BOSTON — Terry Rozier was more than up to the challenge Wednesday night.
Filling in for the injured Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart, the third-year guard out of Louisville posted a triple-double in his first career NBA start to lead the Celtics past the Knicks, 103-73 Wednesday night at TD Garden.
Marcus Morris scored 20 points before leaving with a left hip injury following a nasty fall to the court late in the third quarter.
The Celtics also got an energy boost from Jaylen Brown, who posterized Kristaps Porzingis with one of the best dunks of the season in the first half. Brown finished with 14 points for the Celtics, who improved to 37-15.
For a full boxscore, click here.
Smart was spotted in the locker room before the game with a brace and wrap on his injured right hand. He did not speak to reporters. Brad Stevens repeated before the game that the team was “disappointed” in Smart’s actions in Los Angeles on Jan. 22 that resulted in him injuring his hand. Stevens said he had not had the chance to speak with Smart to discuss the incident in detail nor had he or President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge discussed any potential discipline, including a fine.
Irving was ruled out long before the game began after he woke up with a very stiff quad, an injury sustained in the one-point win at Denver Monday night.
Making his first career start for the injured Irving and Smart, Rozier came out hot from beyond arc, draining the first three triples he attempted. Rozier finished the first quarter with 11 points and helped the Celtics take a 27-24 lead after the first quarter.
Jaylen Brown added seven points for the Celtics, giving the starting backcourt 18 of the Boston’s 27 points to start the game.
With the Knicks hanging around in the second quarter, Brown took a pass from Rozier in full stride at midcourt, danced around Tim Hardaway Jr. before going baseline, rising up and tomahawking Kristaps Porzingis to oblivion with a thunderous dunk.
The electrifying jam put the Celtics ahead 37-31 and precipitated a timeout from Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek. The irony of the play was Brown flexing to the Celtics bench while Brad Stevens yelled at Brown for not getting back on defense.
Marcus Morris provided some valuable energy off the bench in the second quarter, scoring nine points and giving him 11 at the break. Morris, Rozier and Brown all had reached double-digits in scoring by the half as the Celtics took a 50-45 lead to the locker room.
Another guard, Shane Larkin, who was questionable with a sore knee, warmed up before the game but did not play as Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye saw significant minutes off the bench in the first half.
Not to be outdone by Brown, Jayson Tatum opened the second half by driving to the basket for a one-handed jam of his own. That was followed in the next possession by a Rozier basket that put the Celtics ahead quickly 54-45.
The Celtics played steady defense in the third quarter and slowly pulled away. Morris, who played point forward at times, drained a jumper over a disheartened Porzingis with 2:37 left in the period and the Celtics lead grew to 76-60.
With 44.4 seconds remaining in the third, Morris stole the ball at midcourt and went in for a two-handed dunk. As he held onto the rim, Michael Beasley came in trying to contest and elbowed Morris, causing him to lose grip on the rim and fall to the court, crashing hard on his left hip.
Marcus Morris just left the game after a hard fall pic.twitter.com/CUAeeQiY3f— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) February 1, 2018
He stayed on the ground while the officials allowed the Knicks to inbound the ball. Semi Ojeleye eventually gave up the foul and Morris was tended to for several minutes before slowly making his way to the locker room.