Three Subtle Plays That Helped the Knicks Beat the Celtics

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Three Subtle Plays That Helped the Knicks Beat the Celtics
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The New York Knicks beat the Boston Celtics on Thursday night, snapping a 13-game road losing streak in Boston, their last win having come with Eddy Curry, Quentin Richardson and Steve Francis playing prominent roles. 

While the Knicks undoubtedly wouldn’t have won the game without Carmelo Anthony’s 28 points or Amar’e Stoudemire’s 15 points and nine rebounds, they were also aided by some more subtle contributions from Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith that helped seal the win. 

Play No. 1

With 1:53 remaining in the game, the Knicks hold an 86-84 lead. The Celtics inbound the ball to Avery Bradley in the backcourt, and Bradley makes a quick pass to Kevin Garnett at the left elbow extended. Bradley then clears out to the corner as Garnett passes the ball to Jeff Green at the top of the key. Green quickly swings it around to Rajon Rondo on the right wing as Garnett comes across the court. 

All this initial movement sets up a side pick-and-roll between Rondo and Garnett, which gets kick-started with 13 seconds remaining on the shot clock. 

Undeterred, Rondo comes back in the other direction off a second screen from Garnett. Kidd again fights over the top and doesn’t let Rondo turn the corner.

With seven seconds left on the shot clock, Garnett sets a third screen on Kidd, and this time Rondo is able to turn the corner and get in the lane. Kidd trails Rondo on his hip while Chandler slides over to protect the rim. 

Rondo probably has a shot in the lane here, but he instead wheels around and passes it out to Garnett for a jumper. Chandler does a great job of stepping out on Garnett with his hand in the air, forcing a miss. 

Play No. 2

On the ensuing possession, the Knicks set up a wing isolation for Carmelo Anthony with Chandler and Stoudemire under the basket on the weak side, Kidd at the top of the key and Smith at the opposite elbow extended. 

Carmelo faces up Jeff Green, and just as Carmelo puts the ball on the ground, Rondo comes over to double. This is how most teams have played Carmelo this season. They want to force him to give the ball up. If they’re going to get beat, they want it to be one of the other Knicks on the floor that beats them. 

In years past (and even earlier in this game), Melo would often try to force his way through the double team to put up a shot, but this year, and on this play, Carmelo makes the right read and kicks it out to a waiting Jason Kidd at the top of the key. 

What happens next should look familiar to both Knicks fans and Knicks opponents. Kidd catches the ball and quickly redirects it to Smith on the opposite side of the court as Smith’s man scrambles over to make sure Kidd doesn’t get an open three himself, and Smith makes the Celtics pay.

Kidd has excelled when asked to play this kind of off-ball quarterback role this season, especially when playing off Anthony in the post. This type of decisive, rapid-fire ball movement is how the Knicks have maintained the league’s third-most efficient offense this season, per NBA.com.

Play No. 3 

With 13.1 seconds left in the game and the Knicks leading 89-86, the Celtics have the ball for a sideline inbounds. Boston coach Doc Rivers is well known as one of the best late-game strategists in the league, always finding creative ways to get the best look. 

Here, the Celtics go back to a play they’ve used multiple times in the past, most often for Ray Allen. They line up with Rondo as the trigger man, Green in the corner, Jason Terry and Paul Pierce just below the elbow and Garnett at the free-throw line. 

Green runs a route that initially brings him toward the ball, then off a Garnett screen toward the hoop for a possible lob. The Knicks cover this option well. 

The next option involves Terry coming off a staggered double-screen from Pierce and Garnett, floating toward the opposite side of the court. This is the Ray Allen route. The idea is to catch Terry’s man on Garnett’s screen and lob the ball over the top of the defense to Terry, where there won’t be as many help defenders to challenge the shot. 

Despite one of the more illegal screens Kevin Garnett has set in his career—and that’s saying something—this option doesn’t materialize because Chandler realizes that Garnett has (literally) grabbed a hold of Iman Shumpert, and switches off Garnett and onto Terry.

This forces the Celtics to pursue their third option, inbounding the ball to Garnett, who quickly gives it back to Rondo to create something out of nothing. Rondo dribbles across the court and swings it back to Pierce, who tries to one-hand the catch, but stumbles due to pressure applied by Smith and turns it over, sealing the win for the Knicks. 

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