It briefly appeared that life was getting back to normal, as Boston roared back from a 12-point deficit in the final five minutes of regulation. But Jayson Tatum missed a potential game-winner, leading to overtime, then his potential game-tying 3 in the extra session was off, allowing the Knicks to escape with a 120-117 win and send the Celtics to just their second three-game losing streak of this season.
When the Celtics’ lost the final two games of their recent road trip, the setbacks were forgivable and explainable, with Boston severely shorthanded in both contests. On Thursday, they welcomed back most of their core and returned home, where a rowdy crowd was waiting.
Tatum, named an All-Star starter before tipoff and who sparked the late surge, finished with 35 points and 14 rebounds. Jaylen Brown added 22 points, but missed a crucial pair of free throws in the final 10 seconds of overtime. Julius Randle had 37 points and 9 rebounds for the Knicks, and Jalen Brunson added 29 points.
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The Celtics coughed up a 15-point first half lead, and when they trailed by six at the start of the fourth, they committed four turnovers over the first four minutes of the period to help the Knicks extend their lead.
New York had a 106-94 edge with five minutes left when the Celtics roared back behind Tatum, who had been quiet following his 5 for 5 start to the game. He scored three consecutive Celtics baskets with powerful drives to the rim, the last a 3-point play with 2:25 left that pulled Boston within 110-105.
He found Brogdon for a 3-pointer before converting a layup with 48.5 seconds left that tied the score at 110. The Knicks’ offense, meanwhile, was preoccupied with running out the clock, with a pair of shot-clock violations and other shots forced up just before time expired.
New York was held scoreless for the final 2:35 of regulation, and after Quentin Grimes missed a potential go-ahead 3-pointer, Tatum held for the final shot. He dribbled at the top of the key and created space for a wide-open 19-footer, but it was off, and Robert Williams’s putback attempt at the buzzer was blocked.
After Boston scored the first five points of the extra session, Randle snapped New York’s 3-minute, 50-second scoring drought with a 3-pointer. Both teams appeared to have tired legs as 3-pointers thudded off the rim at both ends.
But after Tatum missed a 3-pointer and an ensuing layup attempt, New York’s R.J. Barrett drilled a 3-pointer from the corner that gave the Knicks a 116-115 lead with 29.1 seconds left. Brown pushed Boston back in front by quickly attacking for a layup.
Randle was fouled and put the Knicks back in front with a pair of free throws before Brown was fouled with 7.6 seconds left. But Brown missed both free throws short, and the Celtics were forced to foul with 5.7 seconds to play.
R.J. Barrett connected on both free throws. Tatum got a clean look at the other end, but it caromed off the back rim, and Brogdon’s desperation try on the rebound was blocked.
Observations from the game:
⋅ Tatum appeared to have a boost of confidence being named an All-Star starter. He started 5 for 5 from the field with a pair of 3-pointers, helping the Celtics race to an early 22-7 lead. He was less involved in the offense during the second quarter, but found a way to be impactful. Late in the quarter, he outmuscled the Knicks for a pair of offensive rebounds and putbacks.
But that second quarter also included one disturbing trend. After missing inside, Tatum stopped to complain to the officials about the lack of a foul call. The Knicks had no sympathy, of course, and used the advantage to race the other way for a Grimes dunk.
⋅ The Knicks’ backups provided a jolt during the second quarter, led by Immanuel Quickley, who erupted for 15 points on 6 of 10 shooting. The Celtics were simply unable to match New York’s energy in the period, a puzzling result considering several sat out Tuesday’s game against the Heat to rest.
⋅ Payton Pritchard remained in the first-quarter rotation in place of Sam Hauser, but Hauser got a chance in the second quarter and took advantage, drilling a pair of 3-pointers during his four-minute stint. That earned him another chance in the fourth, but he was off on a pair of 3-pointers that came at a time Boston really needed them.
⋅ Randle was never going to be selected as an All-Star starter, but he certainly bolstered his case to be a reserve Thursday. He alternated between overpowering the Celtics at the rim and spotting up for open 3-pointers, and Boston struggled to slow him. He also threw down two powerful dunks — one over Horford, and another in the face of Tatum. The Celtics were unable to match that physicality for much of the game.
⋅ Brown returned after sitting out Tuesday’s game against the Heat to rest his recent groin strain, but he was forcing the issue too much. He’s at his best when he’s finding his spots for mid-range turnarounds and fadeaways within the flow of his offense, but things become more clunky when he does too much dribbling.
He was just 8 of 22 from the field and 1 for 8 from the 3-point line.
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.