Much of the buzz heading into the game was around the Knicks starting lineup change. With Quentin Grimes struggling offensively for much of the season, coach Tom Thibodeau made the decision to insert Donte DiVincenzo into the starting lineup. But a lot of the excitement and anticipation went out the window in a hurry as the first few minutes of the game showed a lot of the Knicks’ weaknesses and boy was it ugly.
First, it looked like de ja vu of the season opener as former Knick, Kristaps Porzingis got off to a blazing hot start, scoring eight points in the first two minutes. Then, Julius Randle committed two careless turnovers over the span of a couple of minutes. While that was happening, Derrick White got in on the action and made a pair of threes as well. All of this lead to a an early 21-15 lead for the Celtics. And potentially the scariest part about it, was the fact that the Celtics were doing this with their franchise star, Jayson Tatum, scoring zero points during the span.
But thankfully the Celtics shooting came back to reality after starting the game making their first five three-pointers. This allowed the Knicks to slowly crawl back into the game, to make it 25-21 with about four minutes to go. As New York was making their run, fans saw a very welcome sight as they saw both Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes knock one three-pointer each in the opening quarter. The Knicks had a 32-31 lead with about 15 seconds to go but Quickley took a shot with time still left on the clock, didn’t get back in time, and allowed Payton Pritchard to get off a fastbreak layup as time expired, to give the Celtics a 33-32 lead after the first quarter.
The second quarter started out as a back and forth affair. The Celtics were lead by Jrue Holiday who scored five points in the first three minutes of the quarter while Tatum finally got on the board and scored five points in the first four and a half minutes of the period. The Knicks got some nice minutes from RJ Barrett, and Isaiah Hartenstein, and Quickley, but the most encouraging part of it all, was the play of Grimes. He was very aggressive in looking for his shot, getting a couple of threes to go, and even got a tough transition layup to go as well, which gave the Knicks a 48-47 lead and forced the Celtics to call a timeout.
Just minutes later, Brunson drew a shooting foul on a three-point attempt, got all of the free throws go and gave the Knicks a 51-47 lead. But as the Celtics have done so often this season, they stayed resilient and answered. White quickly answered with a three-pointer on the other end to put the Celtics back within one. That was quickly answered with a layup from Mitchell Robinson, who had quietly racked up eight points and five rebounds in nine minutes. But Jaylen Brown came back on the other end and instantly got a basket to go.
At this point, the Knicks were up 53-52, but there was still some worry in the air for Knicks fans for multiple reasons. Boston was finding a way to stick with the Knicks despite a very quiet game from Tatum and Brown and Porzingis, who had a monster first quarter, hadn’t really gotten back into the groove of things. Unfortunately for the Knicks, both of those things changed not too long after that. Starting at the 4:46 mark of the second quarter, Porzingis scored seven more points within a two minute span and Tatum got another three-pointer to go as well. With Boston going ahead 62-58 with 2:55 left int he half, Thibodeau was forced to call a time out.
Things started to look like it was getting out of control soon after though. Tatum hit two of three free throws and then moments later, Randle threw a pass that bounced off Mitchell, landed in Tatum’s hands, and lead to a loud and emphatic breakaway dunk. Thankfully Barrett was able to get a three-pointer to go to stop the Celtics’ momentum, but Boston continued their offensive onslaught as Porzingis continued to haunt the Knicks’ smaller defenders from midrange. Veteran Celtic Al Horford then got in on the action as he converted a three-point play and followed that up with a wide open three from the right elbow just a few seconds later. Just when it felt like it couldn’t get worse, Randle capped off a semi-fastbreak opportunity at the end of the quarter with his fifth turnover of the half.
Headed in to half time, things looked rather bleak as the Knicks trailed the Celtics 74-65 despite a slow first quarter from Tatum, a very quiet Brown, and a good shooting half from Randle, Barrett, Quickley and Grimes.
Unfortunately, the beginning of the second half didn’t start much better than the first half did. Randle committed his sixth turnover just minutes in to the quarter, White continued to find openings in the Knicks’ defense, and Boston won the first four minutes 9-7 to extend their lead to 11. After an early timeout by Thibodeau and the Knicks, Brunson was able to get his offense going a bit after a slow first half but a lot of it was overshadowed by White, who continued to impose his will on the game and was just downright dominant. In the first six minutes of the quarter alone, White racked up 14 points, and by the six minute mark of the third quarter, the veteran guard, who is averaging just 14.5PPG this season, was already up to 24 points on an incredibly efficient 9-13 from the field.
By this point, the game started to feel like it was slipping out of the Knicks’ grip. New York’s offense was sputtering and coughing up the ball, while Boston not only capitalized on those turnovers, but also continued to get very good looks. With five minutes left in the third, Brown scored his fifth point of the quarter to extend Boston’s lead to 20. Thibodeau looked annoyed as always, while a lot of the players looked like they were dealing with a mixture of frustration, defeat, and even a little hopelessness and desperation.
Randle heating up from deep ♨️ pic.twitter.com/6QHzC2RMad— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) December 9, 2023
After a bit of a lull in the action, New York was able to put a bit of a dent into the deficit by hitting on three of four shots from downtown and succeeded in cutting the lead down to just 11 with 11 seconds left in the third quarter. But right when the Knicks and their fans started to regain some hope, Horford hit a devastating three from the right corner to push the lead back up to 14 heading in to the fourth quarter.
The backup backcourt unit of Quickley and Grimes, along with Barrett, gave Knicks fans a little bit to cheer for as they combined for 11 points in the first four minutes of the final quarter but it seemed like every time they scored, the Celtics would just march down and answer right back, and do so effortlessly. That being said, the Knicks, as they so often did last season, continued to battle and fight. A pair of technical foul free throws from Quickley and a big three from Josh Hart cut the lead to just seven with six minutes left and you could start to feel the Boston crowd starting to get a little bit antsy and nervous. But almost as quickly as the nervousness and panic increased, they were put out. White came through with a big layup to bring the crowd to it’s feet, and then made two straight free throws a few possessions later to stretch the lead back out to 11.
Over the next few minutes, both teams struggled to find the basket. Boston missed some good looks, while New York spent much of it’s offense dribbling around into multiple defenders and ultimately having very little spacing to work with. You could tell that both teams were starting to get a little fatigued as we saw some air balls and a lot of shots fall short. It would ultimately remain an eleven point game until Hartenstein grabbed his 15th rebound and got an easy layup to go, but at that point, it was a little too late for a real comeback effort and Boston took home the win 123- 133.
The Knicks’ shooting actually ended up in a solid place overall but their turnovers and defense were both troublesome and ultimately not where it needed to be to beat an elite team like the Celtics. And quite frankly, that’s been the case with the Knicks for most of the season. As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, the Knicks are a very good team that can beat lesser teams consistently, but they just lack the top-end talent, and roster construction to beat the best of the best, teams like the Bucks and the Celtics.
Now, the game did have a few bright spots. Barrett had arguably his best offensive game since missing some time earlier in the season, Grimes looked as aggressive as he has all season, and Quickley looked more like himself than he had as of late. That being said, it was overall a very ugly and frustrating game to watch as a Knicks fan. Despite Tatum shooting just 8-18 from the field, and Brown scoring just 17 points, the Knicks were defeated handedly because of their constant inability to defend bigs who can shoot and their lack of point of attack defense when Grimes is not on the court. And to top it all off, Brunson, who for some reason was in the game late, was seen limping into the locker room after stepping on Pritchard’s foot. Overall, as Fred Katz of The Athletic put it, it was a very “tough end to a tough week.”
A tough end to a tough week for the Knicks. https://t.co/rhRYv9AQPv— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) December 9, 2023
The Knicks will get a couple of days off before hosting the Raptors on Monday. In the meantime, prepare for some more frustration and hot takes as the Knicks, who just look a bit off right now, continue to struggle against elite teams.