Final, Celtics 102-96: For most of the season, the Celtics fans looked forward to Avery Bradley’s return with hope. They insist they are a different team with Bradley on the court, and they may be right. Three wins in a row, all against contenders for home-court advantage in the playoffs, backs up that talk.
As it turns out, the presence of Rondo turned out to be less crucial. With the point guard serving a one-game suspension for bumping a referee and failing to cooperate with the league’s discipline procedures, the Celtics dished out 26 assists and committed only 10 turnovers. Paul Pierce came through with 23 points to lead five Boston players in double figures, but the defensive work of Bradley, Courtney Lee, Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa spoke volumes. Bradley recorded 11 of his 13 points in the second half, while Kevin Garnett had nine points and seven rebounds after halftime.
J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony combined for 44 points, but Anthony was never a consistent factor in this game. He shot 3-for-15 from the field in the second half while his team clanked its way to 4-for-15 shooting from beyond the arc in the final 24 minutes.
Fourth quarter, :24.1, Celtics 102-96: Garnett goes to the line following the intentional foul by Chandler — who for some reason argued the call — and Anthony jaws away the entire time. Lee, who entered as a defensive replacement for Terry, had some choice words back.
Garnett hit both, naturally, and the Knicks will flood the floor with 3-point shooters in a last-ditch effort for a miraculous comeback.
Fourth quarter, :36.6, Celtics 100-96: Paul Anthony Pierce would like to win this basketball game, people.
Isolated on the wing against Chandler, Pierce dangled the ball on a string a few times, sort of lost it, then swished in a step-back jumper. As he retreated down the floor, he put his fingers to his lips for a kiss to the crowd.
Then Dick Bavetta called a questionable foul on Pierce, the captain’s fifth, to send Anthony to the line for two free throws, both of which he hit.
Fourth quarter, 1:09, Celtics 98-93: We never get tired of saying this: Garnett’s pick and roll defense in the second half has been amazing. Teamed with Bradley, Lee or even Terry, Garnett has helped shut down Chandler for the most part. Chandler, who we mentioned is a pick-and-roll finishing demon, had nine points in the first half but has been held to just four points — two of which came at the free throw line — in the second half.
Fourth quarter, 2:55, Celtics 94-91: This is what we keep warning people about with the Knicks. After shooting 10-for-17 from deep in the first half, the Knicks are 4-for-12 in the second half. For most other teams, that would be an acceptable percentage. But for a team that depends as heavily on the long ball as New York does, that percentage allows a team like the Celtics to slog back into the game.
The Celtics are playing with as much passion as they have all season. Pierce has been huge, not only hitting clutch shots but also serving as a calming influence when the defensive pressure ramps up or the shot clock is winding down.
You have to think there is an implied message in this directed at Rondo. The question is, does the suspended point guard get it?
Fourth quarter, 5:32, Celtics 90-86: Every game in New York matters. Even a quick one-game road trip on a Monday in January.
The Knicks showed they are going to defend their home court to the end, knotting up the score on a layup and a three by Kidd following turnovers by Pierce and Terry.
Terry, who was 0-for-6 from the field, finally dropped a floater for his first points of the game. He then dished to Pierce on the break for a dunk, and found Bradley open in the corner for a jumper to give Boston it’s current advantage.
Fourth quarter, 9:03, Celtics 82-78: It’s officially a Celtics-Knicks game. Garnett and Anthony picked up a technical apiece for yapping on their ways up the floor after a foul.
Fourth quarter, 9:48, Celtics 82-78: Boston fans are going to hate to hear this, but Anthony might have usurped Pierce’s title as the league’s most perfect scorer.
Kevin Durant has an argument, of course, and LeBron James is at the top of every list, but Anthony just has so many ways to score. He can post up, has a deadly midrange game and finishes with the best. But his quick-trigger long-range shooting has really blossomed in New York.
Anthony swished a three, his third of the game, with Pierce right in his face. Something about Anthony’s confidence shooting that ball or the way it went through the net must have worried Rivers, because he could not call for a timeout quickly enough.
Fourth quarter, 10:24, Celtics 82-74: Some crazy stuff is happening at Madison Square Garden. Stoudemire is dunking on people. Green is locking down Anthony defensively. The next thing we know, Jim Dolan might start showing some humility.
End of third quarter, Celtics 76-72: If you are a Celtics fan and you don’t love what you have seen from Sullinger this season, something is very wrong.
The wise-beyond-his-years rookie has 10 points after three quarters, and the ninth and 10th of those points demonstrated what a heads-up player he is. With the clocking winding down, Bradley took a contested three from the corner that had no real chance of going in. But the shot came early enough for Sullinger to track down the rebound after the ball hung on the rim for a moment. Sullinger flipped in the follow and the Celtics had an improbable four-point edge heading into the fourth.
Bear in mind, both Pierce and Anthony have four fouls.
Third quarter, 2:44, Knicks 68-67: For the first time in probably his entire time as a Celtic, Green looks legitimately ticked off. If the results continue to be like this, the Celtics may want Green to get angry more often.
Green held off some handsy defense from Anthony, finally drawing a foul that sent Anthony to the bench with personal foul No. 4. He then went to the hoop aggressively against Novak to earn a trip to the foul line.
All this came after Jeff hit a tough fadeaway jumper and demanded the ball in the post against the much smaller Priogioni. Green capitalized on the mismatch by passing over the top to a cutting Bradley for a short baseline jumper.
Third quarter, 5:44, Knicks 64-62: The Celtics deserve some kudos for keeping this game as close as they have. Despite the Knicks’ knockdown shooting, the Celtics are right there.
Their efforts to keep it close are taking a hit, though, due to some tight officiating on Pierce. Given his fourth foul, Pierce had to head to the bench, taking the Celtics’ one consistent scorer in this game off the floor.
Green must stay aggressive on offense. It has to start now.
Halftime, Knicks 56-53: The score is somewhat misleading. While the Celtics only trail by three points, they have had to scratch and claw for every basket and have hung tough by shooting 50 percent from the field. The Knicks, by contrast, have shot better from three (59 percent) than they have from two. They were 8-for-11 from deep in the second quarter.
That could mean that things will even out in the Celtics’ favor in the second half, or it could mean they are in for a long night. As many mistakes as Pierce appeared to make defensively, he kept the Celtics afloat with his scoring. The captain hit halftime with 15 points, all scored in the second quarter, on 6-for-8 shooting. (He was 0-for-1 in the first quarter.) Garnett has 10 points and Green has nine points and four rebounds off the bench.
Watching Chandler is a lot of fun, unless you are the person getting dunked on. He really does not look like he should be a good offensive player, but the way he creates space on the pick and roll — both for himself and the ballhandler — is masterful. He reached halftime with nine points, just one shy of Anthony’s point total, as well as eight rebounds. Smith leads all scorers with 14 points and Novak is a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc.
Second quarter, 3:26, Knicks 47-41: With 3-point shooters all over the floor, the Knicks have little trouble making their opponents look bad. The Celtics are not doing themselves any favors, though. Smith and Anthony are scoring at will one-on-one even when the Knicks do not swing the ball to the open man. However the Knicks want to score, they are able to score in this quarter.
Second quarter, 6:57, Knicks 36-31: It is tough to tell in real time, but it looks like Pierce is killing the Celtics on defense.
We already mentioned how a mix-up involving him led to a layup for Prigioni. Now he just sort of hangs out in the paint while Lee is on a swivel trying to decide whether to stick with Novak open in the corner or Smith open on the wing.
Again, Lee opted to stick with Smith, leaving Novak wide open for the easy three. Lee has clearly been instructed not to leave Smith under any circumstances. Still, it looks ugly when the rest of the Celtics have such lapses in judgment.
Second quarter, game tied 28-28: The Celtics may be working hard on defense, but they are not necessarily playing smart. When Pierce and Garnett both covered the same man, Lee was left on an island with both Prigioni and Smith at the top of the key. Lee left Prigioni, who had the ball, so Prigioni easily cruised to the hoop while Pierce and Garnett looked at each other in confusion.
End of the first quarter, Celtics 22-21: Courtney Lee and Leandro Barbosa did not get off to great starts shooting-wise, but as long as they keep working on defense like they are, Doc Rivers probably will not complain. Both reserve guards put aggressive pressure on the Knicks guards, leading to turnovers and run-outs with bodies flying everywhere.
Lee finally found the bottom of the net with a 3-pointer at the end of the quarter to give the Celtics the lead.
First quarter, 2:42, Knicks 18-15: With Rondo out, it is imperative that Green be aggressive. That is always the case, of course, but Green has to break out of his shell if the Celtics are to win without their floor general.
Green took the ball straight at Steve Novak, a limited defender, early on. Green’s aggressiveness generated a layup and a trip to the free throw line for two freebies.
First quarter, 6:18, Knicks 14-8: The Knicks start off really big up front, pairing natural centers Chandler and Camby at the four and five. The result is an imposing defensive front at the rim. But Garnett shook off that pressure early. He hit his first three shots and calmly drained two free throws before heading to the bench for his customary first-quarter rest.
Garnett’s shooting was needed because Pierce picked up two tough fouls early, then was assessed a technical for arguing the play with referee Violet Palmer.
Unsurprisingly, as soon as Garnett left, the Celtics’ interior defense suffered. Chandler, one of the best pick-and-roll finishers in the game, got free on the two-man game with J.R. Smith and finished with a roaring one-handed dunk over Brandon Bass.
6:33 p.m.: Jason Terry, who was just starting to settle back into his role as the sixth man, is back with the starting five as a result of Rondo’s suspension. Maybe Rondo just wanted to even things out, since the Knicks are also without their starting point guard. Raymond Felton is out with a broken right pinkie finger.
Just kidding. Felton and Rondo’s names do not belong together in one paragraph, or even one sentence. (Darn it! Did it again.)
Anyway, the projected starters appear below.
5:57 p.m.: There will indeed be a change to the Celtics’ starting lineup, but it won’t be the type that Boston fans were expecting.
Rajon Rondo will sit this one out as he serves a league-issued suspension for bumping a referee in the third quarter of Saturday’s win in Atlanta and his “failure to cooperate with a league investigation.” Courtney Lee, who we suggested earlier in the day was worth holding onto in case something unforeseen arises — or maybe extremely foreseen, in the case of a Rondo suspension — would appear to be the beneficiary of more playing time as a result.
Rondo typically plays well on the big stage, and few stages are bigger than Madison Square Garden. Anyway, this will be a missed opportunity for the point guard.
8 a.m. ET: The Celtics have only watched from afar this season as the Knicks surged back into relevance. More than three-quarters of the way through the Knicks’ surprisingly successful campaign, the Celtics have yet to face their old nemesis, until now.
With a two-game win streak to their credit, the Celtics head to Madison Square Garden on Monday for their first matchup with the Knicks this season. Rajon Rondo and company will finally get an up-close look at the new and improved Knicks defense, as well as a refocused Carmelo Anthony.
Assuming the Celtics’ roster does not look drastically different by the time tip-off rolls around — reports on Sunday night indicated a blockbuster deal could be in the works – the Knicks’ depth could present a challenge for the Celtics. More or less healthy for the time being, the Knicks go at least two-deep with a quality player at every position, while the Celtics are still searching for the right combinations off the bench.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Photo via Facebook/Rajon-Rondo