Comparing Boston Celtics to NY Knicks at Every Position: Who Has the Edge?
Recently, the series has been packed with All-Star names like Kevin Garnett, Tyson Chandler, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Carmelo Anthony, but with nearly all of those guys either hobbled or out with injury, Tuesday's matchup plugs a few new, less-heralded faces into the longtime rivalry.
Even so, the teams should treat the game as more than a typical regular-season contest, and another tight game could be the result. With a start time of 7 p.m. ET at TD Garden in Boston, MA, here's how both teams match up on a position-by-position basis.
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Avery Bradley vs. Raymond Felton
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Avery Bradley is the best on-ball defender in basketball. It would be a shame if he didn't make one of the NBA's All-Defensive teams or even garner a vote or two for Defensive Player of the Year, given the especially open field this season.
Bradley makes perimeter defense (one of the most difficult aspects of NBA basketball) look simple.
His impact on that end has a trickle-down effect for the rest of the team, and his improved ability to hit a rolling big with a beautiful pocket pass is perhaps just as significant as Boston continues to fight its battles without Rajon Rondo on offense.
Bradley's ability as a scorer is a different story. He struggles to finish at or near the rim and is shooting 37.7 percent in the paint (including the restricted area), which is horrid.
The corner three ball and pull-up jumper off a high screen have been where he mostly thrives, but even there his percentages need to improve if he wants to become known for more than making opposing point guards uncomfortable.
Never the most efficient scorer in the game, Knicks point guard Ray Felton is making just 41.5 percent of his shots this season.
Despite an innate ability to penetrate and slice his way through defenses, Felton doesn't get to the free-throw line nearly as much as he should, with a career low 2.1 attempts per 36 minutes. Still, he's the unheralded straw that stirs New York's offense.
When he's on the court, the Knicks score 109.8 points per 100 possessions as opposed to 104.3 points per 100 possessions when he's off. (The 104.3 matches are what New York does without Carmelo Anthony, but New York's offense is slightly better with Felton on than with the Knicks' best player.)
When the two match up, Bradley's ability to slow Felton down (or whomever Doc Rivers chooses to have him guard) is the deciding factor in which player is better right now.
Edge: Celtics (slightly)
Courtney Lee vs. Pablo Prigioni
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Four games ago, Pablo Prigioni made the first start of his NBA career. And due to various Knicks injuries, he's been in the starting lineup ever since.
The sample size is minuscule, but here are his per-game numbers since joining the starting lineup: 3.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 19.3 minutes. Prigioni has attempted a grand total of eight shots, with four of them coming from behind the three-point line.
His defense, as should be expected from a man who's about to turn 36, has ranged from pretty bad to looking like the more points the other team scores, the happier he'll be. In summation, Prigioni isn't very good.
Courtney Lee, meanwhile, has had a rough season in Boston on both ends of the court. He's shooting a career-best 47 percent, but is on his fewest attempts per 36 minutes. And from the three-point line (especially the corner), he hasn't nearly been as effective as the Celtics had hoped.
Lee's on-ball defense has been great, especially when applied the length of the court. He gets into opposing point guards whenever Avery Bradley needs a rest, and does a great job mucking up the other team's offensive cohesiveness.
Away from the ball, however, Lee gets lost far too often, and he's yet to fully grasp Boston's complicated defensive scheme.
Disparaging comments from both Doc Rivers and Jason Terry after Lee suffered a sprained ankle against the Dallas Mavericks late last week show that there might be some respect issues going on as well. That's never a good sign.
Paul Pierce vs. Iman Shumpert
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Paul Pierce continues to carry on as one of the best small forwards in basketball—a consummate professional who's talented and smart enough to mold his game in any way the Celtics need it to be.
If they need rebounding, he's down throwing his body around on the block. If they need points (they always do), he's knocking down step-back jumpers from the right elbow, charging toward the basket, drawing contact and hitting three-pointers from all over the court, especially in transition.
Pierce's defense also remains stellar. He's always in the correct position and a master of Boston's system. He slides over to take more charges than just about any player of his stature in the league.
On New York's end, Iman Shumpert is coming off a serious knee injury and hardly making the type of impact (especially on the defensive end) we've quickly come to expect.
In his first season, he was tremendous as a scrappy on-ball defender who could guard multiple positions while wreaking havoc in the open court whenever New York shifted into a transition-based offense.
But this season, his offensive game has struggled inside the three-point line, where he's shooting just 36.4 percent in the restricted area and 33 percent on his 33 mid-range jump-shot attempts. Shumpert's ability to knock down three-pointers is primarily why he's in the Knicks' starting lineup, and his athletic ability should get back to the full level someday.
Jeff Green vs. Carmelo Anthony
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For the foreseeable future, Jeff Green will draw the unfortunate assignment of guarding Carmelo Anthony whenever the Celtics play the Knicks.
But even though Anthony is the better basketball player, I'm not so sure every general manager in the league would prefer paying him $21 million next season as opposed to $8.9 million for Green.
That being said, Anthony's offense is instant death for the other team. He attacks from all over the court with the efficiency of nobody not named Kevin Durant. (By nearly doubling his three-point attempts per game this season, Anthony has upped his per-game scoring average by five points from 2012.)
Green is one of the more capable defenders (from an athletic standpoint) who Anthony has to go up against. And when Green is moving with the ball in his hands, he is one of the most devastating offensive weapons the Celtics have.
But in the end, Anthony is one of the league's 15 best players, while Green is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
Brandon Bass vs. Kenyon Martin
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Brandon Bass has played some of his best basketball for the Celtics lately, and he'll need to keep it up if the team wants any chance at controlling the paint and keeping its defense elite while Kevin Garnett rests his ailing foot.
But overall, the responsibilities that are being asked of him are too much for Bass to achieve over the long haul. He isn't capable on the defensive end of controlling the glass, and holding his man in check for prolonged periods of time is asking too much (especially when it's the other team's best frontcourt player).
Knicks center Tyson Chandler is questionable for tonight's matchup, but the combination of an ailing knee and neck isn't worth aggravating against a Celtics team that doesn't have anything solid up front.
In Chandler's absence over the last few games, Kenyon Martin has stepped up beautifully, averaging 12 points and seven rebounds in just under 30 minutes per game as a starter.
Celtics Bench vs. Knicks Bench
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The Knicks have a bench filled with one-dimensional offensive threats who could change the course of an entire game at any moment.
Steve Novak and Jason Kidd from behind the three-point line are obviously effective, and J.R. Smith's abilities with the ball in his hands can be downright diabolical for quarters at a time (unfortunately, he's yet to turn his brilliance into "games" at a time instead).
Their decision to trade Ronnie Brewer at the deadline remains a questionable one, given their lack of depth behind Carmelo Anthony, but New York's bench is one of the more carefully crafted units in the league.
Boston has a group of players coming off the bench who, when playing at their very best, make the Celtics a truly terrifying basketball team.
But unfortunately, inconsistent play from the likes of Jason Terry, Chris Wilcox and Jordan Crawford have been a killer this season.
Late-season additions like Terrence Williams, D.J. White and Shavlik Randolph have yet to make any meaningful contribution worthy of a grade.