After stumbling through the first few games (including an opening night loss to these same Celts), New York’s offense has finally aligned with their top-tier defense. Over their last three engagements, they demonstrated the effort of a superior NBA basketball team, and thus a clash with Boston—engorged with talent that competes on both ends—promised to be an timely test of New York’s present ability. Sure, the Knicks beat the collapsing Clippers, struggling Spurs, and hapless Hornets. Could they beat the championship-contending Celtics on their home court?
The only way to beat a team with Boston’s talent is to play mistake-free basketball, make a majority of your shots and free throws, apply tough defense, and hope that the Celtics have an off-night. Just a couple things. It didn’t help that the surging R.J. Barrett would be a scratch with migraines. For much of tonight’s tilt, the Knicks met those stated objectives well enough to keep up, but fell apart through the second half and ultimately lost, 114-98.
This game had Playoff vibes from the jump, and from a basketball-fan-perspective, the first half was about as enjoyable as the NBA gets. The Knicks came out gunning again, and both teams played with pace. Through the first frame, they exchanged the lead eight times, with the Knicks enjoying the largest advantage so far (five points).
Josh Hart started in place of Barrett at small forward. Barrett, Jalen Brunson, and Julius Randle comprised a true big three of late, with each scoring over 20 points apiece in the last two games. Hart is a inarguably a valuable player, but he, like Quentin Grimes, is often hesitant to shoot. It was fair and reasonable to expect R.J.’s absence to be acutely felt with a starting line up of two scorers and three guys who play hot potato.
Answering the call for offense, Brunson showed determination and grit, scoring 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting in Q1. Like so:
And here JB hits a three:
The shooting cooled toward the end of the quarter, and Sam Hauser squeaked in a three-pointer with thirteen seconds to go to put Boston up, 25-24. New York played energetic, physical basketball through the first frame. One has to wonder if they can keep up this effort for a full four quarters, especially with Barrett absent. (Spoiler: nope.)
Thibs opened the quarter with Immanuel Quickley, Donte DiVincenzo, Hart, Randle, and Isaiah Hartenstein. Thibs had been running RJ with the reserves, so Randle got the assignment tonight.
Beautiful ball movement and offensive rebounds were the secret to the Knicks promptly regaining the lead. Midwy through the second quarter, the Knicks had taken 10 more shots than the Celtics, largely because they had secured seven offensive boards to Boston’s two. Look at the dishing and swishing from New York’s finest:
beautiful ball movement ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/7As8S2ZJ91— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) November 14, 2023
Hartenstein Hail Mary’d his first three-pointer of the season, extending the Knicks advantage to eight. Of the eight Knicks who played in the first half, seven had recorded at last one triple, and the team had made over 40% of their attempts. How’s that for balance?
Before tonight, Josh Hart had averaged six apiece for points and rebounds. He stepped up, though, playing 23 minutes in the first half, with a statline of 10/5/3 on 4-of-7 shooting.
Randle scored 14 first-half points. Here’s a swish on a Josh Hart dish:
30 making plays all over the court pic.twitter.com/8WZlihOK0b— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) November 14, 2023
Just as I was about to praise Randle for plaing exceptionally so far, he bricked an ill-advised three that was turned around for fast-break points. So it goes. Brunson countered with a long two as the 24-second clock expired, and Jaylen Brown answered THAT with three-pointer as the quarter expired.
The Knicks entered intermission with a sliver’s lead, 53-52.
Through the first two frames, the Knicks had shot better from deep (45%) than they had from the field (44%). Led by Jayson Tatum and Kristaps Porzingis, the Celtics had scored proficiently from the floor (50%), but had hit seven of their 19 three-point attempts. The Knicks had been outscored in the paint, 24-8. As you’ll see in the halftime shot chart:
Two free throws by Jaylen Brown gave the Celtics their first lead since early in the second quarter. Brunson wasn’t letting up tonight, though. He stole the ball from Derrick White, drew a foul at the other end, then cashed in a triple for his 18th point of the game.
Coming out of intermission, both teams found it harder to move the ball as fluidly as they had beforehand. In one of the best plays of the game, Mitchell Robinson switched onto Jayson Tatum, leaves his feet, recovers as Tatum drives the lane, and cruelly rejects his shot into the front row. Two blocks for Mitch so far. When the shots are falling, the defense is tight, and New York’s centers are dominating down low, the Knicks seem like they could challenge any team.
The fast pace took its toll on New York. They went over five minutes without a field goal. The Celtics had outscored them 11-6 by midway through the quarter. Down by four, Jalen Brunson stepped to the charity stripe. With momentum beginning to build for Boston, the Knicks needed to dig deep to keep up. Brunson canned both freebies, grabbed a defensive rebound, and then benefited from back-to-back threes by Grimes.
Tatum and Porzingis each swished from deep, but Grimes hit his third trey of the quarter to knot the score again. The Knicks had maintained their composure and minimized their mistakes, up until now.
The wheels began to come off late in the frame. An ill-advised foul by Quickley (Porzingis behind the arc), a three-second violation by Grimes (Jrue Holiday shot the technical), a Sam Hauser bomb, and a Randle turnover allowed the Celtics to go ahead by ten—their largest lead yet. A fortunate foul by Payton Pritchard put Quickley on the line, which allowed the Knicks to escape the quarter down only 84-76.
The Celtics tightened all their defensive screws and capitalized on another brainfart when Holiday caught DiVincenzo flat-footed for an easy two. Down by ten, Brunson scored his 21st and 22nd points. Hartenstein stole the ball from Al Horford, then grabbed an o-board at the other end, allowing DiVo to score, cutting the deficit to six. Every game this season, I find myself wondering how much money Hartenstein will command next offseason.
When Pritchard drilled a triple with three minutes gone in the quarter, Thibodeau called a timeout. Yet another turning point moment. How the Knicks responded to this challenge would show their mettle.
This crazy play briefly gave this writer irrational hope that the Knicks might turn this around. Caught off-balance behind the arc, Hart bounced the ball off Holiday’s back and swished a corner three. As you do:
Alas, Hart giveth and taketh away: he fouled Tatum on a three, resulting in a four-point play. Tatum took the wheel from there to close out the game—he would finish with 35 points, six boards, and seven assists, while shooting 13-of-23 FG and 5-12 3P. This could be the year he takes MVP honors.
Barreling into crunch time, the Knicks found themselves down by 12. Once again, New York went about five minutes without a field goal. Tatum delivered back-to-back threes, and facing a 16-point deficit, Thibs called a timeout with 3:30 left. This game was cooked. Final score: 114-98.
- Jalen Brunson: 26 points, three rebounds, four assists, two turnovers, one steal, 10-of-21 FG, 3-of-7 3P, 39 minutes, and a -20 plus/minus.
- Quentin Grimes: 12 points, two fouls, 4-of-6 FG/3P, 27 minutes.
- Josh Hart: 16 points, nine boards, three assists, two turnovers, one steal, four fouls, 6-of-12 FG, 3-of-6 3P, 43 minutes.
- Julius Randle: 25 pointss, nine boards, five dimes, three turnovers, four fouls, 7-of-19 FG, 2-of-8 3P, 38 minutes.
- Mitchell Robinson: four points, six rebounds, three stocks, two fouls, 32 minutes.
On the road again, the Knicks head back to Atlanta for their second game of the season at State Farm Arena. New York won the last match-up, 126-120. The Hawks continue to be pretty good offensively, and pretty bad defensively. Should be a Dub for our heroes, but I won’t jinx it. Safe travels, Knickerbockers.