BOSTON – For two quarters of play, the New York Knicks were toe-to-toe with the Boston Celtics.
But as the second half rolled around, Boston’s defense became even more effective, shots seemed to fall at a better clip, and what was a close game was suddenly turning into a comfortable Celtics victory with the Celtics playing the role of professors in teaching the Knicks a thing or two about what basketball erosion looks like.
The Celtics we saw in Boston’s 121-112 win over New York was about as complete as we’ve seen the team roster-wise, has been all season.
“Just wearing them down defensively, with the addition of (Marcus) Smart and having Shane (Larkin) come in, have everybody back,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “We can throw punches and consistently throw punches and wear teams down.”
That appeared to be what we saw on Saturday night as Boston seemingly got stronger as the game progressed, while the Knicks’ best shooters came up empty when it mattered.
A 59-56 lead at the half, Boston would pull away by as many as 10 points (81-71) in the third quarter, and their largest lead of the game – 11 points – didn’t come until the fourth. Boston’s win at Detroit had a similar second half surge as Boston opened the fourth quarter with a 13-2 run which put them ahead 99-79 as they cruised onward for a 110-98 win.
And so here are the Celtics, winners of two in a row after dropping three straight and four of five right before the All-Star break.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens acknowledged his team, like most in the NBA, may have benefited from the time off at the All-Star break.
“We probably needed rest, but everybody needed rest,” Stevens said. “We needed to re-center ourselves and focus better and play better. I thought we played hard both nights, and certainly we can build off of that.”
Here are five takeaways from Boston’s first weekend following the All-Star break, which included road wins at Detroit and New York.
From a career-high 19 points against Detroit, to getting the starting nod the following night against the New York Knicks. Daniel Theis has shown himself to be up to whatever challenge he’s asked to tackle. There was some thought that the addition of Greg Monroe would cut into his minutes. But that doesn’t appear to be the case, not the way Theis has been playing regardless of the role he’s called upon to execute.
Fly, Celtics Fly (on defense)
While Marcus Smart’s return has certainly been a plus to Boston’s defense, what we’ve seen the last two games is Boston play better team defense. And part of team defense involves rotating or tilting towards shooters if they beat one of your teammates off the dribble. While there’s still room to improve in this particular area, there’s no question they were better about closing out and rotating and just playing better, all-around team defense.
When these guys are playing in sync like we’ve seen in these first two games coming out of the break, the Celtics’ second unit becomes special. Marcus Smart’s defense grabs all the headlines, but he has truly turned the corner this season as a playmaker. Smart averages 4.7 assists per game which ranks ninth among reserves. And Rozier continues to play with a more aggressive, attacking style ever since he stepped into the starting lineup for a few games as a fill-in for an injured Kyrie Irving.
It’s still too soon to tell just how significant a role will Monroe play for the Celtics. But he might see a slight spike in playing time depending on how serious is the elbow injury Baynes suffered on Friday night in Detroit.
Boston definitely made strides the last two games defensively. The turnstile defense we had seen teams breeze through with little resistance was replaced by a moving wall of Celtics players. Boston has been the league’s top-ranked defense most of the season so you knew it was a matter of when, not if, their defense would get back on track.