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Knicks 117, Celtics 109: “Contagious, outrageous”

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NBA: New York Knicks at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

In what will be go down as The Trey Burke Game, New York showed what’s possible when 10 fingers work as two fists. The bench did work all night and the starters added enough to co-sign the signature win of the season, a 117-109 fuck yeah! both more and less competitive than the final score says.

The Knicks got up big and never relinquished the lead. While their first wire-to-wire win since January was not without late drama, this was intelligent design: 40-something minutes of blowing Boston out, then seeing the game get just close enough, just late enough, to deliver a gut-punch to the solar plexus of one of American history’s most deserving gut-punchees.

The starting lineup was once again rookie-less, but while Boston was clanging right out of the gate New York, as was the case last night vs. Portland, was hitting the three-ball early.

The Knicks led 26-18 after one. Boy genius Brad Stevens knew his team was already ankle-deep in it.

As the Celtics were missing their first 10 threes, the Knicks kept coming in waves, getting out and running. A Burke jumper capped a 10-0 run that saw New York up 16. The Boston fans were booing.

An Enes Kanter lay-in made it 57-31 late in the half. The fans booed more.

By halftime three Knicks had 5+ rebounds (including Burke with 5), five had multiple assists (including Burke with 5), and five hit three-pointers (including Burke with 3). But the Celtics started forcing them into isolation play and misses, and at the break the deficit was 16. Despite a cold first half by Tim Hardaway Jr., hope, likes heroes, abounded.

Meanwhile, the fans at home and out there in Twitter land did their part. A little reverse jinxing? Always welcome.

The third quarter is not Springfield-bound. The two teams missed their first eight shots combined and New York didn’t score a point for the first four minutes. Boston failed to take advantage; a Kanter tip-in followed by this tough THJ and-one pushed the lead back to 16.

The Celtics couldn’t buy a bucket from downtown, missing 17 of their first 20, leaving them to try and jab their way back into the fight. On an otherwise quiet scoring night, Allonzo Trier scored five points late in the third to put the Knicks up 15.

You’d figured the Celts would make a big run in the third, but the Knicks never let the lead get to single digits. Once again, the Boston fans booed the home team.

The fourth quarter opened with Mitchell Robinson rejecting Jayson Tatum. Back-to-back threes from Kevin Knox brought the lead back up to 20. The Boston fans booed some more.

The lead was generally in the 15-20 point range, until Robinson made a rookie mistake. The Knicks turned it over near midcourt and Kyrie Irving had a live dribble. Even though Robinson was right there with Irving and had blocked everything under the sun tonight, he committed a clear-path foul. You hope this helps him develop the awareness to recognize he’s already in shooters’ heads; he’d been in Boston’s all night. Let Irving try and dribble 50 feet and finish with you hot on his heels. Instead, Kyrie hit two free throws and Horford hit a three, and that five-point play cut the lead to 10.

But remember: this was the Trey Burke game! And when he hit this late, it seemed a backbreaker.

It wasn’t.

Knox, Ntilikina and Robinson were all on the floor most of the late game, which was cool. Then, up nine, David Fizdale pulled Robinson for Noah Vonleh, which was confusing. Kyrie immediately took advantage and scored attacking the rim. With a minute left, Gordon Hayward hit a three to cut it to four. The Celtics then mauled Hardaway, stole the ball and had Jaylen Brown pushing in transition against Emmanuel Mudiay. Mudiay fouled him, Brown didn’t like it, and this happened.

The refs called a personal on Mudiay and a technical on Brown. THJ missed the tech. Brown hit one of two, part of a to-that-point 15-0 advantage at the free throw line for the Celtics, the Bilderbergs of the NBA. But with the Knicks clinging to a three-point lead, Burke hit a pull-up three from the top of the circle reminiscent of a certain St. Valentine’s Day Knick buzzer-beater, and wouldn’t you know it? The Knicks won in Boston.

Never. Gets. Old.

Notes:

  • Somewhere, James Marceda is stomping around with the hateful rage of a thousand Rumplestilskins.
  • A good effort from Knox. 11 points on just five shots. Got to the line. Nine rebounds. Nice.
  • On offense, Mitchell Robinson needs surer hands and a stronger base. On D, if there were a stat for shots altered per-36 minutes, he’d lead the league. On a single Celtic possession, he forced a Horford miss at the rim, then ran to closeout Rozier in the corner, forcing him to pass. What a remarkable athlete.

Robinson is already the Knicks’ greatest off-hand shot-blocker of my lifetime.

  • As a pair, Robinson and Ntilikina may already more fun to watch on defense than any two Knicks I’ve ever seen together on offense. Patrick Ewing and Mark Jackson made some magic. Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell had their moments. Stephon Marbury/Keith Van Horn and even Kyle O’Quinn/Doug McDermott had chemistry. But holy shit can these kids shut people down. All the people, everywhere.
  • Ntilikina spent a lot of time guarding Tatum and making him looking very uncomfortable. That Frank flu is spreading around the league. It’s too early to know how the offensive end of his game will take shape. But if you’re watching these games and walking away thinking he’s a bust, you’re hopeless.
  • Pretty buckets by Frank tonight. Not many buckets. But pretty.

Even those that didn’t count were easy on the eyes.

  • Ntilikina missed both of his three-pointers tonight. But he took them in spots and sequences that in the past he would have passed them up, bringing the offense to a screeching halt. He’s failing better.
  • As the first quarter ended, Hayward dribbled the length of the floor and took his shot one-on-one against Ntilikina.

The salient point isn’t that the 20-year-old so completely locked up the All-Star in his prime who’s earned nearly $200M. It’s that I had zero doubt that’s how it’d go down as soon as Hayward decided to try it.

  • Vonleh (16 and 10), Kanter (10 and 10) and Burke (29 points, 11 assists) with double-doubles.
  • In addition, three blocks, three assists and a couple of threes for Vonleh. That’s consecutive games setting a season-high in points.
  • Someone needs to send Trier the memo that he’s not going to get away with weaponizing his off-arm on mid-air drives. He gave Kyrie a painful elbow to the gulliver, nearly leading the refs to call a flagrant.
  • Melo as sleeper agent?

Quoth Walt Clyde Frazier, “Contagious, outrageous.” The stepping up was contagious: the Knicks won because so many stepped up at so many different points. The team never let down because the players never let up, thus pulling off what’s likely one of the more outrageous wins of the season. Next game is Friday, home vs. the Pelicans. Hopefully the tryptophan wears off by then. For them. Not us. Have fun, fam.