After a turnover-filled loss to the Philadelphia 76ers the night before, the 25-26 Celtics hosted the 25-26 New York Knicks in a game that would decide the Eastern Conference seeding.
With the Knicks in town, it was a low-scoring affair, but the Celtics were able to squeak by with a 101-99 victory. The Celtics couldn’t handle the ball like they couldn’t handle it the night before, but they were able to prevail despite it this time.
The Knicks entered the game with the fourth-best defensive rating in the NBA and the lowest points allowed per game.
Due to the absence of Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker, Romeo Langford was inserted into the starting lineup for the third time in his career. With Marcus Smart at the point, Langford was named the starting two guard.
In his rookie season, his first two starts were 28 and 30 minutes long, respectively, against Orlando and Washington. Langford played 25 minutes against the Knicks. On the Knicks’ first possession, he fouled RJ Barrett, then turned the ball over on Boston’s second. He had six points and five rebounds at the end of the game.
Tristan Thompson has also returned to the Celtics’ lineup following a prolonged suspension for violating the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols. He played 22 minutes, scoring seven points, grabbing eight rebounds, and blocking three shots. His influence was palpable, as shown by his +24 rating, which led the team.
Boston’s offense got off to a slow start, scoring just six points in the first five minutes against one of the league’s top defenses.
The Celtics were able to stay in the game thanks to their defense. Despite a low-scoring first quarter, they still led by three points at halftime, with Jaylen Brown leading the team in scoring (12). Brown had a game-high 32 points.
In the first quarter, Robert Williams III was energetic and active, scoring five points and catching four offensive rebounds.
It wasn’t just Williams who was terrorizing the offensive glass; the entire Celtics squad was using offensive rebounds to create second chances. Langford grabbed four offensive rebounds in his third start of the season. Boston had a total of 16 offensive rebounds.
In the first half, Boston’s offensive rebounding held them in the game. Boston had a huge 13-2 offensive rebound advantage at halftime, despite just having a one-point lead.
Brown was matched up defensively against Julius Randle several times, and Randle struggled to score like the 23-point per-game scorer he is early in the game.
Following two consecutive low-20s scoring performances, Jayson Tatum struggled offensively as well. He had the most turnovers on the team and struggled to make his jump shot consistent. Tatum did make some noise over Taj Gibson with a one-handed tomahawk. Tatum had a total of 25 points.
Boston staggered out of halftime after an offensively improved second quarter, allowing the Knicks to take an early five-point lead. Tatum began to heat up in the third quarter, as he had done many times this season. A 10-0 run, fueled by Tatum, helped Boston reclaim their lead.
Randle, on the other hand, had a run of his own. In the third quarter, he scored 13 points on several fast-break scoring opportunities. Tatum and the Celtics’ turnover woes helped New York take a three-point lead into the fourth quarter. Randle recovered from a shaky start to finish with 22 points.
Throughout the night, the Knicks had outshot Boston from beyond the arc. Barrett was on fire from long range, finding open looks after drive-and-kick action. The Duke sophomore made 6-6 three-pointers and led the Knicks in scoring with 29 points.
Despite being outrebounded and turning the ball over almost as much as Boston, New York was able to stay in the game thanks to bench scoring. The bench for the Knicks outscored the Boston bench 27-15.
In the fourth, Boston and New York jostled for space, each hoping to gain an advantage over the other. The Celtic defense held the Knicks at arm’s length, but turnovers ensured that it wasn’t anything more than that.
Barrett hit his fifth straight 3-pointer with under a minute left to tie the game, but Smart answered with a three of his own.