By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Celtics – TD Bank Garden
When: Thursday | 8:00 PM
Where to Watch: TNT
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York: The Knicks are in the middle of a difficult stretch against many of the teams they'll be battling the rest of the season for playoff positioning. They righted the ship after three tough losses to Boston, Indiana and Chicago but hopes of taking a three-game win streak to Boston were dashed by Joe Johnson and the Nets on Monday. Iman Shumpert and Amar'e Stoudemire remain limited by doctors' orders as they return from injuries, but both have shown improvement and could begin to assume bigger roles in the rotation soon.
Boston: The Celtics have been on a rollercoaster of late. After losing four in a row, they went on a six-game win streak -- including a win at the Garden -- before losing four more leading up to Thursday's rematch with the Knicks. Avery Bradley has returned from injury, which has predictably made a good defensive team even better, but Boston still struggles to score the ball efficiently -- something that has plagued them for the greater part of five years now. This season, they rank 27th out of 30 teams in points per 100 possessions.
Last Time Out
New York: The Knicks dropped this year's fourth and final regular season matchup with the Nets, 88-85, on Monday.
Boston: The Celtics were victimized by 2nd-year point guard Kyrie Irving, whose 40 points propelled Cleveland to a 95-90 win on Tuesday.
The Numbers Game
The Knicks are 2nd in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted; the Celtics are 2nd-to-last.
Match-up to Watch
Iman Shumpert vs. Avery Bradley
Two of the most exciting young players in the NBA, both of these guys have already formed reputations as defensive difference-makers. You don't often see contending teams count so heavily on players with so little experience, but such was the case when both returned from their respective injuries. Depending on how the minutes shake out, you could see these two matched up and that will inevitably be an exhibition in ball pressure. If Shumpert is asked to handle the ball, he'll face a stiff test in Bradley.
What to Look For
As we've covered, the Celtics make their money on the defensive end. Like the last time these two teams met, they will be physical with the Knicks and try to make them uncomfortable. Without Ray Allen and with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett unable to create their own shots like they used to, they rely on halfcourt sets and ball movement for scoring opportunities. Pierce dropped 23 on them two weeks ago, but if the Knicks can stay disciplined on D, they should be able to contain the struggling C's. Minutes will continue to be worth watching for the Knicks -- Stoudemire, in particular, has looked more active on offense in the last few games, especially with his ability to get to the free throw line.