The New York Knicks (4-4), riding high after a 106-104 victory over the 76ers last night, return to the Garden tonight to host the vile Boston Celtics (5-3). Forgive me, old hatreds run deep.
After falling short in the Finals, the Celts were poised for an even more dominant season. Then they lost their coach to scandal (no worries, damaged goods can always find a home in Brooklyn), new acquisition Danilo Gallinari suffered a season-ending injury, and center Robert Williams required knee surgery.
Alas, they persevere. Boston scores 117 points per game (fourth in the league) and surrender 115 (20th). These fellas are not phenomenal of foot, playing at the league’s 22nd pace, but they’re one of the NBA’s best long-range shooting teams, second only to Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors. How do the Knicks compare? They’re 26th in the league, as of this morning. (Look up Cleveland yourself.)
The secret to New York’s victory in Philly last night? Flexibility. The coach started Quentin Grimes at shooting guard, and gave extensive minutes to a small-ball squad that included—at the same time!—Obi Toppin and Julius Randle. Tonight, against a Boston team with a 36-year-old, 6’9” center, it would be logical to repeat the winning formula, no?
With both teams playing the second of a back-to-back, fatigue might be a factor. Let’s find out, chums. Tip-off’s at 7:30 p.m.
The NBA’s 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Smart (6’3”, 220 lb.) has a defensive rating of 115 so far this season. He is averaging 10.4 points, six assists, and 3.6 rebounds. His three-point shooting—never great, except against the Knicks—seems to have fallen off a cliff, down to 22% on 5.9 attempts per game. His opponent this eve, Jalen Brunson posted 23 points and added six boards and seven dimes in Philadelphia last night.
Derrick White (6’4”, 190 lb.) has averaged 8.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in 27 minutes per game this season. He’s shooting 42% from deep on 3.7 attempts. A good defender will be required to keep him corralled, and Grimes looked rusty in his first ‘real’ game time of the season (discounting garbage minutes). How strong is the ayahuasca that Thibs is taking? Could he be loose enough to let Cam Reddish start? For as many times as we’ve buried Cam, he’s a resilient bugger. He played wonderfully in Philly, giving 11 points and solid defense. Start him, says I.
Jaylen Brown (6’6”, 223 lb.) has averaged 26 points, 6.9 rebounds, and three assists. He ranks 13th in the league with a 31.5% usage rating, just ahead of teammate Jayson Tatum (more about him below). He’ll be a handful for RJ Barrett tonight, who went 8-for-16 from the floor yesterday. Might have been his best game of the season.
By last check, Jayson Tatum (6’8”, 210 lb.) rated ninth in the league with 30.1 points per game. He’s averaging eight rebounds and 3.9 assists in 37.3 minutes per game (7th in the league). Yeah, but what’s his Player Efficiency Rating, you ask? 27.1, tied for seventh with Damian Lillard and behind only such notables as Nikola Jokić, Steph Curry, and Luka Dončić. The 24-year-old has averaged 20.3 points and 6.6 boards in 12 games versus Julius Randle, who looked much revived when paired with Obi last night.
Al Horford (6’9”, 240 lb.) has averaged 8.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists this season. His 16th season. He’s shooting 38% from deep on just almost five attempts per game. The third pick in the 2007 draft has averaged 11.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in 10 games against Mitchell Robinson in his career. Mitch left last night’s game with a sore knee; no news yet about his availability tonight.
Tatum and Brown are trouble enough. Watch out for forward Grant Williams, who plays about 26 minutes off the bench, sports an 83% eFG, and shoots 57% from deep on 3.5 attempts per game. That’s just the sort of shooting that could feast off the Knickerbockers’ soft perimeter defense. Still, the Knicks are feeling it after last night’s turnaround, and I’m excited to see what other tricks the front office will force out of Thibodeau’s sleeve. Look for a back-and-forth game through the second half, with the Knicks winning by a splinter in the end.
Madison Square Garden. NYC. Saturday. 7:30 p.m. B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E Knicks!