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Celtics' dead offense emerges in final minutes to win 105-104 over Knicks

The Boston offense wasn't going to bring enough to the table against a Knicks team that hit almost every bucket the Celtics gave them. But the hustle emerged in the final moments and a 13-4 run in last 3:44 led to another improbable victory that has become a staple of this team. The Celtics Hustle keeps winning.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

It seemed like a recipe for another blowout after the Celtics' nearly-perfect win over Portland. Playing for a 13th straight victory at home, this time against the Knicks, the situation could not have looked better. Since the last time these two faced each other, when they were both deadlocked for the No. 8 seed, they've driven in polar opposite directions.

Reflecting on that January contest, the Celtics have risen to 37-25 while the Knicks have fallen to 25-37 and have since fired their coach Derek Fisher in favor of Kurt Rambis. They're 2-6 since that firing, and stories have emerged of Carmelo Anthony telling a heckling fan to talk to their owner about the issues. They had lost 11 of their last 13 coming into Boston.

The situation is not sunny in New York, but, as Boston has found out often in the last two seasons, when the Celtics play down to their opponents they're almost guaranteed to get burned. That was the result that looked poised to occur as Anthony and the Knicks were hitting nearly every look the Celtics gave them, but the relentless drive that Boston displayed all night turned into a 13-4 run in the final 3:44 led by heroics from none other than Evan Turner. Thanks in large part to a strong 32-point performance from Isaiah Thomas, they escaped with a 105-104 victory.

Understandably, the team got right out on the run looking to expose the Knicks' lack of hustle. Thomas (9-13, 12-13 FT, 8 assists) set the pace in front of the home crowd, driving inside for a pair of buckets and hitting a three in the early moments. On the next play, Jae Crowder (9-19, 20 pts, 8 rebounds) was running ahead of the whole defense while Anthony watched him put Boston up 11-6.

The Celtics looked poised to run the Knicks back to New York, but then everybody got a reminder that talent alone can often help you compete in NBA games.

Robin Lopez (4-10, 12 pts, 12 reb) came back with a tough basket inside, and after a quick stop on their end, Anthony (13-27, 30 pts, 7 reb, 4 ast) hit a three off Kristaps Porzingis' (6-14, 15 pts, 5 reb) offensive rebound to put the Knicks on top 12-11. Avery Bradley (4-10, 9 pts) hit a jumper to push Boston ahead again, but Porzingis was locked in early on, dropping another bucket for his eighth point in the first eight minutes.

It turned out New York was showing up to play, and the Celtics were going to have to adjust accordingly. As they continued to hit tough shots, the C's were forced to punch back with their signature weapon: hustle. After Arron Affalo (7-11, 17 pts) and Jose Calderon (5-10, 13 pts) put up a quick five, Boston responded as Thomas got hacked at the basket. Turner (9-15, 21 pts, 8 reb) laid in a fancy finish and Crowder again got ahead of the defense for hustle points. In the early going they outscored New York 6-0 on the fast break (30-4 on the game).

Two philosophies hit head-on with six lead changes paving way into a 22-22 deadlock 10 minutes in. The Knicks drove off of their talented array of shooters, while the Celtics hit them in the mouth with pure grit offensively. At some point it had to break, and with Anthony burying his final three shots of the first to go ahead 31-27, it looked optimistic for New York.

As you could've guessed, the Celtics weren't going away. In the early portions of the second they got back out into their hustle game with a smart cut to the basket by Tyler Zeller (5-10, 12 pts, 5 reb), a pair of Marcus Smart (4 reb, 3 ast, 2 steals) free throws, and a Turner fast break that worked a 33-33 tie on a 6-2 run.

It would not be long before frustration set in once again as Boston's energy seemed to be the only thing holding them in the game. The Knicks' length hurt them at both ends, especially offensively where Porzingis and Lopez picked on the C's with easy lay-ups and rebounds. New York started the quarter on a 13-4 run, but Boston finally cracked the wall thanks to a questionable call and ensuing technical on Calderon that gave the C's three points.

Boston only trailed by four, but their struggles on both ends shined bright. They started 1-10 from the perimeter and after their gift of three points from the refs, the Knicks immediately went on a 7-0 run after Calderon struck back with a three and lay-up before Lance Thomas got an easy bucket inside.

Easy described the Celtics' efforts at both ends. They were not making it easy for themselves by any means offensively and were giving the Knicks continuous easy looks defensively. The all-around stinker of a half didn't end well either, as Anthony racked up another five points in the final two-and-a-half minutes while Derrick Williams hit a corner three. In some ways the Celtics were fortunate to only trail 58-53 at the half, as many of their buckets looked like the one Turner capped the second with, an uncontrolled rush to the rim that somehow finished with a made fadeaway baseline jumper.

After a long halftime to make adjustments, Brad Stevens wasn't ready for any nonsense, and unluckily for him that's what he saw right away. Calling a timeout just 53 seconds into the third, the C's didn't take long to give Anthony an easy jumper and let Porzingis pull up for three. Boston needed a change but weren't quick to make it, continuing to take hard shot attempts and let New York's bigs make a home in the paint.

So Stevens made a change he probably didn't expect to make going in: he moved Crowder to the four to play Porzingis next to Sullinger, while Thomas, Smart, and Bradley patrolled up top. Rambis saw this after a quick Thomas bucket and immediately prepared his team with a timeout.

But his message didn't resonate.

The game turned upside down in a mere matter of moments as the Celtics pushed their run to 15-2 and jumped out to a 71-69 lead by scrambling on defense to get stops and turnovers with their small lineup. Thomas got ahead of the defense twice more on the run, which they emphasized to the max, Bradley found a three-pointer and I.T. almost pulled up again before finding a cutting Crowder.

It was again the silent genius of Stevens at play, a simple change in the lineup turned into a total game-plan overhaul, and as the Knicks called timeout, shell-shocked by the quick run, the game looked poised to turn into a track meet that New York was not interested in. But it didn't.

The Knicks regained their composure. They were able to get back into slow, focused offensive sets and limited their turnovers. Kyle O'Quinn (3-4, 6 pts, 4 reb) entered to add quickness to their front-line, and it matched Boston's move of Crowder to the four. He made passes from the paint and finished twice inside himself before Affalo hit two straight jumpers to put New York up 77-73.

Suddenly the game became a match of constant adjustments by both sides as their differing styles continued to butt heads with each other. Turner went full E.T. mode with three straight buckets to save a dead-looking C's offense down the stretch of the third, but a few tough calls against them and more bad defense allowed the Knicks to score 10 themselves. They entered the fourth up 87-81 off an Affalo three.

For New York, they were set to face issues of their own as they entered the game last in the league in fourth-quarter scoring. With that in mind, the fourth would start as strangely as the entire three quarters that preceded it. Zeller went off, scoring eight straight in the first five minutes to pull within four including a driving dunk over Lopez, but the team around him missed nine straight themselves in that span.

The 8-4 rush wasn't enough, as the Knicks turned around and went on a 7-3 run themselves, and the Celtics continued to rely on tough looks from Turner and Thomas for baskets. With 3:22 to go, they trailed by seven, and the situation looked bleak with how the game had run to that point.

Then, as such a strange game would entail, the Celtics hustle arrived out of nowhere. They went back to their simple formula for success that had worked much earlier in the night for their biggest run, and it produced a bigger one. Going small with Turner over Smart, the C's broke off for six straight before E.T. saved a ball that looked destined to fall out of bounds. Instead it ended up in Sullinger's hands, who threw a perfect full-court pass to Crowder for another bucket.

The Celtics, with an 8-0 run, were back from the dead and within one. But Melo was hungry too, and it'd be a back-and-forth battle with him in the final moments. After Turner responded to Anthony's first bucket with a tough mid-range jumper, the latter hit another to go up two.

Bradley came off of a timeout to put the Celtics back up one on a tough finish, and it came down to one last Knicks possession. Boston fouled Anthony with three seconds left, he got the ball back with Bradley pressing him deep outside, and he threw a three-point attempt off the backboard.

Like that, in the blink of an eye, the Celtics had won their 13th straight at home with a full team effort in the final few minutes. The Celtics hustle had won again, and a full sweep on the long home stand now sets them up with another trip to Cleveland to battle with the top-seeded Cavaliers Saturday.

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