The Celtics came into tonight's contest winning three straight games at the TD Garden, and they would be tested by New York in an Atlantic Division battle this evening. The Knicks, on the other hand, entered Beantown on a seven-game losing streak with something to prove.
Derek Fisher's squad was even more depleted than they were the last time we saw them, as left knee surgery will keep Carmelo Anthony out of action for the remainder of the season in addition to Amare Stoudemire moving on to Dallas following a contract buyout from the Knicks. Even with their two highest paid players out of the picture, the Knicks came out of the gate with a high level of energy as they hoped not to be put away as easily as they had been at Madison Square Garden on February 3.
For the better part of the first three quarters, it looked like this thing would go down to the wire.
The active seven-foot body of Jason Smith helped set the tone for the orange and blue from the get-go, devouring six rebounds (three offensive) just halfway through the first quarter and doing an excellent job reading and reacting. Louis Amundson acted as a steady complement, as he strapped up his ponytail and played an efficient game around the rim, even surprising us with a couple of beautiful drop steps and hook shots. The Boston front line had their work cut out for them early; even Andrea Bargnani put extra pressure on the defense by getting to the line for nine free throw attempts in the first half (has that ever happened?).
D-League gem Langston Galloway did some damage of his own, displaying his high upside as a pick n' roll threat, as he came off screens with a purpose and showed off his pretty stop-and-pop pull-up game.
Fortunately, our beloved Celtics didn't cower when they were hit with a challenge. Instead, they rose to the occasion after intermission and increased their intensity to a level it had not been at all game long. Boston closed the third quarter out on a dynamite 18-4 run, and that explosion never gave them a reason to look back. In fact, they smelled blood and went for the kill, carrying the surge into the final frame and extending it to a whopping 43-13 run (including 20 unanswered points).
For a game that experienced 19 lead changes and 10 ties, that was one heck of a finish.
Evan Turner helped lead the charge, coming through with his first career triple-double of 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Turner did it all, and not only filled up the stat sheet but played tough basketball and brought the intangibles. Coach Stevens was so impressed with his all-around play that he left him on the floor for 18 straight minutes in the second half. Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas may technically be the point guards, but Turner did an outstanding job controlling the ball and making the right decisions with it in his hands.
Speaking of Smart and Thomas, they ate their Wheaties this morning, too. Thomas had a tougher shooting night from the field than we had seen in his first two outings in green, as he went just 3-10, but he showed yet again that he brings a completely new dynamic to this offense. The little fella can shoot the rock, but you've got to love his relentless approach to attacking off the dribble and his 11-11 free throw clip backs up those sentiments. In addition to that, he did an excellent job of establishing pace and he made a lot of terrific plays with the ball in transition.
Mahcus Smaht! We love this ked! The rookie gave Jose Calderon fits all night, forcing the aging veteran into four turnovers and a 1-7 shooting performance as he struggled to deal with Smart's physical nature. On the other end of the floor, Smart contributed 16 points and buried a pair of back-to-back threes in the midst of the extension of the big second half run. The more experience he gets, the more consistent he performs and boy, that jump shot has come a long way.
A lot of credit should be given to the reserves, as well. Brad Stevens' bench brigade was firing on all cylinders, combining for a refreshing 61 points. Isaiah Thomas' 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds helped set the tone in terms of aggression, and Jae Crowder continued to impose his will attacking the rim with his big body. Crowder had a big night in his own right, putting up 18 points and making a lot of intelligent plays moving the ball within the flow of the offense.
Jonas Jerebko is the bench performer that stole the show, however. After playing just five total minutes in his first two games with the Celtics, Jerebko got some extended run tonight and he made the most of his opportunity, shooting 7-10 on his way to a team-high 20 points. This is a guy that has had his job taken from him in Detroit due to health more than anything. He's not going to drop a 20-piece every night, but Danny Ainge may have gotten somewhat of a steal in a guy that can contribute as a stretch-four.
For the second straight game, the Celtics knocked down 14 three-point shots. You can thank Jerebko and Smart for half of them, and those numbers don't tell the story of timing, as the C's caught fire from beyond the arc to open up that enormous game-deciding run.
The Celtics played tough, shot the lights out, did an outstanding job of pressuring New York's ball handlers, won the rebounding battle, moved the ball with a purpose and most importantly, played together. The cohesion in which this offense is flowing right now, is truly night and day in comparison to the first half of the season.
Player of the Game
10 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, 5-9 FG
Honoring a Legend: Between the first and second quarters, our guy Tommy Heinsohn was honored as a 2015 Hall of Fame inductee for his success as a head coach. A heck of an accomplishment, this makes Tommy just one of four people in basketball history to be named to the Hall of Fame as both a player and coach.
Congratulations, Tommy! Well deserved.
The Celtics will be back in action on Friday night, where they'll host the Charlotte Hornets at 7:30 pm ET in an attempt to extend their home winning streak to five games.