The NBA title contending Boston Celtics were ripe for the taking, but the Knicks weren’t ripe for the taking of the opening night favor.
Kristaps Porzingis burned his old team with a franchise record setting performance and the Knicks shot themselves in the foot at the foul line and made mistakes down the stretch as the Celtics grabbed a 108-104 season opening win at Madison Square Garden last night.
Porzingis scored 30 points, the most ever for a Celtics debut, including a stretch late in the fourth quarter where he scored nine straight Celtics points as Boston took control of a game where they gave the Knicks a chance to steal it. It wasn’t just the scoring where Porzingis shined. The former Knick, Maverick and Wizard was a force in the middle where he had eight rebounds and intimidated the Knicks inside, recording four blocked shots.
“That’s who he is, he’s gonna present problems because he’s a big that plays away from the basket,” Knicks Coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s not just him, it’s what you have to do with Tatum and Brown as well. White is somebody you can’t overlook as is Holiday and those guys were on the floor a lot.”
Jayson Tatum was nearly unstoppable with a game high 34 points along with 11 rebounds and 4 assists as the Celtics put a team on the floor that is expected to contend for an NBA Championship. Jaylen Brown had 11 points and 5 assists. Jrue Holiday’s debut was nothing spectacular numbers wise but he always makes a contribution that doesn’t show up on the scoresheet.
R.J. Barrett and Immanuel Quickley led the Knicks with 24 points but it was a rough night for Jalen Brunson (15 pts, 6 assists) and Julius Randle (14 points, 11 rebounds), whose numbers camouflage the fact that the duo shot a combined 26% (11 for 43).
It was a familiar refrain from recent years where the Knicks had chances to come away with an impressive win over a superior opponent but, for one reason or another, they fail to do so.
“We did a lot of good things but we didn’t do enough to win the game and that’s where we have to be,” Thibodeau said. “If you cut down on some mental errors, it’s a long game, we just gotta do more good things to find a way to win.”
The Knicks trailed 82-73 entering the fourth quarter but Barrett scored seven straight points to make it a two point deficit as the Garden started to howl. With less than nine minutes remaning, Josh Hart hit a three to give the Knicks their first lead of the game at 86-84.
The game was tied at 93 when Randle hit a huge three pointer from the top of the arc to give the Knicks a 96-93 lead. On the ensuing inbounds, Quickley stole the ball and ran a possession that ended with Quentin Grimes hitting a three from the corner. Grimes was fouled by Jaylen Brown as the Knicks took a 99-93 lead with 4:10 left in the fourth quarter, but he failed to complete the four point play when he missed the free throw, a recurring theme all night long.
With a little over two minutes left and the Knicks leading 101-99, Barrett missed a three, Porzingis grabbed the rebound and was fouled but he also elbowed Isaiah Hartenstein as he held onto the ball.
The play was reviewed as a “hostile act.” Porizingis was issued a technical, but Hartenstein was called for a common foul. Brunson missed the technical free throw and Porzingis hit two free throws to tie the game at 101.
With 1:29 remaining, the former Knick delivered the dagger as Porzingis hit a three to give Boston a 104-101 lead. Porzingis hit two more free throws to finish off his night and give Boston a 106-102 lead with less than 30 seconds left.
The Knicks got off to a rough start in this one as they missed their first nine shots. A number of those early misses came on putbacks after an offensive rebound. It was a portent of things to come as the Knicks shot 28% from the paint. “We just missed shots, basket had a lid on it but those are shots that we’ll take and we’ll make,” Randle said.
Mitchell Robinson’s dunk less than three minutes into the game produced the Knicks first points of the season, but Porzingis was on his way as he scored 15 points to lead Boston to a 30-18 lead after one.
“When we got that lead, that’s when we gotta play tough. You gotta understand the fourth quarter’s different,” Thibodeau said. “Got the lead. Four minutes to go, missed free throws, fouls, couple of things coulda gone either way, they went against us but we gotta find a way to get it done at the end. I look at the mental errors, we gotta clean that up.”
Brunson missed his first six shots before he finally connected in the second quarter. The Knicks trailed by as many as 12 before they closed the quarter on a 7-2 run to cut the Celtics lead to 51-46 at halftime.
Boston was able to keep the Knicks at arms length in the second half before the game was decided in the fourth quarter.
Boston shot 48% from the floor, the Knicks were at 37%, which was commendable after their awful start. Knicks shot 54% (14 for 26) from the free throw line while the Celtics hit 85% (22 of 26). Boston had a 42-24 edge in points in the paint and an 11-0 edge in blocked shots.
Considering the Knicks did not shoot well at all, they were resilient in staying in the game and having a chance to win. That was the good news. The bad news is that they once again failed to finish.
As usual, Brunson held himself accountable after the game. “I need to be better, first and foremost. Definitely a winnable game.”