Boston (14-10): 128 – New York (8-18): 100
Kyrie Irving: 22 PTS 4 REB 8 AST 1 BLK
Jaylen Brown: 21 PTS 3 REB 2 AST
Al Horford: 19 PTS 12 REB 3 AST 4 BLK
Tim Hardaway Jr.: 22 PTS 1 REB 2 AST 1 STL
Emmanuel Mudiay : 17 PTS 2 REB 6 AST 1 BLK
Noah Vonleh: 12 PTS 10 REB 3 AST 2 STL
After another long stretch of off days (Why is Silver doing this to us) the Celtics returned to action Thursday night at home vs the Knicks. The Knicks have played the Celtics incredibly tough in their first two matchups and won their last matchup in Boston the day before Thanksgiving. For a team without their star (Porzingis) they shouldn’t be giving the Celtics as much trouble as they have. The Green needed to start putting their foot down and begin to squash teams like this. They did last night, and they did it early. 38 points in the first quarter and they even started out the game on an 8-2 run. During their stretch of poor basketball (a couple of weeks ago), they’d come out sleeping and would see themselves in a hole early. Kyrie had it going on offensively and he continues to score the basketball at a high level while getting others involved. In one of the most impressive plays of the game he swerved through the lane (drawing 3 defeners) and somehow whipped it out to Tatum for a wide open three.
We also saw the return of Jaylen Brown. He came out aggressively in the first as one of his first touches he took Enes Kanter right to the basket and finished an athletic and 1.
He looked as spry as ever all night long and forced the issue going hard to the basket. He only shot 2 threes in the game and I’ve been preaching all season that he should reel it in from deep. He’s at his best when he’s slashing to the rim and it showed last night. His 21 points were a season high for him and it was a fitting return after he’s struggled mightily to start the campaign.
After giving up 58 points in the first half the Celtics tightened up their defense allowing only 42 in the second half. For comparison, the Knicks shot 45.7% from the field in the first half and this number plummeted to 33.3% in the second half. It was refreshing to see both the offense and defense both performing at a high level and we got that treat last night. During this winning streak they lead the league in ppg at 124.5 per game and have given up 102.7. That’s a staggering 21.8-point advantage and the Celtics are finally showing us their true firepower. They look comfortable with each other as a team and this could be the beginning of a huge run in terms of wins.
Al Horford was another bright spot for this team as he not only went a smooth 8-12 from the field but also contributed on defense. His rim protection was a key for this defense (especially in the second quarter when he tallied 3 of his 4 blocks) and he even held it down on the glass tallying 12 rebounds and made a difference in fending off the 4th best team in the NBA in terms of offensive rebounds.
While talking about Al Horford, it would be downright disrespectful to not mention Marcus Smart. For whatever reason, Smart is the only player on this team who has shown the ability to throw a successful lob. I swear, every single time Horford/Smart run the pick and roll, Al ends up slamming an alley-oop through the earth’s core. Al ranks 9th in the league in points per game (4.1) while being the roll man in PnR situations. He’s so good at finding the soft spots in the defense and put the Celtics at an advantage against a young Knicks team.
In terms of Smart’s production in the starting 5, he was solid and continues to do exactly what the Celtics need him to do. He was a team high +16 for the game while going 2-8 from the floor and 0-5 from three. He shot poorly but that didn’t effect the mark he made on the game. He doled out 7 assists and held players he defended to 4-11 and forced them into 4 turnovers.
It truly was a team effort and down the line I can commend every single player on the roster for their contributions. Tatum had another steady game and Terry Rozier even got going with one of his better games of the season (11/7/4 2 steals 1 block and ONE turnover). He’s starting to find his groove off the bench (10.5/4.3/3.3 on 47/41/75 shooting) and I attribute this in part to Gordon Hayward. Having Hayward off the bench lets Terry play off of the ball a bit more. I’d argue Hayward has been the 3rd best facilitator on this team so far and he’s really helped in giving Terry a lift. A lot of the issues Terry has been having stem from turnovers and forced shots. Having Hayward on the ball has prevented these issues with Terry lately. With him out there doing most of the ball handling this gives Terry the opportunity to spot up and Hayward’s been finding him.
For the Knicks, I actually don’t hate what they have going on for once. The hiring of David Fizdale was a home run in my opinion and his players seem to love playing for him. Couple that with tons of young talent between Hardawa Jr, Knox, Trier, Robinson, etc. and the Knicks have a plan. I’m interested to see what they look like when Porzingis returns and how they adjust to him after a long absence.
All in all, a solid effort and something to continue to build on for the Celtics as they pulled away in the fourth (29-16) as they handled the Knicks en route to a 128-100 final.
Player of the Game: Al Horford
After a lot of hate speech towards Al early in the season (I infamously dropped an “Average Al” in my grades blog last week) he’s began to look like the guy we all know and love. His last 5 he’s posted averages of 16.2/6.8/2.8 and 1.8 blocks on 55/53/87 shooting. He started out the season ice cold from deep and his improvement is key in this Celtic winning streak. As we’ve seen in the past, when Al is producing from downtown this team is at their best. His rim protection as mentioned before was a key as well. He’s averaging a career high 1.7 blocks and he sent back his fair share of shots last night. He did it both from the outside and in the paint as he had the Knick bigs in his back pocket all night long. A force on both offense and defense, Al was the clear frontrunner for Player of the Game.
Check out his highlights below, look at how he works down low. Slow and methodical and he got to his sweet spot more often than not.
A day off and a flight to Chicago as the Celtics take on the Bulls on the road Saturday 12/8 at 8:00 pm ET