NEW YORK -- We're just a few short hours away from tip-off of the NBA playoffs. The nuances of the Celtics-Knicks series will play out in front of us over the next couple of weeks, but we can at least begin to piece the puzzle together now.
Jeff Green is rightly considered one of the keys to this series for Boston, but Avery Bradley is arguably just as important to Boston's success. It's been a tale of two seasons for Bradley. On one hand, there's no question his return to the lineup rocketed the Celtics up the NBA's defensive rankings to their current position of 6th in the league. But Bradley has struggled individually. He shot just 36 percent from the field in 16 March games. He only slightly improved in April. At just 22, he's the only reasonably complete guard the Celtics have. That's a lot of pressure.
Speaking of pressure, it's somewhat shocking teams haven't put more ball pressure on Bradley and the Celtics. Without Rajon Rondo, Boston clearly struggles against full-court defense. Look for the Knicks to at least attempt to exploit that at times.
Bradley doesn't have to be the best player on the floor for the Celtics, but he has to be efficient. He can't turn the ball over. He needs to shoot better than he has of late. On defense, Bradley's task is simple but more difficult: He needs to be the team's best player. Specifically, he needs to limit New York to bad 3-point attempts. He needs to bother J.R. Smith. He needs to make it difficult for Raymon Felton to run the offense. No pressure, kid.
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Here are the details for tonight's game:
Tip-off: 3 p.m.
Series: This is the first game in a best-of-seven
Broadcast info:ABC (MIke Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Heather Cox), WEEI/93.7 FM (Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell)
Officials: Monty McCutchen, Bill Spooner, Gary Zielinski
Celtics: PG: Avery Bradley SG: Paul Pierce SF: Jeff Green PF: Brandon Bass C: Kevin Garnett
Knicks: PG: Raymond Felton SG: Iman Shumpert SF: Carmelo Anthony PF: Chris Copeland C: Tyson Chandler
Opening statement: I'm fascinated by the opening dynamic in this one. The Knicks have a ton to prove, but so do the Celtics, who must work Kevin Garnett back into the lineup of a team that hasn't played .500 basketball in two months. Will Garnett instantly morph into the unstoppable player he was during last year's playoffs? Will the Knicks show any kind of fragility, or will they carry the momentum from the regular season right into Game 1?
Walk the line: New York is first in the NBA in 3-pointers made and attempted and 5th in 3-point percentage. That last stat is the most important. If the Knicks can shoot threes efficiently, not just in volume, it's going to be a difficult series for Boston.
Road woes: The Celtics were 14-27 on the road this season. They need to win at least one game on the road to win this series. Garnett and Pierce seem to thrive on the challenges of playing in a hostile environment, but will they have proper backup?