A win over a scrappy New York Knicks team, that sported the same record as the Boston Celtics when the night started, didn’t come easy.
But the Celtics displayed some resiliency for the first time in a long while to register a 101-99 victory at the TD Garden Wednesday.
Here’s five thoughts from a key win for the Celtics:
Marcus Smart has no problem inserting himself into the middle of the action and taking shots at the game’s most critical junctures. Smart provided his usual tough brand of defense against the Knicks and then came the moment that probably had most fans shielding their eyes.
Late in a tight battle, it was Smart taking the biggest shots for the Celtics and unlike previous occasions, Smart came up clutch. Smart netted 3 of the 4 shots he hit in the game over the final 4:32 of regulation, starting with a go-ahead 3-pointer as the Celtics came back from a seven-point deficit in the quarter.
“I know sometimes we get caught up in some of his homerun swings he takes and I think those get overanalyzed and everybody misses the fact that he has the courage to do it,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “He’s tough, he helps you and he made a ton of big plays.”
Smart also had a timely put-back off a Jayson Tatum miss and then came through with what amounted as the game-winning bucket by drilling a triple with 36.4 seconds left to break the deadlock. Smart was left wide open on the play as the Knicks tried to double Tatum, who wisely passed it over to Smart.
“I make winning plays for my team and get us extra possessions,” Smart said. “I saw an opportunity to get a rebound that we much-needed and it happened. My threes, I’ve always believed in myself. I could care less what anybody says. I’m going to continue to shoot it.”
Those no, no, yes moments turned out alright this time for Smart, who finished with 17 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
Crash and score
The Celtics didn’t have a sterling shooting outing, but made up for it by cleaning up on the offensive glass. Boston grabbed 16 offensive rebounds and it led to 20 second-chance points.
Coming off of a rough performance, Robert Williams energized the Celtics early and controlled five offensive caroms while Romeo Langford, who earned the start with Kemba Walker sitting out the second leg of a back-to-back, flew around to grab four offensive boards.
The hustle plays were much needed for a Celtics group that has lacked that this season.
After missing 13 straight games due to health and safety protocols and having not played since March 14, Tristan Thompson made an impact in his return to the court. Thompson came off the bench to compile 7 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks in a surprisingly high 22 minutes.
Thompson made his presence felt on the offensive glass with some nifty tip-ins and came up with a couple timely rejections in the fourth quarter, including emphatically swatting away a Derrick Rose layup attempt that turned into a Jaylen Brown transition basket.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who said prior to the game he would only play Thompson in “short bursts,” seemed to stray away from that game plan and elected to go with Thompson down the stretch over Williams.
“It was great to have him back,” Tatum said. “We missed him a lot and just his presence out there and just how physical he is.”
After taking a season-low 10 shots in the loss to the 76ers, Brown came out with an aggressive mind-set to surpass that total in the first quarter alone against the Knicks.
Brown attempted 12 shots in the opening frame, scoring 12 of his game-high 32 points in the stanza. It was a nice change of pace to see Brown, who sometimes becomes reluctant on the offensive end, take the reins and look for his shot early while also not settling for jumpers and driving toward the basket.
“Just being aggressive, being involved in the action,” said Brown on getting back to his All-Star self. “A part of that is me just asserting myself.”
Defense gets the job done
For the second time in three games, the Celtics held their opponent under 100 points. That’s a good sign of things trending in the right direction on that end of a floor for Boston, which was one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA in the month of March.
The Knicks shot 41.7 percent from the field and the Celtics showed a better interior presence as New York made 37.3 percent of their attempts from inside the arc.
“I thought we were really physical,” Stevens said. “That was one of our more physical games of the year, which coming off (the loss to the 76ers) was a really good thing.”