allows .81 points per possession. That number dips to .72 with him guarding isolation plays. Overall, opponents are shooting 35.9 percent against him. The Knicks will run a lot of isolation and they have to have success as Green is one guy that can take them out of their comfort zone.
4. Paul Pierce
Pierce will also draw some of the assignment on ‘Melo and that’s probably good news for the Knicks, but the Knicks have to be careful in not allowing Pierce to get comfortable offensively. He may not be the player that he once was, but Pierce is still a guy who averaged 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game on the season. He averaged over 21 points per game against the Knicks this season and is a guy who still has some big shots left in him.
5. Defending the point guard
The Knicks generally struggled against the Celtics because they had difficulty containing Rajon Rondo’s playmaking skills. With that being said, Avery Bradley should not have similar success. The job falls on Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni to make sure that Bradley is not a big factor offensively this series. On the season, opposing point guards have torched the Knicks as they have allowed 21.7 points per game (third worst in the NBA), while allowing them to shoot 45.4 percent (fourth worst in NBA) from the floor. If Bradley and the other Celtics guards, which include Jordan Crawford, Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Terrence Williams, have a big impact on this series, the Knicks could end up having their hands full.
Follow Matt Shetler on Twitter for news, reaction and analysis from around the NBA.