The Knicks’ first-round playoff opponent is set — an opponent we were a proponent of — and this Sunday in Boston, we’re going to find out just how good this New York team really is.
Let’s not get into analyzing what this series means to the franchise, its coach and GM, its players, or its fans — that will come later — but win or lose, sweep or get swept, the Knicks have a fighting chance to make some noise versus the championship-pedigreed Celtics.
And from a pure match-up standpoint, here’s why:
PG: Rajon Rondo v. Chauncey Billups
Consistently referred to as the “+1” to Boston’s “Big-Three,” one can argue that other than Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant or Dwight Howard, no one player is more vital to his team’s championship aspirations than Rondo. When he’s on his game, there’s no one quite like him. When he’s not, the Celtics remain a good team — but an infinitely more defensible one.
Quite frankly, as Rondo goes, so go the Celtics.
Not surprisingly, in Boston wins this season, Rondo shoots much better (51% v. 41%) and dishes much more (12.4 v. 8.5 APG).
Knick fans will be happy to learn that Rondo’s worst games occur on Sundays (9 points, 9 assists, 3.7 rebound and 1.6 steals) — an obscure and useless fact that perhaps bodes well for New York in Game 1.
Then again, Rondo is averaging over 16 assists per game in the teams’ three previous meetings this season — all Celtic wins.
Which brings us to…
The artist formerly known as “Mr. Big Shot,” Billups is absolutely the key to the Knicks’ potential success or failure versus Boston. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
The Knick point guard must continue to do the things that he’s done well since his arrival in New York — like scoring and not turning the ball over — and minimize the potentially catastrophic effect of his defensive ineptitude versus Rondo.
Since his arrival from the Nuggets, Billups is averaging 17.9 points and just over two turnovers a game, which is excellent as a floor general and third scoring option. The problem for Chauncey has been his dreadful shooting percentage — especially from three-point range (32.5%).
The Knicks — and Billups specifically — must shoot well from long-distance if they hope to compete with the Celtics in what are sure to be slower-paced playoff games with fewer possessions.
It’s quite obvious that at this stage of his career, Billups is incapable of defending his Celtic counterpart straight up — Rondo is probably the most elusive one-on-one player in the game today — so it will be vital for the Knicks to provide him with help, in addition to using the quicker Toney Douglas to defend at times.
To win the series, the Knicks must take two of the four stars away from Boston — or at least limit their freedom to play the way they like to play.
In my mind, that means smothering and frustrating Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, leaving Rondo and Ray Allen to win the series themselves.
Rondo is a poor shooter, so New York must make every effort to keep him out of the paint and force him to settle for jumpers. If he starts hitting shots, then the Boston point guard will have taken the next leap in his already impressive NBA career right before our very eyes.
If he doesn’t, then the veteran Billups is sure to deploy a few tricks of his own during the series, and Rondo may end up largely neutralized.
PG EDGE: BOSTON
Check back every day this week as we analyze the rest of the Knick-Celtic positional match-ups.
WEDNESDAY – SG: Ray Allen v. Landry Fields/other
THURSDAY – SF: Paul Pierce v. Carmelo Anthony
FRIDAY – PF: Kevin Garnett v. Amar’e Stoudemire
SATURDAY – C: “Shaqmaine” O’Neal v. Sheldon Williams
By the way, this is British actress Judi Shekoni. She kind of looks a lot like someone, but having trouble placing her…