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A long day and 9 other takeaways from Celtics/Knicks

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Boston overcame a low-energy start for their third straight victory

NBA: Boston Celtics at New York Knicks Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

1. It was a low-energy start for the Celtics. It was almost like something was hanging over the team. Against a Knicks team that was very shorthanded due to their recent trade, Boston couldn’t create any separation until the second half. That type of start could cost them against a good team.

2. The most common action in the NBA is the two-man game. This is usually a pick and roll/pop play, but sometimes it’s an old basketball standby: the give-and-go. On this play, it’s a delayed go, but results in the same thing. The fun part is Al Horford catching and telling Tatum immediately to cut. Then Tatum finishes through some contact at the rim. It’s a terrific play:

3. Part of what helped Boston get going was the play from the reserves, which is becoming a common theme. The main bench group of Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward and Aron Baynes came in and gave the Celtics a big boost in energy.

4. One of the things the reserve group did was amp up the ball pressure against a backup unit for New York that didn’t have a true point guard. This led to multiple turnovers and the Knicks getting bad shots late in the shot-clock.

5. The energy was evident on this play by Rozier and Hayward. Rozier beats the Knicks to the ball off the tap and Hayward races down the floor with him. It ends up in an alley-oop for Hayward with a guy under him, which is still terrifying!

6. It was a second-straight strong game for Hayward. He scored 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and also flashed his passing once again. Hayward is particularly good at finding the bigs on the quick roll coming off screens, as he does here with Baynes:

7. This was one of those games where if you only looked at the box score, you would think Marcus Smart didn’t do much. Not a single stat jumps out in his 28 minutes. But if you watched, you saw his impact. Once Boston picked up the energy and the defense, Smart got going. He was getting into players bodies on the perimeter and making life generally miserable for them. At one point late in the first half, Smart forced Kevin Knox to turn it over once, and to give the ball up on four straight trips when Knox tried to back him down or take him off the dribble.

8. Jayson Tatum has had a wonderful scoring game since day one of his NBA career. Now, he’s starting to flash his much-improved passing. Here, you see Tatum catch on the move, but instead of focusing on breaking his man down, he keeps his head up and finds Kyrie Irving on the cut for Irving’s first dunk of the season:

9. Every good scorer has a pet move that becomes their go-to. For Brown, this short turnaround in the paint has become his. Because of his size and athletic ability, Brown can get this shot whenever he wants:

10. It was a long day for the Celtics. The players, coaches, fans, everyone. The day started at shootaround in the morning with Kyrie Irving answering questions about his future in Boston. To his credit, Irving didn’t duck any questions or hide from the media. And then he went out and played a solid game with 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

But the entire “Is he staying or not?” situation hung over the Celtics because Irving didn’t do much to diffuse it, and it was obvious to everyone watching. Boston came out with very low energy, a sign that their heads weren’t really where they need to be. They ended up pulling away and hammering a bad and shorthanded Knicks team, but that type of start could kill them against a good team.

One other thing that was off, was Irving wasn’t himself, despite the good game. He’s usually one of the most fun players to watch, and he plays the game with a high level of joy. Last night there were few smiles and almost no laughter. Hopefully this is something Irving and the Celtics can move past, because the team is finally playing great basketball. Boston has won three straight and eight of their last nine. They moved past the Indiana Pacers into a homecourt advantage in the playoffs spot for the first time in a long time. They’ve closed the gap on the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors as well.

If Boston plays like this, they can be the NBA Finals team many thought they would be before the season. They can even challenge the Golden State Warriors, as we saw last week. But they need to fully move past this week’s drama. And they need to have Kyrie Irving play with joy again to be their best selves.