Al Horford thinks the Celtics are starting to develop more chemistry

“It was a disappointing loss against [the Knicks] recently here, and we wanted to come out and set the tone from the beginning."

New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. looks for room to move against the defense of Celtics guard Kyrie Irving and center Al Horford on Thursday.
New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. looks for room to move against the defense of Celtics guard Kyrie Irving and center Al Horford on Thursday. –Elise Amendola / The Associated Press

When the Celtics lost to the Knicks two weeks ago, coach Brad Stevens said the team had a lot of issues.

“I just don’t know that we’re that good,” Stevens told reporters after the game. “Maybe it’s not a wake-up call if you keep getting beat.”

In that game, the Celtics shot roughly 39 percent from the floor, 30 percent from 3, and 72 percent from the line. The team also allowed 39 points in the second quarter, and a fourth-quarter comeback fell short.

The team’s third straight loss dropped their record to 9-9 and prompted Kyrie Irving to question his team’s mojo at that point.

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“In order to be considered a special team, you have to earn it,” Irving said at the time.

Ever since, the Celtics have looked like an entirely different team, winning five out of six in one of their best stretches of the season. On Thursday, they avenged that perplexing loss to the Knicks with a decisive 128-100 victory.

This time, Boston shot close to 53 percent from the field, 34 percent from distance, and 85 percent from the stripe. The Knicks, meanwhile, only scored 42 points in the second half and had trouble keeping pace.

“It was a disappointing loss against them recently here, and we wanted to come out and set the tone from the beginning,” said Al Horford, who finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks. “I felt like we were able to do that.”

Horford noted that the Celtics weren’t able to fully put the Knicks away until the end, but he was still pleased with the effort. He said the main difference since the loss a few weeks ago is that the Celtics are making the game easy for one another.

“We’re starting to develop that chemistry,” Horford said.

On one play in the first quarter Thursday, Gordon Hayward ignited a fast break and could have easily taken a layup himself. Instead, he found a cutting Jaylen Brown for an uncontested two-handed slam. Right before halftime, Jayson Tatum hustled to keep a play alive, and then Marcus Smart hit Horford for an alley-oop.

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The offensive execution was crisp all night, and the pace was free-flowing the bulk of the way. Boston didn’t settle for ill-advised looks and kept the Knicks scrambling.

“For us, we’re having a lot more fun, making sure that we’re paying attention to detail, and to make sure we’re playing at a level that we all demand out of each other,” Irving said.

Thursday marked the third straight game the Celtics have registered 30-plus assists, upping their season average to 25.2, which is seventh in the NBA. They’ve also scored 115-plus points in four consecutive games for the first time since 1990.

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There’s no panacea when it comes to improved execution, but the Celtics, now 14-10, are doing just about everything better now than they were last time the Knicks came to town.

“I don’t see some of the issues we had earlier in the season when I watch us play,” Stevens said. “There are things we have to fix, but we’re competing at a good level.”

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