A little more than a week ago, the Celtics (36-33) appeared destined to win yet another Atlantic Division title and secure home-court advantage in the playoffs. Those dreams now look dashed, as they sit six and a half games behind their opponent tonight, the New York Knicks (42-26).
Boston comes in riding a four-game losing streak, which first began after a heart breaking loss to the Miami Heat. Since that defeat, the Celtics have seemed to enter an emotional funk. Tonight presents a great opportunity to swing momentum around in a positive direction.
The Celtics and Knicks have developed a rivalry the past several seasons, with the climax happening last January. Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett exchanged words on the court, before having an altercation near the Celtics’ team bus after the game.
Boston came out victorious in the midst of the conflict, and went on to win their following three games. Just as that January game did, tonight could re-charge this team emotionally, giving them one final push going into the playoffs.
There wont be another Garnett and Anthony duel though, as Garnett will be out for tonight’s matchup with inflammation in his left ankle. If there is a silver-lining to Garnett’s absence though, it’s the void that must be filled by Jeff Green.
The last time Garnett missed a game at home, Green erupted for a career-high 43 points. Green will earn a start tonight with Garnett out again, and figures to start several upcoming games as Garnett is expected to miss at least two weeks.
With the playoffs just 12 games away, getting Green in a consistent groove heading into the postseason is crucial for a playoff run.
Boston is likely headed for either the sixth or seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. With the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks battling for the second and third seed, tonight’s game could very well be a playoff preview of the first round.
Despite being in an underdog position, tonight is a chance to send a message to the Knicks, who have been seen as mentally fragile in the past. Boston has already defeated them once this season, and has had their number in recent playoff meetings.
Managing to win without Garnett would only reinforce that the Celtics hold an edge in a seven game series. The game will be televised on TNT, and the national spotlight tends to get players amped up a bit more than usual.
With the Garden crowd behind them, and the NBA world watching, the Celtics can send a statement that although wounded, they’re far from dead.