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Celtics defeat Knicks 108-104 in Opening Night nailbiter

It wasn’t pretty, but big nights from Jayson Tatum and Kristaps Porzingis carried the Celtics to the win. 

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Celtics squeezed out a thrilling win against the New York Knicks in their season debut despite struggling for much of the second half, in large part thanks to a strong performance from Kristaps Porzingis, who scored 9 consecutive points for the Celtics down the stretch and finished with 30 points on the night. It was the most ever scored by a Celtics in their debut game.

Despite leading for most of the game, the Celtics fell down by six with 3:39 to go after a series of turnovers and defensive mistakes, but a Jrue Holiday layup, and four Porzingis free throws tied up the game with two minutes to go. Then, with just under a minute and half to play, Porzingis hit a deep three and the Cs took a 104-101 lead.

A Julius Randle free throw and Isiah Hartenstein offensive board gave the Celtics a two-point lead with ten seconds left, when Payton Pritchard, checking in for Porzingis after spending much of the fourth on the bench, hit two clutch free throws that sealed the win.

After a successful preseason and high-energy training camp in which players and coaches expressed energy and excitement for the year ahead, the Celtics stormed out to an early lead. Tatum was dominant, particularly early on, and finished the night with 34 points (13-22 from the field), 11 rebounds, and 4 assists. 19 of those points came in the first half.

Porzingis scored 30 points on just 8-15 field goals, hit 9 of 10 free throws, and 5 of 9 threes. Defensively, his imprint was all over the game, and he finished with 4 blocks. Playing against the team the drafted him, Porzingis dealt with a chorus of boos throughout the night but came out swinging with a 15-point first quarter.

For much of the game, the ball was stagnant and the team resorted to the type of isolation ball this new-look group would like to avoid. The Celtics shot 30.8% from three, a figure that often resulted in a loss last season. But, 42 points in the paint and 18 fast break points allowed them to overcome those shooting struggles.

Jrue Holiday, Derrick White, and Jaylen Brown finished with 12, 9, and 11 points, respectively. Payton Pritchard scored 4 points in 11 minutes - including the two huge free throws down the stretch.

Horford comes off the bench

For only the 13th time in his 16-year career, Al Horford came off the bench. He had previously expressed a desire to start, but changed his tune in the preseason when asked about the matter.

“The type of team we have, we have a lot of depth. We have a lot of talented players,” Horford said earlier in the preseason. “One of our strengths is our versatility as a team. So there’s going to be times that we’re going to have to go a certain way. There’s other times that we got to play big, play small, things like that. That’s just the way it is.”

Teammates lauded Horford for his willingness to exit the starting line-up. “A lot of guys say they’ll do anything to help the team win, but Al is the epitome of that,” Tatum said at shootaround this morning. “We got six starters, essentially.”

Horford ended up finishing with 8 points on 3-4 shooting and 7 rebounds in 26 minutes of action.

Knicks stars struggle

On the Knicks side, the stars struggled in their home debut. Julius Randle, coming off of an All Star season but tough playoff run, finished with 14 points on 5-22 shooting. Jalen Brunson, who had a breakout year for the Knicks last year, scored 15 on 6-21 shooting. Immanuel Quickley was a bright spot off the bench; the had 24 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. RJ Barrett also finished with 24 points.

The Celtics’ next game is on Friday at 7:30pm, at TD Garden against the Miami Heat. They’ll look to avenge last season’s disappointing Game 7 loss with a win in their home debut.

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