Sunday will mark the 30th time the Boston Celtics have suited up for a Christmas Day game as they look to grab a road win against the New York Knicks. The last time the C’s played on Xmas was back in 2012 against the Brooklyn Nets. In the seven previous yuletide tilts between the Celtics and Knicks, Boston has posted a 4-3 record, and this one could shake out to be one of the most exciting contests of the day.
With a 12:00 tip-off, make sure you open your presents early, pour yourself a well-deserved glass of eggnog, and settle in for this divisional match up.
How the Celtics can win
Unsurprisingly, I think Boston’s greatest path to a merry Christmas lies in the backcourt. In Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics will have a weapon to take advantage of Derrick Rose’s unspectacular defense. IT has already emerged as one of the season’s most potent offensive players, and in the fourth quarter in particular he’s been outstanding.
Heading into Friday’s game against the Thunder, Isaiah was posting a league-best 42.5 PER in the 4th quarter and overtime. He’s proven himself a worthy closer, and has thus far been able to finish games from the stripe, beyond the arc, or at the rim. Derrick Rose will need to play at his best to contain IT.
Best PER in 4th Quarter/OT This Season
Isaiah Thomas 42.5
Russell Westbrook 40.4
DeMar DeRozan 32.9
LeBron James 32.9 pic.twitter.com/Uqmc2BWucz
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 22, 2016
For my money, Avery Bradley is the Celtics next best option for securing a win Sunday afternoon. They will, of course, need Al Horford to keep Kristaps Porzingis under wraps and the rest of the club to contribute, but if Bradley plays the way he has been throughout this young season, the Knicks could be in for a long game. His knack for coming up with big defensive plays and snagging clutch rebounds is truly impressive and gives the team a serious edge. Likewise, he’s been able to sustain career shooting marks thus far, including a smooth 41.8% from deep. As Derrick Rose tries to contain Thomas, Courtney Lee will have to do what he can to keep up with Bradley.
I don’t want to belittle the contributions the rest of the Celtics players will need to make to pull out a Christmas win. Because as we’ll discuss, it will be on the rest of the C’s to stop the Knicks from prevailing. But should Boston end up in the driver’s seat of Sunday’s contest, I believe it will be driven by Thomas and Bradley.
How the Knicks can win
The 2016-17 Knicks are a hodgepodge of rising and declining talent, and I think there’s reason to believe they have a puncher’s chance on any given night. New York has already grabbed wins against good teams such as the Grizzlies, Bulls, and Hawks. That said, however, they’ve also come up short against the Warriors, twice lost to the Cavs, and posted a 115-87 loss to the Celtics in Boston in early November.
Under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden and on a national TV Christmas Day audience, however, the Celtics will need to focus their efforts on stopping Carmelo Anthony. An elite scorer through and through, Melo reminds me of the Rondo of old. He can be a little listless or disinterested, but give him a chance to put on a show and he’ll oblige accordingly. Back in 2011, he dropped 37 big points on the Celtics on Christmas Day at MSG. Rondo, for his part, finished with 31 points, 13 assists, and five steals in the loss. It’s on Crowder, Smart, or anyone else guarding Anthony early on to ensure that he doesn’t find a rythym and get goin
The bench will also factor into Sunday’s game heavily. Early on this season Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek quickly opted to stagger his stars’ minutes. That means that between Rose, Anthony, and Porzingis, moments for the Celtics to catch their breath will be few and far between. Boston’s offense, meanwhile, has been a little stagnant when both Thomas and Horford are off the floor, even with Bradley’s breakout play. If Hornacek is successful in partitioning his minutes, there will likely be moments where the Knicks control the tempo and mood of the game. It will be on Marcus Smart and others to ensure that the Celtics bench holds its own in the absence of star-power.
Beyond Sunday’s game, there are a few aspects of Celtics Christmas that are worth checking out. Although the team has a winning record against the Knicks, Boston is just 12-17 on Christmas, going back to a 1948 loss to the Philadelphia Warriors. In fact, during a 12 year stretch of Xmas games between 1948-60, the C’s went just 4-8.
Although Boston has been featured in so many Christmas Day showcases, 1964 is the lone home games for the Celtics. According to CBS Boston, Red Auberbach specifically didn’t want to host any contests because he didn’t want his staff to work during the holiday. The Celtics s still turned in a few memorable Christmas Day showings throughout the sixties. In 1961, Tommy Heinsohn posted 45 points in a 127-122 win over the Syracuse Nationals. A few years later on Christmas 1967, the C’s beat the knicks 134-124 behind 27 points from Sam Jones.
Fortunately, the holiday season is about much more than simply basketball, and this Celtics team used a recent trip to Boston’s Children’s Hospital to typify that sentiment. Here’s what Avery Bradley said of the trip:
“It’s really important for us to be part of the Boston community. It’s all about giving back to the children and spending time with them. There is no better opportunity than coming to the Children’s Hospital and spending the day with them,” Bradley said. “I love coming here; this is like my second home. I know the staff here and for us to be a part of this, I can speak for the entire team and say we look forward to this more than the kids. I’m happy that we’re here and able to just spend time, laugh and get ready for Christmas time. That’s what it’s all about.
And for an added bonus, here’s rookie Jaylen Brown getting in on the action. Cheers to a happy and healthy Christmas Day and Holiday season!
— Joe Giza (@JoeGiza) December 2, 2016