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Talking Celtics/Knicks with Tommy King

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

The co-founder of Celtics Town chats about the latest installment in the Celtics/Knicks rivalry.

Talking Celtics/Knicks with Tommy King

There may be more entertaining matchups in the first round of the NBA Playoffs this season, but I think you would be hard-pressed to find one that will be as intense as the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks. With that in mind, I reached out to Tommy King, co-founder of celticstown.com, to talk about the upcoming series. Here's our email exchange.

Me: Well here we are again Mr. King. Just two years removed from our meeting in the 2011 Playoffs, your Boston Celtics and my New York Knicks are matched up for what will be the 14th time. Last time around, the Celtics swept the Knicks, but I have a strong feeling things are going to be much different this time around. The Knicks actually momentum not just as a team but also against the Celtics as well, taking the regular season series 3-1. As a Celtics fan, do you feel that a shift in momentum has taken place or am I talking crazy?

Tommy King: I really don't know what to make of this series. Both teams have suffered so many injuries, we haven't really seen them at full strength in a loooooong time. If Tyson Chandler is not at full strength, or somewhere in the vicinity, I think the Celtics have a good chance of winning.

I don't need to tell you how important Chandler is to the Knicks, not only defensively, but also with his offensive rebounding (and those damn tap backs) and those incredible illegal screens (I mean they rival KG's illegal screens, which is impressive) he sets that are so important to the Knicks pick and roll game.

I am, however, quite worried about my Celtics. I know they can defend at a high level, but I'm not convinced they can score in the half court. It's not just that Rondo is out, it's that they don't have one player on the roster who can even masquerade as a point guard. Paul Pierce does the best job, but he's turnover prone. The Celtics will have the grittiness and the determination, but do they have the talent?

I guess well finally get our answer to the question: is Carmelo Anthony allergic to the playoffs?

Me: First, thank you for acknowledging that while Tyson Chandler sets a mean illegal screen, there is no one that sets an illegal screen like Kevin Garnett.

Second, I wouldn't necessarily call Carmelo Anthony allergic to the playoffs. This will make 10 postseason appearances for Carmelo, and he took to the Nuggets to the conference finals back in 08-09. You might mean allergic to the second round, since that 08-09 trip to the conference finals was the only time he's gotten out of the first round. But I think we both can agree that this is a different Melo. He's playing his best basketball of the season at exactly the right time, averaging 36.9 points a game in April to go along with 53% shooting from the field, 47% shooting from three and 9.9 rebounds a game. The move to the 4 in Amar'e Stoudemire's absence (and the overall shift to a smaller lineup) has brought the best out of Anthony.

If the Knicks are still in this smaller lineup, how do you see the Celtics countering that?

Tommy: I jest, I jest. Kevin Garnett was once unfairly labeled by his playoff failures as well and then, you know, he got some competent teammates and that view changed rather quickly.

Carmelo Anthony has been playing probably the best basketball of his career this season and I think his move to the power forward position is at least partially responsible for that. Carmelo is shooting the ball so well from distance these days, which makes him virtually unstoppable. In that 2011 series, however, we've seen Carmelo explode for 40+ points and the Celtics win the game. Doc Rivers plan, I'm sure, will be to keep the peripheral players, like J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, Raymond Felton et al from getting going. Carmelo is going to get his, but if he's doing it by himself, the Celtics can live with that (probably, maybe, I hope).

What concerns me about the Celtics chances is how bad they have been on the road (14-27) this season. That is the worst of any playoff team. Maybe the short distance and the excessive time off between games will help the older Celtics steal a game on the road.

Regardless, it's going to be a great series. These teams know each other so well, and they play each other so often. That's when fiestiness and rivalries develop. I'm giddy.

Me: You're right on the money that the Knicks will have to continue to get contributions from their supporting cast. J.R. Smith has been incredibly effective as of late, Felton has played much better, Iman Shumpert finally looks healthy, and even guys like Chris Copeland are stepping their games up. But the health bug again comes into play here. Pablo Prigioni badly sprained his ankle in the final game of the season and likely won't play in game one. His ability to distribute the basketball and facilitate that smaller lineup with Felton or Jason Kidd has been a huge reason for the improved play. Kenyon Martin, who was providing a great presence inside for the Knicks when their front court was decimated, is also banged up. Because of injuries, three guys who weren't on the roster before the All-Star Break (Martin and the newly signed Quentin Richardson and Earl Barron) are on the playoff roster. Richardson will likely receive plenty of minutes, and their ability to contribute or just stay healthy will be huge for the Knicks.

This will definitely be the most intense of the first round series just based on the history these two teams have. I'm giddy as well, but an underlying feeling of hear also rests in the pit of my stomach. The reason for that fear is one Paul Pierce. No matter what the state of the roster is around him, as long as Pierce is able to walk, I fear the worst from that man. His step-back jumpers haunt my dreams. His patchy beard disgusts me. Those three-pointers that always seem to go down make me miserable.

Pierce is so dangerous, especially come playoff time (where he has averaged 21 points across 130 postseason games), and has upped his overall game out of necessity in the absence of Rajon Rondo. But like Carmelo, he is going to need help as well. A lot of players for the Celtics have stepped their games up based on the myriad of injuries you guys have also had to endure, the biggest being Jeff Green's resurgence. Aside from Pierce and Green (and stalwart Kevin Garnett), who are the most important supporting players for the Celtics?

Tommy: Before I answer your question, You are also right on that Prigioni is essential to the Knicks. I don't think your average fan understands how big of a loss that would be for the Knicks if, as the reports seem to indicate, he misses Game 1.

As for the most important supporting players for Boston, it's got to be Brandon Bass and Jeff Green. I'm not saying they are necessarily Boston's best role players, but they are both inconsistent players and when they play well, the Celtics tend to play well. Jeff Green has been pretty great since Rondo went down and, after an horrific first half of the season, Bass has quietly been playing up to the standard he set last year for about a month and a half, two months.

It'll be interesting to see who is the primary defender on Carmelo. My guess would be that Pierce and Green split time guarding Melo, but then that bears the question, who will Bass match up with. That's why the small lineup for New York is so dangerous; I don't think Bass is an ideal matchup to guard Anthony, but where do you move him? You may see some lineups with a KG/Green/Pierce frontcourt, but then the Celtics would be sacrificing their rebounding. Curious to see how Doc tinkers with his rotation.

In conclusion, however, I have to say, it's hard to take a team seriously that may be relying on Quentin Richardson...and who fortified their frontcourt by signing EARL BARRON (though he has kind of hurt the Celtics in the past)!

Me: There will be no besmirching of Earl Barron, the same Earl Barron that torched the Celtics for 17 points/18 rebounds at the end of the 09-10 season. You should take that signing VERY seriously!

But It will be interesting to see what Woodson's rotations look like, especially if Prigioni has to miss some time. The two-point guard look is a big part of the continuity on offense, but does that mean Jason Kidd has to play more minutes? Was Richardson brought on solely as more insurance or if he will get burn over guys like Shumpert in situations? How much run is someone like Copeland going to get now that Chandler is back? Woodson has plenty of options here, and I'm anxious to see if he sticks to his guns with the small lineup or reacts to any of Doc's coaching strategies.

And you're right up with the matchup problem the Celtics will have against Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks will face a similar problem if they keep their smaller lineup against someone like Pierce. Melo would normally be matched up with him, but now we'll probably see mixes of guys like Melo, Copeland, J.R. Smith and even Shumpert. The latter three are either guys that Pierce can take off the bounce or abuse down low with his strength. I'm interested to see how the Knicks prepare to guard your number one scoring threat.

But enough beating around the bush. Let's make some predictions here. Do you really think that your Celtics can top the Knicks in the first round?

Tommy: Here's my prediction. The Knicks really miss Prigioni, KMart is not 100% and the Celtics rally together to steal Game 1 in a potential feel good moment for the city of Boston (assuming the Bomber has been caught by then). From there, each team will hold serve at home and the Celtics will survive a 38-point effort from Melo with some late-game heroics from Pierce and KG in Game 6 to advance.

I'm sure you agree with my predictions?

Me: I think I agree with your prediction that the Celtics might rally for an upset in Game 1, but I don't see the rest of the series unfolding the way you do. The Knicks have gotten over their road hump against Boston and possess a different toughness about them this season. They won't back down on the road, and I see them taking the series in 6 games.

Thanks again to Tommy for taking the time to talk. Follow him on Twitter at @TP_King (which sadly doesn't stand for Toilet Paper King).

What do you think? Do the Knicks get past the first round or do the Celtics pull the upset? Let us know in the comments section.

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to see the Knicks take on the Celtics in the NBA Playoffs.


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