at TD Garden, 7 p.m. | TNT, WEEI (850 AM)
PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Star Power: This series features a host of future Hall of Famers and All-Stars, and in the playoffs, those are the players who typically determine how far a team advances. The Celtics' Big Four might have had their respective shares of up and downs over the final weeks of the season, but if Boston hopes to get through New York and move on to the second round, it will need Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett to play well. Likewise, the Knicks will be counting primarily on the production of Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Chauncey Billups.
Center By Committee: If the Celtics had their druthers, a healthy Shaquille O'Neal would start at center for Boston tonight, but due to his lingering Achilles heel and calf injuries, the Celtics will instead use the combined services of Jermaine O'Neal, Nenad Krstic, and Glen Davis in the middle (possibly Kevin Garnett and Troy Murphy at times as well). Both coach Doc Rivers and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge have said in the days leading up to the postseason that such an approach can work throughout the playoffs and Sunday we'll get a look at how that experiment unfolds. The Knicks are not very deep in the middle, with only Ronny Turiaf and Shelden Williams as their primary options. But they will, at times, employ a lineup that features Stoudemire at the center position as well.
Green Power: The integration of Jeff Green has taken longer than what might have been originally expected, but one of the Celtics' main goals over the last three days of practice was to establish a set role for Green in this series. As much as Boston will be relying on its starters, Green could serve as a sort of X-Factor not only in this series, but throughout the entire postseason. He'll spend time guarding Carmelo Anthony (this after being the Anthony dummy in the team's practices), and the Celtics are hoping he'll be that consistent spark of offense off the bench throughout the series.
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
They're about to find out which team was the winner.
On Feb. 22, the Carmelo Anthony soap opera ended when he and Chauncey Billups came to the Knicks from the Denver Nuggets, a trade that cost New York three regulars. Two days later, the Celtics obtained Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic from Oklahoma City and gave up starting center Kendrick Perkins, a stout defender and strong physical presence.
The transitions haven't been smooth for either team.
And now they face each other in Sunday night's opener of a best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series.
"It was risky for both of us," Boston coach Doc Rivers said Saturday. "Both teams, when they first made the trade, started winning right away and then started losing right after that. It happens all the time."
The Celtics were 41-15 at the time of the deal and 15-11 since then, finishing third in the East at 56-26. The Knicks were 28-26 before their trade and 14-14 after it, ending up at 42-40.
Boston did win its first five games with Green and Krstic and New York went 6-3 immediately after Anthony and Billups arrived.
"When you first make (the trade), everyone's just kind of playing," Rivers said. "Then, all of a sudden, the new system starts kicking in, their old system is still in and you completely lose the rhythm. I'd say both teams did that.
"But now, I think, we've had some time together. These three, four days (of practice) have been tremendous for us. I think we'll both be ready."
Read the full preview HERE.