For the first time since the Boston Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett in 2007, they enter a first-round postseason series as a heavy underdog. However, the Celtics still have a decent chance at winning this series against the New York Knicks. The Celtics own their lowest seed in almost a decade, but the veteran-led team will not be scared when stepping onto the Madison Square Garden hardwood as the 2013 NBA playoffs begin.
If the Celtics succeed against the Knicks, it will be mostly because of their aging stars. Doc Rivers had played both Garnett and Paul Pierce each of the first 54 games this season, but then found different ways to rest his prized possessions. Although a few minor injuries cropped up for Garnett and Pierce, Rivers was extremely cautious as he had them sit out a combined 17 games over the last couple of months. Therefore, the Knicks were able to take the season series from the Celtics, as Garnett did not play in two games against them.
There is a reason that the Celtics wanted Garnett and Pierce to get as much of their rest as possible during the regular season. Both statistically and in reality, Garnett is the team’s most important defensive player and Pierce is the Celtics’ most important offensive player. When Garnett is on the bench, Boston is nine points worse per 100 defensive possessions compared to when he plays. In addition, the Celtics are more than five points worse per 100 offensive possessions when Pierce is sitting.
While Doc has been able to save up the energy of his hobbled veterans, Mike Woodson struggled to keep his centers healthy. Knicks fans must not have been happy to see Tyson Chandler miss the last six games of the season as well as 16 of the team’s final 20 contests. Kenyon Martin, who is no spring chicken, will also need to find his rhythm after playing just 18 minutes in New York’s last eight games of 2012-13.
With both of the Knicks’ most effective big men continuing to nurse injuries, they will continue struggle to defend shots close to the hoop. During 2012-13, they have allowed opponents to shoot a whopping 62 percent from 5 feet and closer. That mark ranks as the fifth-worst in the league. The Celtics, who were among the fewest in attempts that close to the hoop this season, will have to exploit that weak spot in New York’s defense.
The Knicks have been able to overcome their recent injury trouble by shooting very well from the field. Carmelo Anthony became just the second winner of the scoring title in franchise history as he made a career-best 2.3 shots from 3-point distance per game this season. He was a part of the Knicks’ 3-point shooting barrage in 2012-13. Anthony, J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton as well as others helped New York set the NBA’s record for most single-season 3-pointers made and attempted.
The Celtics though have the league’s best defense against the 3-pointer since January 2, the day that Avery Bradley returned from multiple offseason shoulder surgeries to play his first game of 2012-13. Boston has held teams to worse than 33 percent shooting from deep in that span. The Celtics coaching staff will have to make sure the team spreads its defense to cover all the Knicks shooters as New York is the only team to make 13 or more 3-pointers against Boston this season. The Knicks have impressively accomplished that feat twice. It is vital for the Celtics to protect the 3-point line against New York because the Knicks were 37-8 during the regular season when making 11 or more 3-pointers, but were 17-20 when they did not.
The Celtics have held Anthony to just 35 percent shooting in four games this season, his worst against any Eastern Conference opponent. If Jeff Green and the other Boston defenders can make one of the league’s best scorers have some inefficient games this series, it bodes very well for the Celtics’ chances.
The Knicks have proven that they were a better overall team this season, but they may not be ready for the Celtics. Keep this in mind: New York has not won a playoff series since 2000 while Boston has won at least one series each of the previous five postseasons. The Celtics will hope to continue their postseason success on Saturday at 3:00 pm on ABC.
For more Celtics coverage and pertinent statistics, follow Celtics Hub and Stats Adam Lowenstein on Twitter: @CelticsHub and @StatsAdam