Celtics-Knicks review: What we saw

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Celtics-Knicks review: What we saw

BOSTON Kevin Garnett probably said it best in describing Boston's 91-89 win over New York on Friday night.

"It don't have to be pretty to win," he said.

Garnett's words rung loud and true on Friday night as the C's fell behind by as many as 12 points before rallying for the victory which puts them at 12-10 - the first time they have been more than one game above .500 all season.

There were a number of factors that came into play, some of which we outlined prior to Friday's game.

We'll take a look at those areas and see how the Celtics and Knicks fared in those respective areas.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Much has been said about New York's woes stemming from not having a true point guard in the regular rotation. With Baron Davis still out with a back injury - he hasn't played in an NBA game since April 10 of last season - that's not going to change anytime soon. The point-guard problems are evident when you look at a Knicks team that's middle-of-the-road in scoring with 95 points per game (that ranks 14th in the league), but is ranked No. 23 in assists off made field goals.

WHAT WE SAW: The Knicks kept true to form, with a relatively low percentage for field goals that come by way of an assist. Coming into Friday's game, 55 percent of the Knicks' made baskets came by way of an assist. On Friday, New York had 19 assists on 34 made baskets. That breaks down to 55.9 percent of their baskets on Friday coming via an assist.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Paul Pierce vs. Carmelo Anthony: Pierce's right heel injury prevented this matchup from occurring on opening night. Pierce is indeed back to playing like himself. In Boston's last seven games, he's averaging 22.8 points, 7.7 assists and 6.4 rebounds per game. As for Anthony, he's just getting back into his All-Star form after missing two games with sprained right ankle, sprained left wrist and sprained right thumb. Keeping him under control, especially in the fourth quarter, will be huge for the Celtics.

WHAT WE SAW: Without question, Pierce had the edge in this matchup. He finished with 30 points compared to 26 by Anthony. Even more telling was how the C's essentially took Anthony out of plays and forced the Knicks to rely on other players to come up with baskets in the game's final moments. "We knew what we had to do," said Boston's Chris Wilcox. "We went and pressured him and got the ball out of his hand and make somebody else make plays." Clearly that didn't work for the New York, as rookie Iman Shumpert was among those who had opportunities to put New York ahead late in the game, but he was unable to make the clutch play.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Without question, it has to be Rajon Rondo. After participating in the team's morning shootaround, all indications are that Rondo will return to action after missing the previous eight games with a right wrist injury. In addition to Rondo, it'll be worth keeping an eye on what his return means to Avery Bradley who has filled in for him with the first unit, and E'Twaun Moore who seems to keep improving the more he plays. In the season opener against the Knicks, Rondo had 31 points, 13 assists and five rebounds.

WHAT WE SAW: No one believes the Rajon Rondo we saw on Friday is going to be who we see moving forward. His wrist injury was further complicated by a black eye that was swelling up. He finished with seven points, seven assists and five rebounds. "I thought he played well," said coach Doc Rivers. "He was rusty, obviously."

STAT TO TRACK: Rebounding will once again be an issue with tonight's game featuring two of the league's worst. The Knicks are ranked No. 21 in rebounds with 49.9 per game. The C's are once again near the bottom of the NBA standings, averaging 46.1 per game which ranks 29th in the league.

WHAT WE SAW: Boston's ability to crash the boards not only allowed the Celtics to control the game's tempo, but ultimately positioned them to take over Friday night's game. At the half, the Celtics were minus-4 on the boards only to reverse that and go plus-six which would put them at plus-two on the boards. For the game, Boston had 40 rebounds compared to 37 for New York.

Mr. Reliable: Numbers don't illustrate Amir Johnson's value to Celtics

Mr. Reliable: Numbers don't illustrate Amir Johnson's value to Celtics

BOSTON – After most Celtics games, Amir Johnson can easily navigate his way around the Boston Celtics’ locker room with very little fanfare from the media.

And when you least expect it, he’ll surprise you by blurting something out you didn’t expect, like in the middle of Isaiah Thomas’ post-game interview on Sunday night he yelled, ‘give a shout-out; you know what time it is!’

In many ways, Johnson’s ability to be below-the-radar but present inside the Celtics locker room, isn’t all that different than what he does between the lines every night for Boston.

His play in Sunday’s 112-108 win over Miami was about as flawless a performance as we’ve seen from the 6-foot-9 veteran this season.

Johnson finished with 14 points coming on 6-for-6 shooting from the field. Along with his scoring, Johnson also added seven rebounds, five assists and two steals.

But more than anything else, it was Johnson doing the one thing most didn’t anticipate he could for the Celtics – stay healthy.

When the Celtics signed him to a two-year, $24 million contract in 2015, his durability was a bit of a concern despite him missing very few games with the Toronto Raptors whom he spent six seasons with.

While he didn’t miss many games with the Raptors, he did play in pain at times when he probably should not have.

A similar trend may be taking shape with Boston with Johnson being a near-Iron Man this season with 70 starts in 73 games, both tops among all Celtics players.

And while his minutes are less than other starters, it’s clear in watching him play closely that Boston has a tremendous amount of respect and value for what Johnson brings to the table at both ends of the floor.

We saw in the win over a scrappy Miami Heat team, the way Johnson made an impact at both ends of the floor.

In addition to his scoring, Johnson did his part to help others get going offensively by registering five screen assists which was second on the team (Al Horford, six) against the Heat.

Johnson was also tied for second on the team with four deflections against Miami while recovering a team-best three loose balls. But what really seemed to be almost contagious with the Celtics in the second half more so than the first against Miami was their increased effort to contest as many Heat shots as possible.

And yes it was Johnson leading the way with 12 contested two-point shots which was tops among all Celtics players against the Heat.

Contesting shots and grabbing loose balls is not going to get you on the even news highlight reel, or a lot of love from fans, either.

But it does get the attention of the coaching staff and the respect of teammates who have repeatedly talked about how important Johnson’s presence is to what they are trying to accomplish this season.

“Just recognizing every win counts as we get closer to postseason,” Johnson said. “I feel like I play hard every time I get out on the floor. Just getting an opportunity … just playing hard.”

And he does this on a nightly basis, even if his numbers don’t just jump out at you.

But that’s OK.

In his 12th NBA season, Johnson knows chapter and verse on what it takes to last so long in the NBA and not necessarily have your role being that of a superstar.

Johnson figured out early on his career that he wasn’t going to be that kind of player, but that wouldn’t prevent him from being someone who can impact the game in a positive way in a multitude of roles if needed.

“He’s been very reliable all season,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He just continues to get better as the season has progressed.”

Stars, studs and duds: Stevens doesn't need stats to recognize Crowder's impact

Stars, studs and duds: Stevens doesn't need stats to recognize Crowder's impact

BOSTON – Brad Stevens was sitting at his post-game podium when the first question tossed his way centered around Jae Crowder.

“I don’t have a stat sheet in front of me so I don’t know exactly what … I know that he was really good,” Stevens said.

And that made Crowder’s performance not all that different than what he does on most nights.

But Crowder, much like his Celtics teammates, stepped their play up in beating a Miami Heat team, 112-108, that they could potentially see down the road in the first round of the playoffs.

Crowder had a season-high 25 points on 8-for-13 shooting, with six rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.

With Miami playing a considerable amount of small-ball, Stevens used Crowder more as a power forward than usual.

And to Crowder’s credit, he rose to the challenge and played within himself which was a major factor in Boston (48-26) winning their fourth straight and eighth in the last 10 games.

“Being aggressive” was how Crowder described his role in the Celtics offense, adding that “they (opponents) put a lot of different defenders on me. Some smaller, so I know I had to be on the offensive glass a little, but just being aggressive.”

Stevens offered up plenty of praise for the job Crowder did, as well as his versatility.

“We had to play small so he’s playing at the ‘four’ (power forward a lot,” Stevens said. “He ended up on (Hassan) Whiteside a couple of different times on block-outs. He had to guard James Johnson who’s just a matchup nightmare, the way that they play. And I thought he did a lot of good things, and obviously the points were huge too.”

 

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: Another big night for Thomas, who cracked the 25-point plateau for the fifth straight game. He led all scorers with 30 points on 10-for-18 shooting.

Hassan Whiteside: Boston had its share of problems on the boards, and Whiteside’s presence had a lot to do with that. He led the Heat with 19 points and 14 rebounds, giving him 51 double-doubles this season.

 

STUDS

Jae Crowder

There wasn’t a single area of the game on Sunday night that Crowder did not impact in a positive way for the Celtics. Along with his season-high 25 points, He also had six rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.

James Johnson

Watching the way he navigated the Miami offense off the bench was similar in some ways to how Boston operated a year ago with Evan Turner (now in Portland). Johnson had 20 points on 7-for-17 shooting in addition to five rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots.

Tyler Johnson

His ability to penetrate and get into the lane created a lot of scoring opportunities for him to finish at the rim. He led the Heat with 24 points off the bench, shooting 9-for-15 from the field.

Amir Johnson

It’s not always pretty, but Johnson continues to be one of the more effective Celtics in his overall play. He made all six of his field goal attempts, finishing with 14 points to go with seven rebounds, five assists and two steals.

 

DUDS

Celtics turnovers

It’s great that Boston continues to find ways to win despite playing long stretches of not-so-great basketball. But you have to believe that the high number of turnovers – and the points they generate – will catch up to the Celtics sooner or later. Against the Heat, Boston turned the ball over 19 times which led to 30 points for Miami; a point total that represents just a shade under 30 percent of the Heat’s scoring for the game.