BOSTON — The Boston Celtics have usually had the upper hand in the battle of opposing bench units during the young season. On Friday night against the New York Knicks, however, that trend was reversed.
The Knicks’ second unit put together a game-deciding 17-2 run early in the fourth quarter, helping the visitors build a 15-point lead with just under six minutes left in the game. The Celtics made a late charge in the closing moments, but came up short after cutting the deficit to four, as the Knicks held on for a 101-95 win at the TD Garden. The victory snapped a 10-game losing streak for New York, while the Celtics have now dropped three straight games.
Carmelo Anthony returned to the lineup from a knee injury to score a team-high 22 points, but it was the Knicks’ bench that came up big, combining to outscore Boston’s reserves by a 45-33 margin. Tim Hardaway Jr. (16 points) and Jason Smith (12 points) both wreaked havoc against Boston’s defense in the second half, as did a rejuvenated Amar’e Stoudemire (20 points).
Jeff Green scored a game-high 28 points for the shorthanded Celtics who were missing Avery Bradley (flu) and lost Marcus Smart to a strained Achilles’ injury early in the second quarter. Despite the absence of both backcourt weapons, the hosts played lethargic, sloppy (18 turnovers) basketball for the better part of four quarters, particularly within the starting five.
The high-octane offense the Celtics began the season with looked like a thing of the past against one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. Jared Sullinger went scoreless against New York, while Rajon Rondo only managed to score a paltry two points on three shots in 32 minutes of action.
The lackluster offensive production is becoming a disturbing trend for Rondo, who has now scored two or fewer points in five of his last eight games. Sullinger appears to be in a slump as well, only scoring 10 points total in his past three games.
The news was bad on the defensive end as well, as Tyler Zeller and Sullinger were unable to contain Stoudemire and Smith in the paint for the majority of the evening. Overall, the Knicks shot 49 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from 3-point range, breaking down the Celtics’ defense to get some open looks for the majority of the evening.
The loss against a five-win team is a disappointing start of an easier slate of games on the Celtics schedule over the couple weeks. Boston looks to rebound Monday night and should have a good chance to get back into the win column against the Philadelphia 76ers.