The New York Knicks are coming off a dominant win over the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday evening, thanks to the return of Julius Randle. However, they have back-to-back games against the Boston Celtics on Thursday and Saturday, presenting two formidable challenges against a sub .500 team that has the potential to blow up offensively at any time.
While the Celtics rank just 16th in points per game, they have two of the league’s most exciting scorers, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Both are capable of taking over a game at any point, so New York will have to find ways to stifle their contributions.
Three keys for the Knicks to beat a middling Celtics team:
1.) Limit Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum
Limiting Brown and Tatum is easier said than done, but as long as neither have 30+ point games, the Knicks can stay in the battle. Brown has been on fire his past five games, scoring a low of 24 and 50 against the Orlando Magic in overtime this past Sunday. Brown is connecting on 36.6% of his three-point attempts, averaging 24.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game on the season.
On the other hand, Tatum scored 25 points against Milwaukee on December 25 before missing several games due to Covid and returning against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night, recording 19 points in the loss.
Tatum is shooting 32.5% from three-point range, picking up 8.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and logging 25.4 points per game. The pair of them are extremely dangerous on any given night, so the Knicks will need to pay extra special attention to hold them to a minimum, otherwise competing offensively will be a challenge. The Knicks only rank 27 points per game with 104.7, so they will need every bit of Julius Randle and the bench.
2.) Dominant rebounding from the Knicks
With Randle back in the lineup, the Knicks have their strong interior presence to help provide rebounding. Randle posted 16 rebounds against Indiana, all of them being defensive. The Knicks are the 15th ranked rebounding team with 45.2 per game but haven’t had center Nerlens Noel, for quite some time. Boston ranks 8th, averaging 46.
Boston exerts solid effort to follow up shots, ranking 6th in offensive rebounds, which is something that New York has lacked at times this season. With Randle and Mitchell Robinson in the lineup, they will need to be showcasing 100% effort to control the boards and give her team additional opportunities.
3.) Win the 3-PT battle
Boston isn’t an elite three-point shooting team, ranking 24th in the league at 33.3%. They rely heavily on their interior scores and mid-range opportunities, while the Knicks heave up deep shots no matter the percentage of times.
Tom Thibodeau’s group ranks 13th at 35.3%, attempting 37.1 per game compared to 36.3 from the Celtics.
In the win over Indiana, the Knicks shot just 21.4% from three-point range. They’re highly inconsistent in the category, but they are a difficult team to overcome when they are on. The Knicks can start off strong in the two-game series with a hot shooting performance, but New York has struggled to play at home at MSG, so they will have to overcome those jitters early on.