1. Despite a spirited effort, the Knicks could not convert on the final possession in a matinee thriller at MSG. New York and Atlanta engaged in a back-and-forth battle in the third matchup between the two teams before Dennis Schroder buried a 3-pointer with 18 seconds remaining in the game to give the Hawks a one-point advantage. On the other side of the floor, Derrick Rose drove hard to the rack after the Hawks defense tilted to Carmelo Anthony on the slip screen. Rose’s layup attempt was blocked by Paul Millsap and Anthony shot an errant jumper off the loose ball recovery, leading to the Hawks escaping the Garden with a win. Anthony finished with a team-high 30 points on 62.5 percent shooting from the floor.
2. Amid the recent struggles for the Knicks, head coach Jeff Hornacek searched for a spark to ignite the starting lineup. Hornacek adjusted the five-man group by placing rookie Ron Baker in the backcourt and brought Courtney Lee off the bench. During Hornacek’s pregame presser, he also hinted that if Kristaps Porzingis was available to return he could start the versatile big man at the 5 and shift Anthony to power forward. Porzingis was eventually ruled out of the game due to a sore left Achilles (3rd straight missed contest) and his status is unclear heading into Wednesday’s tilt against Boston. Lance Thomas also missed Monday’s game due to an orbital fracture. He is being fitted for a face mask and is expected to return to the lineup soon.
3. The Celtics are hot entering Wednesday’s showdown with seven wins in their last eight outings, including three straight victories. In the latest win, Boston powered past Charlotte in the fourth quarter behind Isaiah Thomas’ 17-point outburst in the period. Thomas finished with 35 points in the Celtics win and Avery Bradley returned to the floor after missing four straight games due to a strained right Achilles. Boston improved to 26-15 following the win while holding a firm spot in the Eastern Conference standings in third, 2.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors.
4. New York will need to be aware of Thomas’ penchant for fourth quarter explosions. Thomas is not only the best fourth quarter scorer in the league but he is the most prolific in the final stanza over the past 20 years. The Celtics point guard is averaging an impressive 10.1 points per game in the last period of play this season and Monday was the eighth time this season he scored at least 15 points in the fourth quarter, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
5. Boston owns a 2-0 season series lead over New York. In the first game, Anthony and Brandon Jennings were ejected while the Celtics cruised to a 115-87 victory. The second matchup at Madison Square Garden was competitive, resulting in a 119-114 victory for the road team. Porzingis scored 22 points and Anthony led the Knicks with 29 points in the Christmas Day tilt. Both teams will meet on Wednesday night and then square off late in the season on April 2 in front of a national audience.
by Jonah Ballow