Celtics-Knicks preview: Melo-drama in Boston

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Celtics-Knicks preview: Melo-drama in Boston

BOSTON Regardless of the records, when Boston faces the New York Knicks it is usually a big game. Tonight's is no exception.

This will be the first time the two teams have faced off since the Jan. 7 "Melo-drama" incident in which Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony, upset with some of Kevin Garnett's in-game trash talk, initially went towards the C's locker room and later waited for Garnett by the C's team bus.

The league wound up suspending Anthony one game for his actions.

While that will certainly be a topic of discussion leading up to tonight's game, the Celtics have much bigger problems on their plate.

There's the four-game losing streak they are currently on which is equal to their longest losing skid this season.

A loss tonight by the Celtics would be just the third, five-game losing streak since Kevin Garnett arrived in Boston prior to the 2008 title run.

The two previous such skids? They came during last season's lockout-shortened season.

But the mindset of the C's right now isn't on avoiding another loss, but rather finding a way to win.

The goal now isn't all that different than what it has been all season, which is to develop some form of consistent play.

But more than that, the C's need a win ... now.

"We all understood when we came here that this was going to be a process," C's guard Jason Terry told CSNNE.com. "It's just that the process is taking a little longer than we thought it would. But it's still a process. There's a lot of season still left to play and even though we're not playing as well as we would want to be now, there's still time for us to get it going, start stringing some wins here together and position ourselves to achieve our goals."

Here are some keys to tonight's game against the Knicks who come in atop the Atlantic Division despite having lost four of their last six games which includes a home loss to the Celtics.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: All eyes will be on Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony to see if there's any residual beef between them after the Jan. 7 incidents. Both have said it's done with and there won't be any issues. But with these two highly emotional players, what they say and what we see may not necessarily be one in the same.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs Iman Shumpert. Two of the best on-the-ball defenders you'll find in the NBA, it'll be interesting to see which of them will make the greatest difference in terms of impact tonight either with their defense or shot-making. Because of the players around them, chances are pretty good that both will have a decent amount of wide open to lightly contested shots for the taking.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Paul Pierce has questioned whether some of his teammates understand the sense of urgency that the C's need to have, but the Captain has to do more than talk the talk. He is in the midst of one of his usual shooting slumps, but the sooner he can snap out of it the quicker the C's recovery -- if they are to have one this season -- will begin to take shape.

STAT TO TRACK: Free throw shooting has been a major factor in the C's last four games - all losses. Not are the Celtics shooting a lower percentage (69.2 percent compared to opponents shooting 77.6 percent in the last four games), but they are not getting to the line nearly enough. How bad has it been? The C's last four opponents have made a total of 90 free throws (out of 116 attempts). In that same span, the Celtics have taken just 91 free throws (63 made).

Celtics-Heat preview: Do C's need to bounce back from a win?

Celtics-Heat preview: Do C's need to bounce back from a win?

BOSTON – The final score on the Jumbotron Friday night said the Celtics beat the Phoenix Suns 130-120.
 
But there was a clear and undeniable sense of loss on the part of the Celtics, even if Friday’s victory was their third in a row and sixth in the past seven games.
 
The Celtics (47-26) hope to continue on their winning ways tonight against a Miami Heat team currently among a handful fighting for one of the last playoff slots, but are doing so without Dion Waiters (ankle) who has been instrumental in their surge after an 11-30 start to the season.
 
Beating the Heat (35-37) will require Boston to play better than they did against the Suns, a game Boston won, but in many ways had the feeling of defeat.
 
Yes, Devin Booker’s career-high 70 points was very much a blow – a huge blow – to the pride of a team that takes tremendous pride in its defense.
 
But the sense of a loss came in the form of purpose while playing as close to their potential as possible.
 
The Celtics fell short on both fronts Friday night.
 
Being just one game behind Cleveland (47-24) for the best record in the East, the Celtics understand getting as many wins as possible is the mindset right now.
 
But coach Brad Stevens knows that while winning is important, how the team plays is even more valuable.
 
“Like I’ve said before, I’m surprised at where we are record-wise because we’ve got to play at a higher level for 48 minutes,” Stevens said. “We just don’t do it.”
 
Is this Stevens’ way of trying to motivate his players after a not-so-great performance?
 
Or is he seriously concerned that his team isn’t as good as their record?
 
The Celtics, by their own standards, and to those of us on the outside looking in, know they are a better team than the one we saw on Friday night.
 
Not having Avery Bradley (sick) certainly hurt Boston’s efforts defensively.
 
Still, a Friday night’s game wore on, Booker’s confidence only grew and the Celtics’ desire to shut him down or at least slow him down, began to dissipate like an ice cube in hell.
 
And that’s a problem - a big problem - for a team that has to be connected at both ends of the floor for an extended period of time in order to play at the level their capable of and, most important, give them the best shot at emerging victorious in the postseason.
 
That’s why Stevens isn’t too caught up in the team’s chances of catching Cleveland, or whether they go into the playoffs riding a fat winning streak.
 
“I’m not going to get caught up in winning a couple of games in a row and all that stuff,” Stevens said. “I want to get caught up in playing well. We’ve shown ourselves capable of playing well, we have not sustained it throughout a game. And it’s been pretty consistent.”
 

Blakely: Despite their spot in East, consistency remains a problem for Celtics

Blakely: Despite their spot in East, consistency remains a problem for Celtics

BOSTON –  Devin Booker went on a scoring binge for the ages against the Boston Celtics on Friday night, the likes of which won’t be seen anytime soon at the TD Garden.

The performance was so great, even the most die-hard Green Teamers had to give the 20-year-old props for dropping 70 points – 70 points! – on the Celtics who still wound up winning, 130-120.

And as Booker continued to pour on the points and the Celtics’ double-digit lead remained just that, a double-digit lead, the narrative of what we witnessed was a lot deeper than just some young kid getting hot.

The Suns are trying lose as many games as they can, while throwing youngsters out there like Booker to play major minutes and predictably make their share of mistakes with the goal being to learn from those miscues and get better.

But the true lesson in what went down Friday night had little to do with Booker’s big night or some Celtics being a little salty about it afterwards.

Lost in all of the hoopla surrounding Booker’s big night was the repeated revelation by Celtics head coach Brad Stevens after the game about his team’s play and their record not being on one accord.

“That’s why, like I’ve said before, I’m surprised at where we are record-wise because we’ve got to play at a higher level for 48 minutes,” Stevens said. “We just don’t do it.”

And Booker’s historic night is the latest example to illustrate Stevens’ point.

Not having Avery Bradley (sickness) was a factor, obviously.

But that’s no excuse for the way they allowed Booker to do anything and everything he wanted to on the floor, allowing a really good shooter to gain confidence to the point where there was literally nothing the Celtics could do to cool him off.

The Celtics looked casual for three-plus quarters defensively against the Suns and still managed to win which says more about Phoenix and its desire to lose as much as possible, than Boston’s ability to find success and overcome a player with a hot hand.

It was another case of Boston getting away from what works while settling into what felt good and easy.

Most of the guys Phoenix played on Friday weren’t players you would consider big-time scoring threats, so the Celtics defensively didn’t play with a defensive edge other than the first six minutes of the game.

In that span, Phoenix didn’t make a single shot from the field while Boston bolted out to a 16-3 lead.

From there, the Celtics didn’t play with the same sense of urgency.

Fortunately for them, they were playing a team that didn’t want to win.

That’s not going to be the case in these remaining games, a mixture of playoff-bound clubs, wannabe playoff-bound crews and a few others with rosters full of players fighting to stay in the league who will use these remaining games essentially as an audition for next season.

If Boston plays like this in any of their remaining games, they’ll most likely lose.

And that’s why Brad Stevens continues to harp on this team not being as good as their record.

Because when you’re in the same class record-wise with teams like Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland and Houston, there’s a certain expectation of consistency you should play with most nights.

The Warriors and Rockets have explosive scorers; the Spurs play elite-level defense most nights and the Cavs have LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Those factors form the basis of their consistency in terms of winning and overall play.

But the Celtics are very much a wild and unpredictable bunch, able to knock off Cleveland and Golden State, but get blasted by Denver and lose to Philadelphia.

If inconsistent play is a hallmark of this team, their potential for having a great season will be remembered as just that, potential.

Because games like the one they played on Friday against Phoenix on more nights than not, will result in a loss which could put the Celtics very much in the crosshairs for an early playoff exit.