Celtics

3 takeaways as short-handed Celtics close regular season with spirited loss to Knicks

Romeo Langford and Tremont Waters impressed, but the Celtics fell to the Knicks.

The Celtics took on the Knicks on Sunday. Vincent Carchietta/Pool Photo via AP

COMMENTARY

Without any of their starters, the Celtics closed the regular season with a competitive 96-92 loss to the Knicks on Sunday, as the Knicks clinched the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Here’s what happened.

The Big Picture

The Celtics started strong and hung with the Knicks for most of the first half. The Knicks, however, broke the game open late in the second quarter with a 12-0 run that produced a 13-point lead at the break. Despite a spirited effort from the Celtics’s young players and a late push that trimmed the lead down to a one-possession game in the closing minutes, the Knicks got just enough offense to hold onto home-court advantage in the first round.

Star of the Game

Tremont Waters – 17 points, 7-for-13 shooting, five rebounds, five assists.

No Knicks player did enough to really separate themselves from the pack, and Waters deserves credit for turning what threatened to be an unwatchable end-of-season game into a compelling contest down the stretch. He hit a pair of big 3-pointers and quarterbacked the offense successfully while pestering ball-handlers on the other end.

What It Means

Essentially nothing for the Celtics (which, of course, is why none of the starters played). They will face the Washington Wizards in the play-in game.

Takeaways

1. The Celtics were outgunned, but a variety of second-unit players performed well.

Jabari Parker scored in a variety of ways, finishing with 18 points on 6-for-10 shooting. He hit a three, knocked down a hesitation jumper and continued his success around the rim.

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Luke Kornet and Tacko Fall both swatted away three shots and were a deterrent for Knicks drivers at the rim.

Waters dominated the fourth quarter and gave the Celtics a chance with 17 points (7-for-13 shooting) and five assists.

Romeo Langford had a mental lapse late that may have cost the Celtics an opportunity to tie the game in the final 30 seconds, but he made several nice defensive plays and was good around the rim.

And finally, Grant Williams dropped 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting. He buried both of his 3-point attempts and scored out of the post.

Few of the Celtics who played on Sunday will have a major role in the postseason, but Brad Stevens hinted that he liked what he saw from certain players — Waters and Langford in particular.

2. Watching the Knicks try to hold off a spirited push by an overmatched group was reminiscent of watching the Celtics all season, just from the other side. The Knicks clearly felt the weight of Sunday’s game in the fourth quarter, while the Celtics played free and easy.

The Celtics have struggled for a myriad of reasons this season, but they have dealt with the weight of significant expectations all season. That certainly may have played a role.

3. After the game, Brad Stevens wasn’t ready to reflect on the regular season, but he acknowledged it was “really hard.”

“We have not been perfect,” Stevens said. “That’s been well-documented. We’ve dealt with a lot of negativity, and we’ve stayed together. I think that’s the most important thing you can do. We have to just stay together and reset now, get ready with great preparation tomorrow and play our best that we’ve played this year this week. That’s the old Belichick saying: ‘Play your best when your best is needed.’ It’s needed now.

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“It doesn’t mean we’re going to be perfect, doesn’t mean we’re not going to make mistakes, but we just need to put in a good day of prep, get ready to roll, and play as well as we can.”

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