One of the Eastern Conference's great mysteries, the Boston Celtics, will travel to MSG on Wednesday night to begin the season against long-time rivals, the New York Knicks.
While Boston underwent a major revamp on and off the floor over the offseason, New York rolls back most of its surprising team from a year ago — and, under Tom Thibodeau, the on-floor product isn't ever likely to change.
Here are our free NBA betting picks and predictions for Celtics vs. Knicks, tipping off on October 20.
Celtics vs Knicks odds
Odds via the Covers Line, an average comprised of odds from multiple sportsbooks.
The line opened on Monday morning at Knicks -1 and has been bet to -1.5 at most sportsbooks, as of Tuesday evening. The last time these two met, the Celtics closed at 12-point road dogs in a 4-point loss. The total opened at 217.5 for Wednesday and after early action on the Under moved it to 216.0, action on the Over has seen it rise to 218.0 and 218.5, depending on the book.
Celtics vs Knicks predictions
- Prediction: Celtics +1.5 (-110)
- Prediction: Under 218 (-110)
- Best bet: Robert Williams III Over 17.5 Points + Assists + Rebounds (-115)
Predictions made on 10/19/2021 at 4:25 p.m. ET.
Click on each prediction to jump to the full analysis.
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Celtics vs Knicks game info
• Location: Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY
• Date: Wednesday, October 20, 2021
• Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. ET
• TV: ESPN
Celtics vs Knicks betting preview
Celtics: Robert Williams III C (Probable), Payton Pritchard PG (Probable), Al Horford C (Doubtful), Jaylen Brown SG (Doubtful).
Knicks: Mitchell Robinson C (Probable), Nerlens Noel C (Doubtful).
Find our latest NBA injury reports.
Betting trend to know
The Under is 6-1 in the last seven games between the Celtics and Knicks. Find more NBA betting trends for Celtics vs. Knicks.
Celtics vs Knicks picks and predictions
Our predictions are compiled from the analysis of the spread and total and are indications of where we are leaning for this game.
Our best bet is the play that we like the most for this game, which we would actually put some of our bankroll behind.
Boston's roster is improved ahead of this season and the biggest reason for optimism remains, as ascending superstar Jayson Tatum looks to continue his trajectory. Tatum was fantastic last season, with career highs across the board, and his game should continue to grow along with his per-game averages in 2021-22.
With Boston set to start Marcus Smart at point guard, Tatum will be empowered to take on an increased role as a lead ball-handler after finishing 13th in usage last season. Early returns on Tatum's greater role as an initiator, in camp and preseason, are promising. In such a superstar-driven league, it's a no-brainer to play through Tatum more often and the team will be better for it.
In addition to continued growth from Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Robert Williams III, and Payton Pritchard, there's optimism around a revamped Celtics roster. Dennis Schroder and Josh Richardson complement the existing backcourt brilliantly, while talk out of Boston training camp suggests Al Horford has more left in the tank than he showed over the last two seasons.
While many expect improvement from the Celtics, the Knicks are among teams most suspected to regress and after the way in which New York's season ended, it's hard to argue. Julius Randle's out-of-nowhere jump to being an All-Star was most responsible for New York's overachievement last season but it's also the biggest reason to believe in Knicks regression.
Randle led all Knicks in win shares last year with 7.8 (T-15th in the NBA), after finishing with 2.7 during his first year in New York, and was exposed in the playoffs and shot his team out of the postseason. Randle's effective field goal percentage of .516 during the regular season plummeted to .356 in the playoffs. A career 34 percent 3-point shooter, Randle's 41 percent clip last season is obviously unsustainable and as such, so too is his role as an efficient first option.
New additions Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, as well as continued development from promising young players, won't do enough to overcome New York's regression this season, and it won't be enough to overcome the Celtics' edge in talent on Wednesday.
Prediction: Celtics +1.5 (-110)
The Knicks, under Thibodeau, will be committed to a methodical half-court offense and a fight-at-all-costs defense. In Thibs' first season at the helm, the Under cashed in 57.9 percent of New York's games — the second-highest mark in the NBA — as his philosophy was firmly implanted on his new team.
Thibs' Knicks finished with the slowest pace in the NBA last year, averaging 95.9 possessions per 48 minutes. They were the only team to average fewer than 96 possessions per four quarters, and the difference between New York and second place was the same as second to sixth.
New York's defensive rating was third-best in the league last year, a feat more impressive when considering the other members of a clear Top 4 relied on Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, and Rudy Gobert, all of whom are elite defenders and in a different stratosphere to New York's best defenders.
As long as Thibs is at the helm of this New York team, neither the pace nor defensive rating will change much, and that's certainly true this year. In Kemba Walker, he has a point guard unable to play at a rapid pace at this stage and one who is perfectly happy to operate in the half-court. And, between Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel, he has two true rim protectors who can ice pick and rolls and execute his scheme as he desires.
While we know exactly what to expect out of the Thibs-led Knicks, the Celtics are more of a mystery under first-time head coach Ime Udoka. We know that they want to increase their pace, something Udoka previously told media, after finishing 20th a year ago. And, we have reason to believe their 15th ranked defense from last season will improve.
Smart, Schroder, and Richardson provide Boston with three good-to-great defenders in the backcourt. Brown and Tatum give the Celtics two long, switchable defenders on the wing, with Brown being a particularly good defender. Then there's Robert Williams in the middle of it all, trying to swat everything after averaging 3.6 blocks per 36 through the first three seasons of his career.
With defensive talent at the point of attack, on the wing, and at the rim — plus plenty of switchability — Boston's defense offers considerable reason for optimism.
We believe in the Celtics' offense and their ability to score with any team in the league, as Tatum is primed to take the next step toward superstardom. However, there will be enough stops — and a slow enough pace — to hit the Under here.
Prediction: Under 218 (-110)
The two variables which could potentially hold back Celtics center Robert Williams III this season are minutes and health. Well, he will enter Wednesday night healthy after an offseason knee injury, and with Al Horford still getting over COVID-19, his minutes should be quite high.
Williams was an absolute joy to watch last season as he broke into Boston's rotation, as he was just as likely to chase an opponent down and pin their shot on the glass as he was to end up in the fourth row diving for a loose ball. In just under 19 minutes per night, Timelord averaged 8.0 points, 6.9 boards, 1.8 assists, and 1.8 blocks for last season's messy Celtics team.
Williams' averages per 36 minutes paint a better picture of his ability to put up silly numbers in increased minutes, with 15 points, 13 rebounds, and three assists per 36 last season. As a full-time starter this year, he can put up absurd numbers (especially as an undersized five who doesn't shoot 3s). Cut loose against the Knicks on Wednesday, he'll stuff the stat sheet.
Pick: Robert Williams III Over 17.5 Points + Assists + Rebounds (-115)
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