Knicks vs. Celtics 12 PM – Madison Square Garden
Where to Watch: TNT
Where to Listen: ESPN 1050 AM
Four years ago, the Big Three formed and vaulted the Celtics to the top of the Eastern Conference while delivering an NBA title back to Beantown. The nucleus of the team remains the same but the ancillary pieces have changed over the years. The window is slightly ajar for Boston as the squad marches into Madison Square Garden on Sunday for the season opener. An injury to Paul Pierce’s right heel is catching all the headlines and the All-Star small forward is listed as doubtful for the contest on Sunday. The Celtics are not deep at the small forward position, considering Jeff Green’s absence for the entire season due to a heart condition. Glen “Big Baby” Davis was also shipped to Orlando for Brandon Bass in early December.
The Knicks will play host on Christmas day with a healthy and new-look squad in search of reversing last year’s sweep to the Celtics in the playoffs. Head coach Mike D’Antoni expects Mike Bibby and Jared Jeffries to be available on Sunday and reserve forward Bill Walker returned to practice on Friday afternoon. New York enjoyed an undefeated preseason with two victories over the Nets.
Last Time Out
The Knicks outscored New Jersey 23-18 and secured an 88-82 victory at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. Carmelo Anthony scored 21 points, Amar’e Stoudemire added 15, and Tyson Chandler snatched 12 boards and recorded two blocks in the win. Rajon Rondo led the Celtics to a Wednesday victory over the Raptors behind his team-high 17 points and six assists. Pierce did not suit up for the final preseason contest.
The Numbers Game
In the two preseason games, the Knicks defense only allowed an average of 82.5 points per game and limited the Nets to just 40.2 percent shooting from the floor on Wednesday night.
Match-up to Watch
Rajon Rondo vs. Knicks Backourt
As seen in last year’s playoff matchup against the Knicks, Rondo is the catalyst to Boston’s offensive and defensive schemes. Obviously, Pierce is their primary scoring option but Rondo will help his teammates receive open looks at the rim. He is a shifty and strong guard that searches for open creases in the defense to penetrate and kick out to shooters. Defensively, Rondo is a pest and will create turnovers by streaking in the passing lane and hounding defenders on the perimeter. Toney Douglas, Bibby, and even rookie Iman Shumpert will have to force Rondo into deep jumpers and more importantly, outside of the painted area.
What to Look For
Intensity will not be an issue for either of these teams on Sunday. Not only is this a rematch of last year’s first round playoff series, it signifies quite possibly the changing of the guard in the Atlantic Division. If Pierce is limited or does not play, expect a big performance out of Anthony, who has looked terrific in training camp and in the last preseason game against New Jersey. Boston prides itself on stopping the opposition’s star player but Anthony had no problem dropping 42 points in Game 2 and 32 points in Game 4 of the playoffs last season. Knicks assistant Herb Williams had the scout for the Celtics contest and provided this key to the game, “We just have to put constant ball pressure against them the whole time. I think if we can create ball pressure, everything will take care of itself. We are going to score points, we just have to slow their offense down a little bit.”