Amidst the heavy snowfall and blustery winds of a frozen-over hell, on Sunday the New York Knicks are returning to the postseason as they travel up to Boston for game one of their first round matchup against the Celtics. As a six-seed, New York is a considerable underdog against the three-seeded Celts. How, however, do the two teams break down, position by position?
Point Guard: Over the past few seasons, the point guard position has gone from one of Boston’s key weaknesses to one of its strengths. Playing alongside the original Big Three, Rajon Rondo has blossomed into an electric playmaker and two-time All-Star. While Rondo’s jump-shooting still lacks consistency, he drives to the basket as well any 1-guard in the league, and will surely be able to exploit New York’s weak interior defense. First in the Eastern Conference with 11.2 assists a game, Rondo is a respected and proven “floor general.”
Since coming to New York as part of the Carmelo Anthony trade, Chauncey Billups has arguably out-performed expectations (when healthy) — averaging just under 18 points and five and half assists per game. While he possess none of Rondo’s superior driving and finishing ability, his consistency shooting the ball (40% from the field, 90% from the line) makes him a 25 point threat on potentially any night. There is also of course Billups’s playoff track record, having earned him the nickname “Mr. Big Shot.” Despite his improved offensive output (he measures in at an 18.8 player efficiency rating according to ESPN’s Mark Hollinger, while Rondo’s PER is just over 17), the offense he directs continues to look lost and disorganized at times, and often against even the weakest competition. Edge: Boston.
Shooting Guard: Although Ray Allen’s production has dropped to four points below his career average these past two seasons, Jesus Shuttlesworth is in fact shooting the ball better than ever: 44% from behind the arc and 49% from the field. Although the 35-year-old 2-guard is slower and showing less athleticism than when he was in his younger years, he is still as automatic a spot-up jump shooter as the league has ever seen.
Once considered a legitimate part of the Rookie of the Year conversation, Landry Fields has struggled since New York’s acquisition of Carmelo Anthony. Still a fan favorite at Madison Square Garden and still a very productive rebounder (for a guard), Landry has been able to only marginally contribute to the Knicks offensive since Melo joined the team. Fields’s most important contribution to New York’s game plan against Boston could likely be his defense; at 6’ 7” and 210 lbs., his size and defensive energy could pose a legitimate challenge for the Celtics’ perimeter shooters. Edge: Boston.
Small forward: Much like Allen, Paul Pierce has seen a drop-off in his production over the past two seasons. Make no mistake though: averaging 19 points, 5.4 boards and shooting almost 50%, Paul Pierce is still “The [expletive] Truth.” His diverse offensive skill set can be an insurmountable challenge for opposing defenses — especially one as weak as the Knicks’. He can score from anywhere on the court and is still a very good defender.
Carmelo Anthony. 26 points and 7 rebounds a game. There’s a reason why New York gave up so much for Melo. Edge: New York.
Power Forward: Like so many great players, Kevin Garnett seems to always elevate his play at the biggest moments. His stats (15 points, 9 rebounds and 1 block per game) tell only part of the story; Garnett’s intensity on both ends of the floor could best be described somewhere between inspirational and scary. Every time he takes the court, he’s an elite low-post scorer and defender as well as an emotional leader for the Celtics.
Arguably no player will have as much pressure on his shoulders in this series than Amare Stoudemire. Although he’s now playing alongside another legitimate superstar, in the eyes of Knicks fans, STAT is the leader of the renaissance at the Garden. Although he is a vastly inferior defender to Garnett, Amare can score against opposing defenses in more ways than maybe any other big man in the game. Like so many of the great players in this matchup, his stats speak for themselves: more than 25 points and 8 rebounds a game to go along with 2 blocks. While Garnett may have all that trademark anger and intensity, Stoudemire knows this is his moment to shine. He didn’t shy away from becoming the face of the New Look Knicks and he won’t shy away from the challenge against Boston. Edge: New York.
Center: I don’t care if Perkins is in Oklahoma City or if Shaq is hurt. Boston doesn’t have Shelden Williams or Jared Jeffries on their team. Edge: Boston.