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Defense picks up at right time for Celtics in win over Knicks

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It wasn’t a defensive showcase through three quarters for the Celtics, but they turned it around when it mattered versus the Knicks.

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

For most of the game, the Celtics looked lackluster defensively and even coach Brad Stevens said his team got “bullied” on that side of the floor at points Sunday against the New York Knicks.

But in the fourth quarter, like it or not, the C’s flipped the necessary switch on their defense even with their best defensive player in Marcus Smart, who suffered an injury to his abdomen early in the third quarter, sidelined.

Facing a six-point deficit with eight minutes remaining, the C’s defensive intensity ramped up to spark a game-closing 26-11 run to propel Boston to a 113-104 victory at Madison Square Garden.

“It’s good that we can turn it to that level,” said Stevens of the much-improved defense as the C’s recorded their third win over the Knicks this season.

After receiving valuable minutes from Enes Kanter, who posted a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds, Stevens went to a small lineup down the stretch and the move paid divdends.

Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown along with Grant Williams and Semi Ojeleye held the Knicks to 29.4 percent shooting from the field in the fourth quarter along with a 1-for-7 mark from 3-point range. The Knicks were shooting 50.8 percent from the field through three quarters, but the C’s held them to just 19 points in the fourth.

New York struggled with five turnovers in the stanza, too, including one coming off a clean steal from Brown of Damyean Dotson just after the Knicks took a timeout. Brown converted the turnover into immediate points as the C’s went ahead for good with 5:52 left.

The C’s undersized unit also held the Knicks scoreless for a span of 4:10 while Boston went on its game-altering spurt to run away with the win.

“Communication and just talking and being more positive and stuff like that,” said Brown on what changed defensively in the fourth quarter. “It’s a long season. We know that. We know we have expectations for this team, but it’s a process in doing that. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re not going to be perfect every step of the way, but be positive, continue to move forward and we’ll be fine.”