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Celtics Reach New Height of Offensive Execution in 116-102 Win Over Knicks

NEW YORK — Tom Thibodeau shook his head along the sideline and called his fifth timeout soon after, before the worst began, in a back-breaking third quarter. The Celtics poured in four threes in a row in what become a 9-for-11 three point shooting start that vaulted Boston to 70.9% from the field late in the frame.

Isaiah Hartenstein put his hands on his knees after Thibodeau called another timeout minutes later. Jalen Brunson fell to the floor and raised slowly after trying to defend Derrick White, who drove-and-kicked to Jrue Holiday to rattle off three more consecutive threes. Boston still had three in a row in them soon after.

The Celtics needed that level of offensive execution, arguably their greatest of the Brown and Tatum era, to hold off a relentless Knicks offensive effort that flowed into the fourth quarter. Boston pulled away to win late, 116-102, but New York threatened within nine points early in the fourth quarter before Al HorfordJaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum attacked the basket to score the decisive 10-0 run. The Celtics shot 56.8% from the field, 42.9% from three and had six different double-figure scorers. It tied the 18th-most efficient night from the field for Boston over the last 10 years.

“(The Knicks) brought the best out of us,” Joe Mazzulla said. “They challenged us. They wanted to win, and each guy, I thought you go back and look, there were so many positives from each player … when a guy gets hot, how can we get it to him within the framework of our offense and not just give it to him and play one-on-one? We had a little of that in Chicago, and I thought we fixed that tonight where each guy had a segment of the game, but it was within the confines of our structure … they’re recognizing how they can impact each other, they’re recognizing what makes sense in the game based on the matchup, based on how we’re playing, based on how they’re guarding us.”

Brown has called it being the smarter team all season. He and Tatum worked some two-man activity early while White ran most of the pick-and-roll with Kristaps Porzingis. The Knicks resisted both intensely, Isaiah Hartenstein blocking Porzingis in New York’s double-big alignment while Precious Achiuwa’s foul on Tatum’s driving dunk try out of the two-man set irked Knicks fans. White tipped out Tatum’s second free throw miss back to Tatum, who scored downhill attacking Hartenstein, one of a number of battered Knicks. New York stayed close throughout the first half despite missing OG AnunobyJulius Randle and Mitchell Robinson, trailing by no more than 10 points, a deficit they knocked down to four by halftime.

The Knicks rode Jalen Brunson’s sharp shooting from three and in-between over the drop defense, along with 15 offensive rebounds, to competitiveness. Boston attacked Brunson, Dionte DiVincenzo and New York’s bigs on the other end, thriving in transition behind Brown’s 30 points (. He identified mismatches on the fly, driving and dunking on the left baseline over Bojan Bogdanovic, posting-up DiVincenzo and scoring inside before tossing an entry pass to Porzingis against DiVincenzo for a three-point finish inside during Boston’s 8-2 second quarter run.

“We have so many things we can go to,” Porzingis said. “I see all the coverages, I see the stuff that they’re doing. Ok, they’re doing this in this game, I might have a lot of threes. Ok they’re doing this, this game might be more physical, they’re gonna switch, I’m gonna have to post-up, maybe doubles are coming. So every game for me individually and for other guys is a little bit different. That’s the thing. Why are we so good? Because we have answers for all those coverages … we have five or seven different guys that can go off on each night. You put those two things together and this is a headache for sure.”

Knicks fans again berated Porzingis, who drew a technical after getting blocked by Achiuwa on a put-back try, only further inciting a Knicks-heavy crowd with spots of green. Mazzulla lost his challenge in the first quarter trying to overturn a touch foul by White, only his first. Brunson and Hart led New York’s 10-6 finish to the second to keep the game close entering halftime, Hart racing down the floor after Achiuwa blocked Brown the other way to score with 0.1 seconds remaining after pouring in a third-chance put back on the previous possession.

Brunson and Hart kept the run going to tie the game at 64 before Boston’s onslaught began. White, Porzingis and Tatum started it with a pair of pick-and-pop and pull-up makes by the Celtics’ top star. Brown and Tatum pushed the lead to 17 with a pair of finishes inside, while Brunson kept New York in it with aggression. He drew three pulling up over Porzingis at the elbow and found Hart inside for two. The Celtics kept pouring it on. Sam Hauser, Porzingis and Tatum made it three in a row from three again Boston already did so twice. The Celtics finished the third 9-for-12 from deep and ahead by 13, finishing the game playing through Horford in the post when they saw the Knicks doubling him.

Another read by the most talented team in the league that’s becoming among the smartest.

“It’s a way to complement them, and it’s a way to empower them,” Mazzulla said pre-game. “You have this ability. You gotta take advantage of it. When you have talent, and a lot of talent, I think you have to challenge them and hold them to a really high standard, but also have them look at the game in a way that I can rely on my talent, but I could be even better if I see a step or two ahead and almost anticipate. I think you see some of the best players over the course of NBA time, as they get older, they’ve adjusted their mental approach to the game … credit to our guys, they really spend a lot of time in that … can you run the same play 10 times in a row and get something out of it depending on how the defense is guarding you? … Can you defend one play five different times, five different ways? … having the instincts to adapt and adjust on the fly.”



Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

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