Rajon Rondo and the Boston Celtics battle Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks in the first game of the 2011-12 NBA season on Christmas Day in New York City.
Event: Boston Celtics (0-0) vs. New York Knicks (0-0).
Date/Time: Sunday, December 25, 2011 - 12:00 p.m. EDT.
Location: Madison Square Garden (Capacity: 19,763), New York City, NY.
Broadcast Info: Sunday's season opener between the Celtics and Knicks will be televised nationally on TNT, with Marv Albert and Steve Kerr calling the action from the sidelines. The game can also be heard of the WEEI Sports Radio Network (93.7 FM/850 AM), with Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell serving as the broadcast team. In addition, Comcast SportsNet New England will air the pre- and postgame shows with Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn.
Odds: New York is a five-point favorite over Boston in the season opener.
Celtics Roster 2011-12: Ray Allen, Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley, Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling, Kevin Garnett, JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, Jermaine O'Neal, Sasha Pavlovic, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Greg Stiemsma, Chris Wilcox. Head Coach: Doc Rivers.
Knicks Roster 2011-12: Carmelo Anthony, Renaldo Balkman, Mike Bibby, Tyson Chandler, Baron Davis, Toney Douglas, Landry Fields, Josh Harrellson, Jared Jeffries, Jerome Jordan, Steve Novak, Iman Shumpert, Amar'e Stoudemire, Bill Walker. Head Coach: Mike D'Antoni.
Last Season: Boston went 56-26 in the regular season before sweeping the Knicks in the field round of the playoffs. However, the Celtics fell short in the conference semifinals, losing to the eventual conference champion Miami Heat.
New York went 42-40 in the regular season and finished second in the Eastern Conference Atlantic Division behind the Celtics, but were swept out of the playoffs in four games by Boston in the opening round.
Boston and New York met four times in the regular season last year, with the Celtics winning each matchup. In addition, the two teams met four times in the postseason, with Boston winning all four games.
Boston, New York In Preseason: Boston and New York both went 2-0 in the preseason, with the Celtics beating the Toronto Raptors twice and the Knicks defeating the New Jersey Nets two times. Boston escaped with a 76-75 win in the preseason opener last Sunday and won 81-73 on Wednesday night in the preseason finale. New York posted a 92-83 win in the opener and an 88-82 win in the finale over the Nets.
Statistical Leaders: Paul Pierce was the Celtics' leading scorer last season, averaging 18.9 points. Kevin Garnett (14.9 PPG) led the team in rebounding with 8.9 boards per contest. Rajon Rondo (10.6 PPG) led the team in steals (2.3 SPG) and assists (11.2 APG) and Jermaine O'Neal (5.4 PPG) averaged a team-high 1.3 blocks.
Carmelo Anthony was the Knicks' leading scorer in 2010-11, averaging 25.6 points. Amar'e Stoudemire (25.3 PPG) led the team in rebounding (8.2 RPG) and blocks (1.9 BPG). Raymond Felton, who is no longer with the team, led the Knicks in assists (8.3 APG) and steals (1.7 SPG).
Storyline: Finally, basketball has returned. When the Celtics and Knicks tip off at center court at Madison Square Garden, it will issue in a brand news season in the NBA -- one that should have started about one month ago. The NBA Lockout took its toll on the players, coaches and fans, ultimately trimming the season down to 66 games. For some teams, this is an advantage. For others, it will be more challenging due to the increased amount of back-to-back games.
The Celtics fall into the latter category, as they consistently struggled in the second half of back-to-back games last season. As for the Knicks, they have younger stars like Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire that shouldn't be as bothered by the compact schedule, but it will ultimately be a tough challenge for all teams.
As for Sunday's game, the Celtics and Knicks recently rekindled their rivalry after New York acquired Stoudemire prior to the start of last season and then traded for Anthony at the trade deadline. Nevertheless, Boston won all eight meetings against New York in 2011 -- four in the regular season and four in the postseason.
However, Boston will likely be without captain Paul Pierce, who is recovering from a bruised right heel. Sasha Pavlovic, usually an end-of-the-bench type reserve, will be promoted to start in the game, causing concern for many Celtics fans (myself included). Without Pierce, the majority of the scoring load will likely fall on Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. No doubt, Pierce's absence will severely hurt the Celtics in any games they play without him.
New York let point guard Chauncey Billups go via the amnesty clause in the new CBA and replaced him with Baron Davis, who is currently sidelined with a back injury. The Knicks' big offseason acquisition was center Tyson Chandler, who will help them immensely on defense in the post.
If the Celtics can stay healthy this season, they have a good shot of winning the Atlantic Division title once again. However, if injuries pop up (as they likely will), the Knicks will likely take the reigns in the division.
Players To Watch: With Pierce likely out, the Celtics will look to Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett for offense. Rajon Rondo will need to be on top of his game, and any offense from him will be a bonus. Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire will lead the Knicks on offense, as usual. Keep an eye on how Tyson Chandler, playing his first game in New York, fits in.
Prediction: If Paul Pierce plays in this game and is healthy, I'd give the advantage to Boston. Unfortunately, it looks like The Truth won't be available for the opener, and the Knicks hold the upper hand in that scenario. Final Score: Knicks 88, Celtics 83.