Not Just Another Game
In February, the Knicks and Celtics have identical 8-2 records and near-identical offensive ratings (BOS: 120.4, NYK: 120.2). A month removed from a 120-117 overtime loss to these same Knicks, I wanted to see how the Celtics would open the game. With Jaylen Brown sitting out, maybe Jayson Tatum, inspired by Damien Lillard’s 71-point outburst last night, would see an opportunity to go off Madison Square Garden. Conversely, I imagine the Knicks had this game circled after five straight wins over mediocre teams. Which one of these teams would punch first? Both teams were dialed in defensively, but it was Julius Randle who hit two quick threes and the Knicks took an early lead. The game had a playoff feel from the opening tip.
90s Throwback Night
The Celtics had a horrendous offensive 1st quarter, shooting 1-of-12 from deep and 33 percent from the field. Their best offense came from Malcolm Brogdon midrange jumpers. It’s not like the Knicks were lighting it up offensively, but Randle and Brunson combined for 19 and they led 27-15 after one. It was the first time the Celtics failed to score 20 points in a 1st quarter. There were some great defensive sequences on both sides: Grant Williams bodying-up Josh Hart, Marcus Smart defending Randle in the post, Immanuel Quickley picking up full court. The best defensive play was Mitchell Robinson rejecting this Tatum dunk attempt:
Knicks 2nd Quarter Blitz
The Celtics offense looked discombobulated to open the 2nd period and the Knicks dominated. Hart scored 8 quick points and Brunson was a handful in isolation. With Tatum on the bench, the Celtics couldn’t get anything going, and the Knicks lineup of Brunson and the bench unit went up 47-27.
Tatum’s Rough Start
Remember when I said Tatum might be inspired by Lillard’s performance last night? Well, it wasn’t looking great early. He went 1/6 with two turnovers in the 1st quarter, and it seemed like New York’s physicality was getting to him. But with the Celtics down big in the 2nd quarter, they stationed him in the midrange and he scored on two straight possessions to cut the deficit to 10. Just as Boston chipped away at the lead, the Knicks came back with their own run.