If ever there was a game for New York to play huge, today was the day. On coach Tom Thibodeau’s 63rd birthday, the Knicks were playing the rival Celtics in Boston. The Knicks (6-8) took control early and blew out Boston 105-75 at TD Garden. The surprising win snapped a five-game New York losing skid.
One would think that the giftwrapped victory would be just what Thibodeau ordered on his special day. Right? After all, he was a Celtic fan during one stage of his life and was even an assistant coach in Boston.
“I’m not happy unless I’m miserable,” Thibodeau said after the game. “It’s great to get a win any time and obviously to get one here is not an easy thing to do so I’m proud of the way the guys played.”
The Celtics (8-4) entered the afternoon winners of five in a row and sporting the best record in the Eastern Conference. The return of Kemba Walker who made his season debut also figured to bolster the Boston lineup. Brad Stevens’ group had three games recently postponed due to COVID-19 issues, but were coming off a 27 point thrashing of Orlando. They were sluggish right from the start. Boston was also without star forward Jayson Tatum. The Knicks took advantage.
New York took the lead early and never looked back. The Knicks weren’t shooting the ball particulary well in the first half. They were able to pull away from the Celtics with stifling defense and horrendous shooting by Boston. The Celtics shot just 7-for-46 from three-point range and 25-for-84 for 29.8% for the game.
The Knicks led 7-2 to open the game and never trailed. They increased the margin to 28-17 after a quarter and went to halftime with a commanding 48-25 edge. In the second half New York’s lead ballooned to as much as 37 and Boston never threatened.
Rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley had his third consecutive solid performance. Quickley came off the bench to score 11 points in the first half, helping the Knicks to blow the game open. Quickley ended the day with 17 points, using his signature floater in the lane and deep three-pointers to torch the Celtics. He finished with eight assists, including two pretty feeds to fellow-rookie Obi Toppin for slams.
Toppin, who missed 11 of the first 12 games of the season with an injury, had his best outing as a pro. Toppin finished with 12 points and five boards.
“If we keep playing like we did today, we’re going to win a lot of games,’’ said Toppin.
Walker scored nine points in 20 minutes of action. It was Walker’s first game since the Eastern Conference finals due to an issue with his left knee.
“It feels weird actually not having pain, if that makes sense. It’s kind of a weird feeling,” Walker said. “I’ve been hurt for a very long time, so I was really just happy to get out there, just super excited. It was fun. I can’t wait to get back out there.”
Fans of the Knicks, as well as New York media, have been campaigning for Thibodeau to move Quickley into the starting five. However, the first-year coach is pleased with veteran Elfrid Payton at the point guard spot, along with the dynamic first round draft pick.
“I love both guys — they’re different and bring different things to the team,’’ Thibodeau said. “It gives us great flexibility. Elfrid, when you look at his defense and size, a lot of these guards, particularly point guards in the NBA today, they’re a load to deal with. Elfrid has a good understanding how to defend them. He can play-make for us. And when Quickley comes in, he gives us a different look.”
New York is back in action at Madison Square Garden Monday afternoon against Orlando. The game will have a special Martin Luther King Day noon tip off. Then, the Knicks trek westward to meet Golden State, Sacramento, Portland and Utah.
(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)