By Patrick Whalen
Just a little over 2 weeks ago the Celtics suffered an embarrassing loss to the Knicks at home by a score of 117-109. 2 weeks later and since then the Celtics had been on a 4-1 tear which became a 5-1 tear after last nights 128-100 blow out win over the Knicks, the win also now has the Celtics on a 4 game win streak. Even before the game started the Celtics had good news as Jaylen Brown returned to the court after missing 3 games with a tailbone injury he suffered back in Dallas on November 24th. Despite Jaylen returning coach Brad Stevens chose to stay with the line up of Kyrie, Smart, Tatum, Morris, and Horford that had helped the Celtics to 3 straight wins. This now allows the Celtics to bring both Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown off the bench for now until they earn their spots back in the lineup. But until then they could be a lethal combo off of the bench.
In his return, Jaylen was one of the Celtics top scorers as he had his best game of the year offensively with 21 points on 7-10 shooting and 7-9 from the foul line. The Celtics also had many great performances from the starters last night. Kyrie went for 22 points on 9-15 shooting with 8 assists, Al Horford had his best overall game of the year with 19 points and 12 rebounds and 4 blocks, and Tatum had an efficient game much like Jaylen with 17 points on 7-11 shooting and 3-5 from three. Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, and Daniel Theis also were in double figures in last nights blow out win. As a team, the Celts shot 53% from the field including these crazy shots (Basketball-Reference.com).
The Celtics defense also stepped in the second half last night holding the Knicks to just 42 points in the second half after they scored 58 in the first. For the nights the Celtics held the Knicks to 39.6% shooting from the floor and 34% from three-point range. Another good sign compared to their last meeting two weeks ago was they didn’t allow anyone to really go off on them like Trey Burke, who was out last night, did two weeks ago. Their two leading scored in Tim Hardaway Jr, 22 points, and Emmanuel Mudiay, 17 points, did not shoot above 37% and combined to go 12-34 from the floor including 8-17 from three, Hardaway Jr was 6-13 himself from three. The also did not allow either Noah Vonleh or Enes Kanter to dominate down low which was a very good sign to see with Celtics missing Aron Baynes for most of the game as he left the first quarter after twisting his left ankle.
Overall it was a great team effort for the Celtics last night, especially from Jaylen Brown. Brad sending Jaylen to the bench in his return was the right thing to do in my opinion because it allowed Jaylen to not press as much. Before he got hurt Jaylen still seemed to be forcing shots he didn’t need to take, especially this year. Jaylen and Tatum early on seemed to still be in playoff mode from last year where they each were getting 10-12 shots a night with no Kyrie and Hayward. They also seemed to be settling for more pull up twos and contested threes instead of driving and getting to the rim, which is Jaylens strongest part of his game. This benching now allows Jaylen to think about getting back to playing his style of basketball which is using his athleticism to get to the rim and either draw fouls or have strong finishes. It also allows both Jaylen and Hayward to get their confidence levels back before Brad puts them back into the starting line up and with finishes like this one last night, we definitely saw a confident Jaylen Brown on the court.
This win now marks 4 wins in a row for the Celtics and the second straight by 20+. Up next the Celtics head to Chicago to take on a young Bulls squad on Saturday. Both teams have a case of the injury bug, the Celtics have Aron Baynes, ankle, and Kyrie Irving, shoulder, listed as game-time decisions and the Bulls still have Bobby Portis and Kris Dunn inactive due to knee injuries. Kyrie said post game, “that his shoulder was just in an awkward position on a pass and that he should be ready for Saturday” (NBC Sports Boston). The Celtics will look to see if they can extend this streak to 5 in a row and continue to gain ground on the rest of the eastern conference’s top teams as they continue to climb back in the standings after their slow start to the season.