Middle Kingdom Previews: Boston Celtics

USA TODAY Sports

This is why I don't wear green on St. Patrick's Day.

I have a confession to make, P&T.

Last week, as the Knicks were struggling and the games were dropping off the division lead like leaves in an autumn wind storm, I peeked at the "BRK" and "BOS" and caught myself thinking, If one of those two teams is gonna catch the Knicks, I'd rather it be the Celtics.

The thought was revolting. I immediately tried to justify myself...to myself: Eh, I'm used to Celtics winning the Atlantic. It wouldn't even mean anything to them. But the Nets...my God, if they win, we'd never hear the end of it.

It was a moment of sickening realization: I had succumb to the Nets hype machine. We are in the midst of the first ever PR-generated rivalry in the history of sports, and even a cynical bastard such as myself - tucked away behind a computer halfway around the world, completely unplugged from ESPN and most of the mainstream sports culture - wasn't immune.

That is why I can't wait to see the hideous green uniforms and goblin faces of the Boston Celtics (seriously, have you ever noticed how every Celtic looks like a goblin?). The hatred I feel for this team just feels so much more organic, so pure.

With that in mind...

Tues., March 26 - @Boston Celtics

Chinese name: 凯尔特 (kai-er-te) The Chinese phonetic pronunciation of "Celtic"

It's hard to know what to expect from this game. The Celtics have hit a bit of a cold streak, losing four in a row and six of their last eight. You might consider that information relevant...if you've never seen a Knicks-Celtics game in your entire life.

The last time these teams played, the best player on the court was Rajon Rondo (23 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists). He won't play, but the Celtics have clearly been playing better without him anyway. The Knicks won their last game in Boston...but that was their first win there since 2006. Can the Knicks really sweep the Celtics at home? Is it even possible? Will we see the home-run-trotting assassin Pierce of old, or will we see this guy again:

Piercestruggleface

via cdn2.sbnation.com

This guy right here...I love this guy.

Despite Rondo's triple-double and the Melo/KG shenanigans, the first two games were won and lost by the bench. In both games Mike Woodson played his reserves at the usual times - late first/early second and late third/early fourth. In Game One, the Prigioni/Novak/Amar'e group was torched by the Celtics both times they took the floor. Check out the +/- numbers for the starters and bench in the game, a six-point Celtic victory.

Basic Box Score Stats
Starters MP +/-
Tyson Chandler 40:44 +9
Carmelo Anthony 36:51 0
Jason Kidd 33:17 +11
Ronnie Brewer 18:20 -1
Marcus Camby 9:53 0
Reserves MP +/-
J.R. Smith 38:34 -4
Amare Stoudemire 27:50 -15
Steve Novak 16:06 -5
Pablo Prigioni 14:47 -19
Chris Copeland 3:34 -4
James White 0:04 -2
Team Totals 240
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/24/2013.

Pablo in particular had problems handling the point against Avery Bradley and the Celtics' relentless ball pressure - four turnovers, no assists.

Flash forward to game two - Woodson used his reserves in much the same way, but this time the results changed completely:

Basic Box Score Stats
Starters MP +/-
Carmelo Anthony 40:59 +3
Tyson Chandler 39:34 0
Jason Kidd 32:12 -5
Iman Shumpert 27:01 -6
James White 13:21 -7
Reserves MP +/-
J.R. Smith 34:36 +9
Amare Stoudemire 20:28 +11
Pablo Prigioni 15:55 +8
Steve Novak 13:35 +10
Kurt Thomas 1:42 -8
Ronnie Brewer 0:37 0
Team Totals 240
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/24/2013.

The reserves helped the Knicks take the lead near the beginning of the second quarter and padded the lead in the third. The starters barely held that lead in the fourth. This time, Pablo solved the riddle of the Celtic D - four assists, one turnover. I believe it was George W. Bush who said it best: "There's an old saying in Argentina...I know it's in Texas, probably in Argentina...that says, fool Pablo once, shame on...shame on you. Fool Pablo...you can't get fooled again."

What does that mean for this game? We know Amar'e is out...but we've seen him play the Celtics enough to know that his absence could prove a mixed blessing. I have a sneaking suspicion this game might be decided by a couple of secondary scorers - J.R. Smith and Jeff Green. J.R. has been playing with more restraint recently, but God only knows which J.R. will show up against Boston. Jeff Green has played exceedingly well since Rondo went down - I've been scared to death of him ever since preseason - but he too is known to run hot-and-cold.

The Knicks have played some small lineups in recent days. Can the Knicks' small-ball lineup succeed against Boston if Tyson Chandler is still unable to go? I think it just might - Boston also loves to play small, and they are a terrible rebounding team (17th in DRB%, 30th in ORB%). We've all been amazed by Kenyon Martin's performance these past few games, and the dude certainly seems to possess the rugged (dickish?) attitude to thrive in a Knicks-Celtics donnybrook. All that said, I would love to have Tyson back for this game. When it comes to playing the Celtics, the more hard fouls to give, the better.

I couldn't be more excited for this game. The Knicks were decimated out West, but they seem to have righted the ship against some weaker competition. This is the first real test. If they can beat the Celtics in Boston, they can really send a message to the other (non-Heat) competitors in the East - the Knicks still lead the Atlantic, they're still in line for the 2 seed, and they are not going down easy.

New York Knicks Tickets

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