Let's take a look at the matchups to figure it out:
POINT GUARD: While the Celtics will be short-handed at this position without All-Star Rajon Rondo (right ACL tear), the Knicks might not have the pesky Pablo Prigioni, who’s dealing with a sprained right ankle, for Game 1. When Prigioni does return, it’ll be a matchup of two of the best defensive point guards in the NBA -- the other being Avery Bradley. Prigioni’s efficiency on offense and experience can overcome Bradley’s pressure. But Prigioni's defense, even in the fewer minutes he plays, will be more important. Bradley will be counted upon for scoring without Rondo.
SHOOTING GUARD: If Doc Rivers starts Paul Pierce at this position, which he’s been doing lately, that presents the biggest mismatch of the series on both ends. Would Raymond Felton continue to start at the 2, or would Mike Woodson move Iman Shumpert there? Regardless, Pierce will have the advantage. The Knicks will have to double-team him, but being that the Celtics are weaker from long distance, that strategy could pay off. On the flip side, Felton or Shumpert will have to play well against Pierce, helping the Knicks continue their fluid ball movement and hot 3-point shooting.
SMALL FORWARD: Once again, this is a mismatch defensively for the Knicks if Shumpert starts at his usual small forward position. Jeff Green has several inches on Shumpert and could look to take him in the low post, where the versatile forward can put up most of his points. Shumpert's defense is better on the perimeter against ball-hawking guards. Like Pierce, Green could look to expose Shumpert in isolation. On offense, Shumpert could pick his spots in transition and catch Green off-guard, but he would be most effective shooting from downtown when Green helps on Carmelo Anthony.
POWER FORWARD: Brandon Bass won't have a chance against Carmelo Anthony from midrange and beyond, because he's not used to guarding someone with that kind of foot speed and quick release. The Celtics will have to deny and double-team him. Anthony could be challenged more in the low post, where Bass defends well. Overall, Anthony will have to work for his points, but if he can draw fouls against Bass early on, that will be key. A big question is, how effective will Anthony be defensively? He'll need the help of his teammates to lessen the load offensively, so he'll have energy for the other end.
CENTER: Who's healthier? That will be key, because both Tyson Chandler and Kevin Garnett are just returning from injuries. Both centers are ready for Game 1, and we can expect a physical battle down low defensively and on the boards. Chandler will be challenged guarding Garnett, as Garnett can score from both midrange and the low post -- his high-release jump shot is hard to stop. But Garnett will find have trouble with Chandler because of Anthony's presence. Chandler could find more pockets to score. He's also younger and more agile.
BENCH: J.R. Smith singlehandedly wins this category for the Knicks. Of late, he's been performing like one of the best shooting guards in the league. Beyond him, Jason Kidd is the best do-it-all player off the bench in the entire series, and Steve Novak and Chris Copeland will put even more pressure on the Celtics' defense with Smith and/or Anthony on the court. Then there's Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby, who will provide rugged toughness that none of the younger Celtics bigs have. Also, Boston's guards are streaky, and Jason Terry isn't the same instant-offense sixth man and clutch player he was in Dallas.
COACH: With Pierce likely at the 2 and Green at the 3, will Woodson go big and start Anthony, Martin and Chandler? No. The coach favors his season-long game plan of keeping Anthony at the 4, in order to make the Celtics adjust. With the Knicks' smaller lineup, they shouldn't have a problem scoring, but defensively they may struggle at times if the Celtics run a lot of isolations. Perhaps the Knicks will use a zone defense at times, like they did in Boston earlier this season? Being that Woodson is defensive-minded, he should have a few tricks up his sleeve.
PREDICTION: The key disadvantage is the Celtics not having a guy who averaged 17.3 points, 11.9 assists, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 steals in the playoffs last year. That would be, of course, Rondo. On the flip side, the Knicks are fully loaded offensively, and defensive threats Chandler and Martin are set to return. KNICKS IN 5
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