Since they were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the Knicks have entered full tank mode. Jeff Hornacek sat their long-time franchise player, Carmelo Anthony, despite being without Derrick Rose. Avery Bradley was once again out for Boston with the stomach flu, missing his 27th game of the season. Well aware of where they were in the standings, .5 games ahead of Cleveland and 3 ahead of Washington, the Celtics knew the importance of this game. After jumping out to an early 5-0 lead, they never looked back.
To start the game, Isaiah Thomas, Jaylen Brown, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, and Al Horford matched up with a 29-win Knicks team. The Celtics looked good from start to finish and performed their fair share of highlight plays. They played with high intensity, never allowing the Knicks offense to get into a rhythm. At the end of the first quarter, the Celtics lead 34-23, behind an early 10 points from Isaiah Thomas.
The Celtics are on ? at MSG, where they came out of the gates and built a 34-23 lead during the 1Q. The C's shot 67% during the quarter.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) April 2, 2017
The Celtics controlled the 2nd quarter as well, extending their lead to 19 (60-41) with under a minute left in the half. A couple of threes from Sasha Vujacic and Justin Holiday got the Knicks back into it, though, as the Celtics lead shrunk to 60-47 at the half. It was not over, but it was the Celtics’ game to lose.
The second half was no different than the first, as the Celtics came out looking to put the game away and get their starters some rest. Boston’s bigs came out aggressive, as Amir Johnson and Horford combined to score 13 of the Celtics first 16 points in the half. Al Horford showed his strength, throwing down two big dunks to bring the Celts bench to their feet.
About halfway through the 3rd, the Celtics upped their lead to 17, and the game was all but over. Late in the 3rd, Jaylen Brown finished on a nice feed from Marcus Smart, as the Celtics went into their favorite quarter up 88-71.
In the final quarter, neither Mr. 4th Quarter himself nor Al Horford had to play a single minute. Many times before, this Celtics team has blown a late lead and allowed teams to get back into the game. This requires Isaiah, Al and the rest of the starters to get back in the game and have to pull out the win. But this time, the Celtics maintained their lead in the 4th, capping off the win with two big dunks from Smart and Brown.
In what could be considered a trap game for the Celtics, they played great basketball. Their offense was impressive from start to finish. They shot 55.6% from the floor and had six players finishing in double-digits while Crowder and Johnson had 8 and 9. Isaiah logged 19 points and six assists in just 24 minutes, while Jaylen Brown put up 16. Al Horford grabbed 7 boards and Jonas Jerebko grabbed 9, leading to the Celtics out-rebounding of the Knicks 41-32.
With just five games remaining for the Celtics, they look to hold onto their half-game lead over Cleveland. Later in the day, the Cavs beat the Pacers in 2OT, maintaining their half-game trail of the Celtics. On Wednesday (4/5), LeBron and company come into the Garden looking to retake 1st place at 8:00 PM EST. It would be great to see Avery Bradley return to pick up Kyrie, but it should be a great game no matter what. The Celtics next 5 games are vs CLE (4/5), @ ATL (4/6), @ CHA (4/8), vs BKY (4/10), and they finish the season at home vs MIL (4/12). The Cavs have 6 games left on their schedule as they will look to figure things out going into the playoffs. 1st place is there for the taking, and on Wednesday, the Celtics will prove that they deserve it.