Despite the offensive effort from former Celtics guards Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, Boston handled their Atlantic Division rival Knicks.

The Boston Celtics (15-15) defeated the New York Knicks (13-16) by a final score of 114-107. For Boston, Jayson Tatum finished with 25 points and nine rebounds. For New York, Kemba Walker, returning to the rotation since November 26th, finished with 29 points, six rebounds, and three assists. With the loss, the Knicks move to three games under .500 on the season.

With the omicron variant running rampant through the NBA, the Knicks played this game with quite a few players on the sideline. RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, and Miles “Deuce” McBride were out, with Derrick Rose sitting out with an injury in the final moments before the game. The rotation was so depleted that Walker was tossed into the starting lineup, Wayne Selden was one of the first players off the bench, and recent G League call-up Tyler Hall was there as well.

The Celtics, while still undermanned, had the healthier roster, therefore, this wasn’t much of a contest to start. Even as Walker started and got aggressive early on offense, the Knicks couldn’t keep up with the Celtics in the first half. If it wasn’t Jaylen Brown, it was Jayson Tatum piercing New York’s vulnerable defense. Then, it was Payton Pritchard collecting a few easy threes thanks to New York attempting to double one of Brown or Tatum.

Despite that and a hot Evan Fournier start (17 points in the first half for the Frenchman), the Celtics maintained dominance throughout the game but didn’t put the game away. Every time the Celtics had a chance to extend it to a 15-to-18 point lead, New York would respond to keep it at a reachable 11 points, even cutting it down to single digits for a few stretches.

But then, the Knicks turned it on in the third quarter. New York went on a 17-2 run to start the second half. Boston’s offense came apart, thanks to an improved New York defense. Nerlens Noel came alive in this quarter with his defense at the rim, not just blocking shots, but altering and deterring shot attempts in the paint. By forcing Boston into bad shots, the Knicks began to generate easier offense.

Walker continued his strong start with an excellent third quarter—not only knocking down some important threes but also running the offense and providing positive ball movement. Fournier and Randle backed him up with solid offensive possessions—Fournier looked impressive with his ball-handling and getting looks off of Randle, while Julius found some solid got some good shot attempts off isolation.

In the end, however, the lack of available players came back to bite the Knicks. Boston scored 28 points and held a tired New York squad to just 19 points in the fourth. Josh Richardson, who finished with 27 points and five made threes, did the majority of his damage in the second half, forcing some tough Knicks shots, while making some tough shots of his own. The Knicks fought, but with Walker fouling out with two minutes left in the fourth, the Knicks went into the night.

Game Notes

  • Wayne Selden got minutes in the first quarter tonight. Adam Silver, if you’re reading this, shut it down for a few weeks, PLEASE.
  • Wanted to shout Kemba Walker out, again, for remaining a professional in what has to be the first time he was not in a basketball rotation. He played amazingly in his first bulk of minutes back—knocking down several threes and even garnering double-digit free throws. I think once everyone is healthy, he moves back out of the rotation, but he played well tonight.
  • A little stretch in the third quarter where the Knicks played Julius Randle at the three. I’m personally not a fan, but the Knicks had their best quarter with him at the three for a handful of minutes. Thought it was interesting.
  • Evan Fournier showed you a ton of the traits that made him a free agent add this offseason. The totals—32 points, five rebounds, and four assists—were great. What I liked was his passing chops, some of the decisions he made with the ball—all of which were needed to help New York’s offense. Being leaned on a bit, I’m curious to see if he can break out of his year-long slump.

  • While I’m not the biggest Myles Turner trade fan (I just think New York can use help on the perimeter), I get why Knicks fans want to make that move. Outside of the third quarter, Nerlens Noel was a struggle to watch and just isn’t the same impact defender he was last season. Mitchell Robinson is coming off an injury, but bulking up seems to be a mistake as he cannot get out on closeouts the same, and Taj Gibson, while solid, doesn’t pop on either side of the ball. New York could use with a mixup to this group and maybe, just maybe, Jericho Sims can offer some positive minutes?

The Knicks return home for three games against Eastern Conference opponents, starting with the Detroit Pistons visiting on Tuesday.

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