Escaping a potentially devastating comeback by the Celtics, the Knicks won on Sunday to earn the fourth-best record in the East’s playoffs.
The New York Knicks (41-31) withstood a late-game surge from the Boston Celtics (36-36) to cap off the 2020–21 calendar with a victory, 96-92. The Knicks qualify for postseason play for the first time since 2012–13 and will battle All-Star Trae Young and the upstart Atlanta Hawks in the first round.
Knicks sophomore R.J. Barrett bounced back from a subpar first two quarters to finish with 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Alec Burks, who has seemingly regained his scoring groove after spending time out due to injury, dropped 17 off the pine. Surprisingly enough, Boston’s top performers on Sunday, Tremont Waters and Jabari Parker, both came off the bench—they accounted for 35 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists for the opposition.
Knicks never looked back after stellar end to second quarter
New York’s opponent and longtime rival, the Celtics, had practically nothing to play for on Sunday. Win or lose, the green were guaranteed to finish with the seventh-best record in the Eastern Conference. As a result, seven of Boston’s best players sat due to injury/rest reasons, notably Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart. The Knicks, on the other hand, needed a victory to secure the fourth seed in the East and a first-round matchup with the Hawks instead of the mighty Miami Heat or Milwaukee Bucks.
However, even though the Knicks were in desperation mode and played their entire roster sans the injured Mitchell Robinson, the C’s put up a valiant fight for much of the first half. Boston’s trio of young guards—Romeo Langford, Payton Pritchard, and Carsen Edwards—kept the C’s within striking distance until the latter end of the second period, scoring 21 combined first-half points. With 4:24 remaining in quarter number two, the game was tied at 35 apiece. The Celtics were moving the ball while the Knicks settled for low-percentage isolation looks. That all changed over the last four minutes and the change of the period.
New York bookended the first half on a 19-4 to take a commanding 15-point lead heading into the locker room. They forced Boston into turnovers and blocked several of their point-blank attempts, highlighted by a resounding Nerlens Noel rejection on Aaron Nesmith. And it was Boston who fell under the isolation spell during the waning moments of the second. This strategy resulted in little success without any of their established one-on-one scorers healthy.
Red-hot Reggie Bullock
The swingman has solidified his case as a starter on this Knicks team, a question that not too long ago was up in the air. Bullock is the best pure-shooter on this team, bar none, and he capped off a solid end to the season with yet another torrid shooting night from beyond the arc. Sure, Bullock’s ability to create off the bounce is limited, and that’s putting it kindly. But instead of harping on what he can’t do, let’s appreciate what he can do: shoot the leather out of the ball.
Bullock’s performance on Sunday was a microcosm of an excellent bounce-back campaign for the journeyman. He attempted seven three-pointers and found the bottom on four of them. Not to mention Bullock chipped in three rebounds and a pair of assists for good measure. More impressive than arguably any other statistic? Bullock’s plus-minus of +19 led all Knicks by a wide margin.
Simply put, he impacted winning on Sunday like he has almost all season long. The Knicks have risen near the top of the league in three-point percentage, largely thanks to Bullock’s long-range brilliance. At 40.7% on 6.5 attempts per game, no Knick replicates his combination of efficiency and usage rate.
Bullock has been a revelation for the Knicks, and his ability to space the floor and come off pin-down actions will prove invaluable come playoff time. Expect Bullock to continue to be a vital cog of New York’s offensive attack moving forward. While he doesn’t rank up there with the likes of Julius Randle and R.J. Barrett talent-wise, he may be no less paramount to New York’s hopes of an extended playoff run.