Well, that was certainly something.
After a dominant Opening Night win over the Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics weren’t quite able to keep up the momentum in Toronto against the Raptors, dropping their second game of the season 113-101 in a game that felt like it was being played in April, not October. The Celtics went back-and-forth with the Raptors in one of the best games of the fledgling NBA season, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a statement game from Kawhi Leonard, who posted 31 points and 10 rebounds.
Under ordinary circumstances, a date with the New York Knicks sans-Kristaps Porzingis might be a welcome respite after two straight games against the Eastern Conference’s elite. These are not ordinary circumstances, though; the Celtics now face their first back-to-back of the season, traveling 500 miles to square off with the 1-1 Knicks, who just enjoyed a “road game” against the cross-town Brooklyn Nets.
Though New York dropped that game against Brooklyn, 107-105, there was quite a bit for the Knicks to like. Veterans Enes Kanter and Tim Hardaway Jr. dropped 29 points apiece, and vaunted top draft pick Kevin Knox added 17 on 7-of-14 shooting from the field. The Knicks outscored the Nets in the second half, but couldn’t withstand a fourth-quarter onslaught from promising Nets guard Caris LaVert, who hit a layup with 8.5 seconds remaining that put Brooklyn ahead for good.
For the Celtics’ part, things have gone more or less to plan. Blowing out the 76ers on Opening Night was an encouraging sign, especially considering they did it despite weak games from Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward (who will not play against the Knicks for rest purposes). Against the Raptors, the Celtics were competitive throughout, with Irving compiling 21 points on 50% shooting from the field and Hayward posting his best regular season game yet in Celtics Green — 14 points in 24 minutes, on 6-of-13 shooting. Al Horford fell just short of a triple-double, with 14 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for the night.
This is a game the Celtics will rightfully be heavy favorites for. The Knicks are among the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, especially without Porzingis anchoring their lineup, and the Celtics have played very impressively well considering the necessary adjustments involved with reincorporating two All-Stars to their starting lineup. In terms of sheer talent, the Celtics have a very, very clear edge, and this early in the season, back-to-backs might not be the most demanding of situations, since everyone is generally fresh anyways.
Still, the Knicks are a team playing with a lot of energy right now. They blew out the hapless Hawks in their season opener, and stayed very competitive with a likely-better-than-you-think Nets team last night. The Knicks are extremely young, and young players thrive on momentum — which they’ll carry over quite a bit from, after their encouraging play last night against the Nets. This is a very likely Boston win, but one that the Celtics — and their fans — shouldn’t take lightly, all the same.
PG - Kyrie Irving - Trey Burke
SG - Jaylen Brown - Frank Ntilikina
SF - Jayson Tatum - Tim Hardaway Jr.
PF - Al Horford - Lance Thomas
C - Aron Baynes - Enes Kanter
Boston - Gordon Hayward (Rest), Jabari Bird (Personal)
New York - Courtney Lee (Neck), Emmanuel Mudiay (Ankle)
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