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Tuesday night saw a face-off between the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks. It was Eddie House‘s return to Boston after being traded to the Knicks, and oddly enough it was also the debut game for Nate Robinson, the player the Celtics received in exchange for House.
The Celtics built up a large lead midway through the second quarter, only to see it evaporate by halftime. The second half was marked by fast-paced scoring, lots of shots, and little defense. The game ended well, however, as Boston was able to keep its composure and hold on for the win, 110-106.
Despite the high score, the Celtics’ offense was unsurprisingly balanced. All five starters scored in double digits for the Celtics. The top scorer for Boston was Ray Allen, who put up 24 points, continuing his present hot streak. He also had a sick block at the end of the fourth quarter that was probably the defensive play of the game.
Overall, the Celtics proved they could play the Knicks’ style of basketball better than the Knicks could. The team out-scored New York on fast breaks 14-4, and also outplayed them in the paint, 60-40. This does not mean that they just went inside over and over again. Boston knocked down five three-point shots and shot better than 55% from the field. The Celtics played with the same balanced attack they always bring to winning efforts. They also out-assisted the Knicks 34-24, showing that they could move ball around the court better than New York could.
This was not a strong night for the Celtics in terms of defense. Many of the problems we’ve seen all season came to light during this game. The Celtics had tremendous difficulty guarding against the three-ball, giving up ten treys to the New York Knicks. They also looked terrible against pick-and-roll plays. The age and stamina issues we all fear this team may be suffering from were on full display during this game. The Celtics were also out-rebounded once again, albeit only by one.
Worse than all of this however, was the inability of the Celtics to play with the lead. Once again the Celtics built up a double-digit lead, and once again they gave it up in the second half. The Knicks started playing faster and the Celtics were unable to respond. While they won, it was mostly due to the inability of the Knicks to play defense, not the ability of the Celtics to do so. Boston can get away with this kind of play against a non-defending team like New York, but they will get creamed against better teams such as Orlando and Atlanta, where they actually play defense, and play it well. If Boston is to contend for a title, they will need to be able to play defense for four full quarters, not just two.
The Celtics’ next game is against the Cleveland Cavaliers. While the team appears to be clicking offensively, it will take effort on both sides of the court to win against an elite team such as Cleveland.
This team is improving, but it’s becoming fearfully evident that the Celtics’ woes are not going away. They may be unable to play with a lead for the rest of the season. They may always look slow against pick-and-roll plays. And they may never sustain their offense successfully for four quarters.
All of this points to an earlier exit from the playoffs than Boston fans hope. Then again, a win against Cleveland could turn things right around.