Tuesday, February 23, 2010
TD Garden, 7:30 p.m.
TV: CSN New England
RADIO: WEEI 850 AM
By Marc D’Amico
February 23, 2010
The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks are set to meet on the court at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the TD Garden, just five days after they exchanged five players in a trade that Boston hopes will jumpstart its bench for the remainder of the season.
Nate Robinson, the headline player involved in that deal, will make his Celtics debut tonight at home against his former team. He did not join Boston on the West Coast after the trade was completed Thursday evening because he was battling the flu.
The 5-foot-9 guard appeared in 30 games for the Knicks this season, scoring 13.2 PPG to go along with his 2.4 RPG and 3.7 APG. He’ll now be looked upon as the primary offensive sparkplug off the Celtics’ bench, a title Eddie House used to hold.
House, who was sent to New York along with J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker, has had mixed results in his two games as a Knickerbocker. He scored 24 points in his debut with the team, which also served as his reunion with run-and-gun coach Mike D’Antoni, but then shot only 4-of-16 from the floor for 10 points against the Bucks Monday night.
House will surely be aiming to light up the nets tonight in the building he built so many fond memories in during the past two-plus seasons. The C’s, however, will be hoping that Robinson is the fresh face who contributes largely to tonight’s scoring.
Boston might need that scoring more than ever tonight, as it sounds like Paul Pierce may not be available. He has played through a thumb injury since Thursday night in Los Angeles and at an appearance last night, stated that “getting it a few days off to rest” is something he’ll need to consider.
Doc Rivers had actually already hinted at that possibility over the weekend. When a coach and player are on the same page regarding time off due to an injury, it’s almost certain that it will happen.
If Pierce is out of the lineup, the start will go to either Tony Allen or Marquis Daniels. Allen has received seven starts in place of Pierce at the small forward position this season and averaged 9.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 3.1 APG in those contests. But all of those starts came before Daniels, who is more of a prototypical small forward, returned from injury.
Rivers usually likes to stick with what works — a la starting Allen, who has performed successfully as a starter — but he will need to think long and hard about putting Daniels out there with the first group tonight. With the recent acquisition of Tracy McGrady, New York is now one of the tallest and longest perimeter teams in the league. McGrady and Wilson Chandler, who are both 6-foot-8, hold down the shooting guard and small forward positions, and Daniels would match up better with both of them in terms of length.
Speaking of McGrady, he is the new face of the franchise in New York — at least temporarily. The end-goal of acquiring McGrady was for the Knicks to reach out to two maximum contract free agents this summer, but in the meantime he’ll be leaned on to be the team’s go-to scorer.
His first game was a home run, as he poured in 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting. But just as House’s did, McGrady’s production fell off in his second game, as he scored only 15 points on 5-of-14 shooting.
McGrady and House weren’t the only Knicks to struggle from the field last night, though. The team managed to score only 67 points against Milwaukee on 33.8 percent shooting from the floor. Much of that is due to the fact that D’Antoni has to new faces in his starting lineup, McGrady and Sergio Rodriguez, who was also acquired last week.
With the Knicks playing in the second night of a back-to-back and having issues with a new rotation, the C’s should be able to capitalize at both ends of the court. Boston’s defense has been stout of late, once again regaining the intimidation factor that most opponents have felt against them in the past. Tonight should be no different at that end of the court. Offensively, the Celts will be taking on a Knicks defense that gives up the sixth-most points in the league, so they should be able to break the century mark for only the second time in their past eight games.
Contain David Lee
Some say it’s D’Antoni’s system that made David Lee a first-time All-Star this season, but no matter how you look at it, this kid is putting up monster numbers, to the tune of 20.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG and 3.5 APG. He ranks fourth in the league in total rebounds (630), fourth in double-doubles (35) and seventh in field goals made (467).
Up until last night’s dud performance by the Knicks, Lee had notched at least 20 points and eight rebounds in seven straight games, six of which were double-doubles. He is relentless on the glass, has added the mid-range jumper to his repertoire and has become an elite free throw shooter for his position.
Shutting Lee down, especially in this system, is nearly impossible, so Kendrick Perkins’ job will be to simply contain Lee. Perk will need to limit Lee’s hustle rebounds and also take away passing lanes. Lee’s improved passing has helped him become somewhat of a point-forward in the Knicks’ offense at times, so if Perk can take away his passing abilities it will pay big dividends for Boston’s defense overall.
Lastly, Perk will have a clear size advantage offensively, so the C’s are sure to get him the ball in the post. He leads the league in field goal percentage, and that’s mostly due to his ability to get shots off within five feet of the bucket. He will need to bang with Lee on the block tonight and do his best to get off more shots like that, all while wearing the Knicks’ center out physically.
Attack the Knicks’ defense
New York has great length from point guard to power forward, but that’s about all those players offer defensively. Wilson Chandler is by far the best defender of the Knicks’ starters, and even he is not considered great at that end of the floor.
As a result, Boston will have the opportunity to attack the Knicks in many ways. Asserting players like Perkins, Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace on the block will certainly be a priority considering Boston’s size advantage on the frontline. But while success around the paint will be expected, attacking off the dribble and excellent movement away from the ball should be, too.
If the C’s work hard at the offensive end, they should get plenty of easy looks from all over the floor. Expect a big night from the C’s offensively, because the Knicks just don’t match up very well with them at that end of the court.
How will Robinson adjust?
As stated, this will be Robinson’s first game in Celtics green, against the only team for which he’s ever played an NBA game. He has never had to adjust to being traded, and he couldn’t be coming into a system that’s any farther from that of which he came.
D’Antoni’s offense is free-flowing, has barely any constraints and allows its guards and perimeter players to dominate the game and play at a pace that’s higher than nearly every other team’s in the league.
Here in Boston, it’s almost the exact opposite. Doc Rivers’ offense is structured, with well-crafted plays that are based on discipline and execution. Boston’s offense is also one of the slowest in the league, as the C’s take the fewest field goal attempts per game of any team in the NBA.
So Robinson will not only have to adjust to a new city, lifestyle and teammates, he’ll have to change the way he thinks and reacts on the floor. This will be his first game with the C’s, so expect him to be a bit rusty in the new situation, but he’s an intelligent player, so he should be able to handle it well.