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Celtics knock out the Knicks 121-112

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The backcourt helped Boston seal the win against New York.

NBA: Boston Celtics at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

On the second night of a back-to-back on the road, the Boston Celtics improved to 7-4 in such games with a 121-112 win over the New York Knicks. Boston’s backcourt led the way with strong efforts from Kyrie Irving (31 points, 9 rebounds & 8 assists) and Jaylen Brown (24 points) supported by the bench contributions of Marcus Smart (11 points, 5 assists, 3 steals) and Terry Rozier (14 points) to seal the deal.

Daniel Theis (6 points, 7 rebounds) made his 3rd career start after a career-high 19 points last night in Boston’s blowout win over the Detroit Pistons. Although he wasn’t as impactful on the scoreboard, he still provided decent defense and fit well with the starters. Boston starters not named Jaylen Brown* came out a little flat, looking like a team that played in Detroit last night. At the end of the first, the Knicks led Boston 24-23 thanks in no small part to the Celtics shooting 36% in that frame.

In the second half, the Knicks bench, aided by Trey Burke (finishing with a surprising 26 points and 8 assists), started to pull away before Marcus Smart did Marcus Smart things to establish discipline, including this defensive play that sparked a run:

Marcus Smart continued his strong play in his second game after a lengthy absence following the hand injury that almost ended his season. Smart consistently drove to the basket instead of settling for jumpshots, and the Celtics’ offense was much better for it.

The first half included a couple of highlights including a pair of baseline jams from Jaylen Brown:

...and Marcus Smart:

The Knicks, aided by Enes Kanter (9 points and 12 rebounds) and Emmanuel Mudiay (13 points) came out strong in the third quarter, but Kyrie Irving responded with a flurry of points himself. Inside? Irving had some dazzling finishes. Outside? He also hit the Knicks with a barrage of 3-pointers in the frame. Any way you wanted it, Irving got it done for Boston.

The fourth quarter came with its share of problems, however. Shane Larkin finally returned from injury, but the Knicks went on a run to cut the lead to two. Tim Hardaway Jr. (17 points) did his fair share of damage to keep his squad in the game. The Knicks never fully went away, but Boston pulled ahead for good with about 2 minutes left on the strength of their defense.

Al Horford had a slow offensive start to the game, but he continued to quarterback Boston’s defense from the paint, plugging himself wherever he needed to be to help the team. Horford found his offensive groove in the second half, finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Uncharacteristically, Horford finished with 0 assists.

NBA: Boston Celtics at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the stretch run of the season, head coach Brad Stevens promised rotation changes. It seems as though one of the biggest changes has been Jayson Tatum (11 points in just 26 minutes) playing fewer minutes through two games. Although he’s been sitting on the bench for long stretches in the second and fourth quarters, Tatum has returned to his early-season aggressiveness, actively looking for his shot more and making solid plays on both end.

Boston hosts the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday in their first home game after the All-Star break after getting picked apart by the L.A. Clippers. They’ll look to make it up to the fans by continuing their strong post-All-Star break play and extending their winning streak.

*For what it’s worth, this humble blogger would like to note that every time I write the recap, Jaylen Brown comes out aggressive in the first quarter. It started out as a joke, but now it’s a trackable phenomenon that warrants further exploration. With 10 points on 44% shooting in the first frame, tonight’s performance certainly qualifies in comparison to his usual first quarter spurts. I will continue to track this over time.