After a three-game skid where the Celtics absolutely needed to get some momentum, Stevens changed the starting lineup in an attempt to pick up the intensity. In went Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk, and out went Jaylen Brown and Tyler Zeller. The result? Gino time and a happy Friday.
Celtics came out firing, Smart hits first two first quarter three’s. Bradley completely blanketed Lee, and the Celtics were off to a quick 13-6 lead to start. Celtics came out with a purpose to rebound as a team, and guys like Smart and Bradley did well with running in the paint for boards, and pushing it out in transition. Looked like the energy that lead the Celtics to 48 wins last season came back. Stevens put an emphasis on playing small and skilled rather than big, and went with Jonas Jerebko as the first guy off the bench. Rozier was the next substitution for Bradley which felt like a sign that he was looking to stagger him with the second unit.
Knicks fought back in the first led by Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. After the Celtics brought the lead up to as high as double digits, the Knicks were able to get their deficit down to three (25-28) as the starters began to wear down from playing at such a break-neck pace. After a timeout, the Celtics came out with a Thomas-Rozier-Brown-Jerebko-Zeller lineup. Celtics were able to hold fort with second unit, and came out of the first leading 31-27. Celtics and Knicks were knotted in rebounds at 13, but Celtics were winning the free throw battle 10 to 1, a testament to their aggressiveness throughout the frame.
Celtics started the second quarter with the same lineup, but instead had Bradley in for Thomas. The rebounding battle quickly flipped, and the Knicks went up 28-16, including a 13-4 run on offensive rebounding. As the great Tommy Heinshon duly noted, Celtics were attacking the boards, but nobody was boxing out, and it lead to the Knicks getting multiple second chance points. By the time the starters came back in the game, the Celtics and Knicks were toe-to-toe at 39-38. With about 4:44 in the second, Carmelo was called for a foul that he didn’t like and got a tech for arguing with Tony Brothers. Anthony continued to yap at Brothers after the fact despite Brothers best efforts to walk away, and he was promptly ejected. The Celtics used the momentum to push their lead to 10, lead by Thomas. Without Anthony, the Knicks tried to pick up their aggressiveness, but Thomas just went on an absolute tear, going for a 23 point half included 3/4 from three point range. Celtics went into halftime up 61-51.
Second half began much like the first, the Celtics were swarming defensively, and pushed it out in transition whenever they could. Knicks had a hard time breaking out of the 8-12 point deficit range and let what they felt was bad officiating take them out of their game. Celtics made a concerted effort to get to the basket, and similar to an NFL team that consistently runs the ball; the other team began to wear down. Celtics finished the third up 86-73.
Celtics started the 4th quarter with Rozier-Smart-Brown-Olynyk-Zeller. Rozier looked absolutely fantastic tonight going to the rim and attacking, but struggled to finish. Regardless, the lack of tentativeness was great to see and highlighted his comfort level. Nice moment here, mid-way through the fourth, the Celtics had Smart-Rozier-Brown-Olynyk-Zeller match-up, 4 first round picks playing pivotal roles. Ainge gets a lot of grief for his draft record, but he’s had some pretty selections. Also, as I typed that, Brown air balled a step back mid-range jumper.
Anyway, the Knicks never got any closer during meaningful parts of the game. Gino time happened, James young got some cameo, and the Celtics got back on track.