Saturday, April 20, 2013
Three questions: Knicks vs. Celtics
By ESPNNewYork.com staff
ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley and Jared Zwerling, along with ESPNBoston.com's Chris Forsberg, answered three burning questions regarding the Knicks-Celtics first-round series.
1. What are the biggest keys for each team in the series?
BEGLEY: The Knicks need to take and make many 3's; they've done this all season and this tactic, if employed consistently, can hurt the Celtics in a seven-game series. Boston needs to force Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith into contested midrange shots to have success.
ZWERLING: The Knicks' faster pace will be key -- pushing the ball off of defensive rebounds to spark their transition 3-point shooting. That speed in the open court is something the Celtics will be sorely missing without Rajon Rondo. The Knicks' offense is overloaded; the only way the Celtics can stay competitive in the series is if they get under Anthony's skin.
FORSBERG: For the Celtics, it's all about defense. Boston had the best 3-point defense in the league after Avery Bradley returned in January, but they didn't show it during the late-season matchup against New York. The Celtics have to make the Knicks work for their points from every spot on the floor, especially beyond the arc.
2. Which team will present a bigger mismatch: the Knicks with their smaller lineup (Anthony at the 4), or the Celtics with their bigger lineup (Paul Pierce at the 2)?
BEGLEY: Depending on how the Knicks line up, they could be at a bigger disadvantage with Pierce at shooting guard. Pierce is a tough cover for any of the Knicks' guards, even Iman Shumpert. The Knicks may be forced to adapt on defense and throw one of their front-line players at Pierce. This switch could leave them vulnerable.
ZWERLING: The Knicks have more versatility with their roster. If the smaller lineup struggles defensively, Mike Woodson could go to a unit featuring Anthony at small forward, with Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler at the 4 and 5 spots. While the Knicks would be down a 3-point specialist on offense, Martin and Chandler would be effective together as double-screeners for shooters, and they could also take turns running pick-and-rolls. Their presence would cause some havoc.
FORSBERG: The Celtics don't have many pure bigs beyond Kevin Garnett, so it'll be interesting to see if New York wanders outside of their comfort zone by utilizing multiple bigs on the court together. Boston likely prefers that the Knicks stay small, because the Celtics can negate some of their rebounding woes by playing bigger with Pierce and Jeff Green at the swing spots. If Boston has to lean on its big-man depth, untested playoff bodies like Chris Wilcox and Shavlik Randolph will have to play.
3. Which role player needs to have more of an impact for his team to win?
BEGLEY: I'd say Bradley. If he can be a pest and disrupt things in the Knicks' backcourt, particularly while Pablo Prigioni is nursing a sprained right ankle, it could change the face of the series. The Knicks will look to knock down 3's and keep turnovers to a minimum. If Bradley has his way, he can undo both plans.
ZWERLING: With Raymond Felton's move to starting point guard for Game 1, he needs to raise his game defensively to try to match what Prigioni brings. Felton will also have to continue his aggressiveness getting into the paint. That's really helped the Knicks create good 3-point looks. While he excels with catch-and-shoots, he sometimes struggles from midrange off the dribble, and the Celtics will force him to do that. Overall, he'll need to be the third double-digit scorer after Anthony and Smith.
FORSBERG: While most will label Green as Boston's X-Factor, Bradley is going to be supremely important for the Celtics, both with his on-ball defense and trying to run the first-unit offense. The Knicks are going to press, knowing Boston doesn't have a pure ball-handler, to try to disrupt their offense that struggles to put points on the scoreboard.