John Steinbeck was, by all accounts, a fantastic author. Here’s what he had to say about hate:
“Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.”
Today, I learned that this quote is unequivocally false. I know the Celtics. I’ve watched their games all season, and I’ve even enjoyed watching some of their guys play on occasion.
I still hate them.
Though older Knicks fans probably reserve the darkest depths of their basketball hatred for the Pacers and Heat, recent history combined with existing rivalries in other sports (there are no words to describe my vitriol for the Patriots and everything they stand for) make hating on Boston pretty close to mandatory for Knicks fans. And as far as I can tell, the hatred is mutual. Wouldn't have it any other way.
The schadenfreude from the Celtics dismal 3-4 start has surely been enjoyable, especially after an offseason where they were prematurely crowned the second best team in the East after acquiring Al Horford in free agency. With that start comes an incredible opportunity for the Knicks to incite full-on panic in Boston while simultaneously jumping ahead of Boston in playoff seeding. The Knickerbockers will also try to reach .500 for the first time since...wait for it...beating Boston, in Boston, after the referees association made it clear just how much they hate Carmelo Anthony by tripping him, which caused a sprained ankle.
The Celtics will be without Jae Crowder. He is arguably their best player; he is also, inarguably, their greatest Predator cosplayer. (Until they sign Chris Copeland, at least — ed.) Tough loss for them, as that leaves rookie Jaylen Brown as their best option for containing Carmelo. It's also possible they play without Al Horford, as he still has not progressed fully through the NBA concussion protocol. That's good for the Knicks.
Boston is currently last in the NBA in defensive rating after finishing 8th last season, which is a hilarious twist of fate from the team many considered to be the best defensive team in the league. They're also last in total rebound percentage, collecting only 45.3% of available rebounds. This trend peaked on Wednesday when Bradley Beal collected an offensive rebound while literally lying on the floor.
God, that's hilarious.
Anyway, Boston is still a talented team, unfortunately. Isaiah Thomas gets all the calls that Derrick Rose does not, Avery Bradley has gotten better again (I can't hate that guy, he's really good), and Marcus Smart embodies the annoying, pugnacious Boston attitude so perfectly that it makes me sick. I bet Mark Wahlberg has a picture of Smart hanging above his bed, pockmarked face, OBJ ripoff hair, and presumably bad breath included. They're going to pressure the ball hard; it's imperative the Knicks take care of the ball. Last year, Boston was one of the best in the league at forcing live ball turnovers and getting out in transition for easy buckets. That hasn't held up so far this year, but the potential is still there.
Their current roster is an absolute wasteland at the 4 and 5 spots, though. Amir Johnson is their best big man right now, and that's hilarious. Kelly Olynyk, who just returned from his own injury, is the human manifestation of low hanging fruit. I bet he doesn't wear deodorant. Jonas Jerebko is obviously a Bond villain, and Jordan Mickey is the overhyped guy that Celtics fans love for lighting up the D-League.
All things considered, this is a very winnable game. For once, the Knicks propensity for ill advised attempts at grabbing offensive rebounds will actually pay off. Joakim Noah is going to have a field day down low, and I fully expect his chest-pounds-to-field-goals-made ratio to explode overnight. Avery Bradley will presumably guard Derrick Rose; Isaiah Thomas is usually hidden from an offense's sight like he's your racist uncle. This means he'll be stuck on Courtney Lee, who will surely be excited to learn that he'll spend the night being marked by Verne Troyer's distant cousin.
The defensive formula is pretty simple, all things considered. Simple, but not easy. The Celtics offense is run almost entirely through Isaiah Thomas. They'll also mix in a bit of off ball action designed to generate space for Avery Bradley and their shooting big men. Look for the Knicks to do a lot of off-ball switching at the 2-4 spots in order to nullify some of the complicated offensive sets Brad Stevens loves to run; most of Boston's big men couldn't score on Wee Man on the low block, so mismatches likely won't be punished too hard. Jaylen Brown is a freak athlete, but he's extremely raw, and most of his scoring revolves around getting to the free throw line.
There's a lot of unknowns in this game, though. There's big-time rebound potential (pun completely intended) from the Celtics here — they've been embarrassed in their last two games, and they'll feed off the crowd if they get going early, especially on defense. It'll be extremely important to get out to a good start to ensure the Boston crowd spends the entire night deliberating the future of their "contender"; in their last two games, they've managed to go down by 20 in the first quarter.
If Al Horford doesn't play, and the Knicks defend on a string like they did in the second half of Wednesday's win while limiting live ball turnovers, this should be a win. Boston is not that deep with so many guys injured, so the bench shouldn't be much of an issue. Considering their last performance, it could even be an advantage. Limiting Thomas to under 10 free throws will be key, but who knows how reasonable that is; the dude gets calls for running into big men and falling down three or four times a game, and with home-court advantage, it'll probably be even worse.
Prediction: Joakim Noah collects 6+ offensive rebounds, KP finally breaks 30 points after he dunks on the ref who sprained Melo's ankle, and Willy Hernangomez drops a double-double off the bench. Marcus Smart flops his way into a neighboring solar system, never to be seen again.
Knicks win, 107-102.