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Kristaps Porzingis looks sharp in return as Celtics hold on against Knicks

Steve Hewitt, Boston Herald on

Published in Basketball

BOSTON — While it was not ideal that Kristaps Porzingis injured his calf, his four-game absence allowed the Celtics to play and grow in different ways. Others stepped up into bigger opportunities as the C’s continued to win, something that could benefit them in the long run.

But there’s no question, the Celtics are at their best when Porzingis is on the floor.

Porzingis was terrific in his return from a calf strain and didn’t seem to miss a beat, as he scored 21 points, but his mere presence allowed the Celtics to flourish once again in a bounce-back, 133-123 victory against the New York Knicks at TD Garden.

Derrick White scored 30 points as he drilled six 3-pointers and several others made big impacts. Even after Jaylen Brown was issued his first career ejection in the fourth quarter, the Celtics had more than enough to hold off the Knicks.

Jayson Tatum added 23 points, Jrue Holiday had 16 points and Al Horford scored 14 off the bench as the Celtics improved to 11-1 this season when their starting five is fully healthy.

The Celtics scored 74 points in the first half but struggled to string together stops against the Knicks, but at least for one night they put away their third-quarter issues to put themselves in position for a victory.

The C’s have been one of the worst teams in the league in the third quarter this season, and with a nine-point halftime lead, could have been in danger of relaxing too much. But the Celtics locked in to start the second half as they relied on strong defense and hot shooting to overwhelm the Knicks.

Boston led by 10 midway through the third before reeling off a 10-0 run, capped by Brown’s dunk and 3-pointer that gave them a lead as large as 20.

The Knicks made it an 11-point lead with three consecutive 3-pointers but Horford responded with a big triple to end the period.

 

The Celtics led by 12 with 7:19 remaining in the fourth quarter when Brown was whistled for a reach-in foul on Immanuel Quickley, which seemed to set him off. Brown had seem irritated with various calls throughout the night but said something after the foul that earned him his first technical foul. But after being substituted out of the game, Brown continued barking at one of the officials and drew his second technical and an ejection.

It’s rare that Brown is upset but was so frustrated that he gestured toward the official who ejected him to come to him and had to be restrained by teammates before he went to the locker room.

Some quick takeaways from the win:

— If the Celtics were trying to make up for lost time with Porzingis, it showed in the first half.

Porzingis returned after a four-game absence due to a calf strain and was immediately involved in the offense. On the Celtics’ first possession of the game, he dunked a second-chance opportunity before drilling a pair of 3-pointers to give him eight points in the opening two minutes. After hitting the second triple, Porzingis flashed a smile to some fans sitting courtside. There was no rust for Porzingis, who didn’t miss a beat. He made his first seven shots of the game, including three 3-pointers, on his way to 19 points in the first half.

— Tatum didn’t score any points and took just one shot in the first quarter as his other teammates took on most of the scoring burden, but his impact was felt in the second quarter. Tatum helped the Celtics gain some separation to end the half, hitting a pull-up triple before getting fouled taking a 3-pointer. On the next defensive possession, he forced Julius Randle into a turnover and took it the other way for a dunk, though it looked like he was clipped by Jalen Brunson as fell dangerously hard to the court.

Tatum went into playmaker mode to end the first half, finding Horford underneath for a three-point play and then finding Horford again on an terrific skip pass to the other side of the court, where the big man drained a 3-pointer. The Celtics, after struggling to pull away from the Knicks for most of the first half and even trailed but Tatum’s surge put them ahead by nine at halftime.


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