There is no greater city rivalry than New York vs. Boston.
These two heated rivals meet tonight for the first time this season—but the shoe is on the other foot for the Celtics.
In recent years, they have been the elite team in this matchup, and when it came time for them to face the Knicks, the New York fans usually groaned.
This time, however, Boston fans will be happy just to win a game. While New York has been on fire this year, Boston has struggled mightily. Despite playing relatively solid man-to-man defense, the aging Celtics are the worst rebounding team in the league and have struggled to score points consistently.
They'll have an even harder time winning against a Knicks team that seems like it actually has something to play for, for the first time in over a decade. New York has ridden a hot start to some remarkably consistent play from star Carmelo Anthony and center Tyson Chandler, and the fans are jonesing for a championship.
A win over the rival Celtics would be one big step in that direction.
Time: Monday, January 7th, 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: MSG, CSN HD
Records: Boston Celtics (16-17) vs. New York Knicks (23-10)
Betting Line: Boston (+7), New York (-7)
Injuries: Fab Melo (concussion, out); Chris Wilcox (thumb, out); Raymond Felton (finger, out); Rasheed Wallace (foot, out); Iman Shumpert (knee, out)
Key Storyline: Can Celtics Channel Recent Success Against Knicks to Pull Off Upset?
The Celtics may be playing some bad basketball right now, but they cannot be ruled out against the Knicks. Over the past three seasons, Boston has gone 9-3 against New York, including a four-game sweep in the first round of the 2011 playoffs.
However, that was when the Knicks were the laughingstock of the NBA, either without an identity or playing the ill-fitting run-and-gun offense of Mike D'Antoni. More importantly, it was when the Celtics' core of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were not aging superstars.
The picture is far different now. Allen is currently the sixth man for the Miami Heat, while Pierce and Garnett are barely holding Boston together. Pierce can still score points, shoot threes and provide solid defense, but he is no spring chicken at age 35. The 36-year-old Garnett can still be a solid body in the paint, but his age is clearly showing, as he has lost some of his bite.
The new-look Knicks will be ready to take full advantage of this, from Tyson Chandler leaping over Garnett for an alley-oop to Carmelo Anthony fighting past Pierce's defense to sink a clutch shot. The team has gone 13-3 at Madison Square Garden this season, and will not break in the heat of a rivalry game.
This contest is New York's to lose, and a loss to an aging Celtics team may just be enough to give Boston some much-needed momentum.
Key Matchup: Tyson Chandler vs. Kevin Garnett
Both the Knicks and Celtics are defensive teams, and the production that they get out of their big bodies in the middle has been key to their respective success.
Thus, one can see why Tyson Chandler would be so important to the Knicks in their first game against Boston this season. His first season in New York was a tremendous success, as he was instrumental in returning the team to its usual defensive identity, and he also walked away with the Defensive Player of the Year trophy.
The man has not slowed down at all in his second season with the team. Chandler is currently averaging 12.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, and also leads the NBA with a field goal percentage of 69.5 percent.
The Knicks will need him to be at his best against Boston, who has the veteran Kevin Garnett at center. At age 36, Garnett has still managed to post decent numbers. On the year, he is averaging 14.7 points and seven rebounds.
Those numbers aren't bad by any means, especially for someone Garnett's age, but it doesn't take away from the fact that he is not as much of a force as he used to be. Garnett's low-post game is decent, but his natural tendency to utilize his jump shot has not deserted him. As good as he is on defense, he's never going to be as much of an offensive force under the basket against Chandler.
Just the same, Garnett must be in full defensive mode tonight if he is to stop the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Chandler has made an art out of using his size to control the game in the paint, and Garnett cannot let him run wild via layups or dunks.
The fact of the matter is that in order for the Celtics to even have a shot at a victory, Garnett needs to overcome his age to shut down Chandler, and that is not an easy task by any means. If he can indeed do it, however, then fans will have to start taking Boston a bit more seriously down the stretch.
X-Factor: Jason Kidd
To slow down the Celtics, the Knicks need two things: solid defense and clutch shooting.
Luckily, Jason Kidd is able to provide both of these.
Even at 39 years old, Kidd has had an extra bounce in his step since joining the Knicks this season. He is averaging 8.8 points per game, and has been excellent from long range. Kidd has made 43.5 percent of his three-pointers, and has also been great on defense to the tune of 1.9 steals per game.
The future Hall-of-Famer has been great filling in at point guard for an injured Raymond Felton, averaging 11.8 points and 5.6 assists over his past five games. He has also had a knack for coming through in the clutch all season long, and the Knicks will definitely need that aspect of his game tonight.
That isn't to say that the Knicks' hopes of victory tonight live and die with Kidd. The rest of the team is beyond talented, and to say they are sunk without quality production from a role player for just one night is silly.
Still, it is important for Kidd to have a good game tonight. Not only has he come through in key situations for the Knicks this season, but he has also been an excellent leader.
Thus, he needs to step up in tough situations tonight and be willing to take the hard shots. He doesn't even have to make them (though that would be an added bonus), but he just needs to be willing to put the team on his back in that manner.
As a result, Kidd will rally both his teammates and the fans, making a New York victory a bit easier to achieve.
The Celtics have won two games in a row, and winning a third against the rival Knicks could give them a great deal of momentum. Unfortunately, it's not going to happen on the road.
The Knicks have been too focused this season, and the way they have been playing is clear. They want a win over the Celtics, and they want it badly.
More importantly, let's not forget that the Knicks have already beaten the Miami Heat twice this season, and Miami is the team that eliminated Boston from the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. If Miami can't even handle New York, how can Boston expect to hold its own?
That said, despite respectable efforts from Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics will lose tonight. Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith will light up the scoreboard for the Knicks, and Tyson Chandler will own every battle in the paint.
Jason Kidd will also be a factor, dishing out pretty passes and sinking key three-pointers in the third quarter that will permanently swing the game in New York's favor.
The victory will also cement the Knicks' status as a new Eastern Conference powerhouse, whereas Boston will take another big step towards a rebuilding phase.
Final Score Prediction: New York Knicks 102, Boston Celtics 91
All statistics in this article are accurate as of January 6, 2013.