NEW YORK — With Robert Williams still sidelined due to knee surgery, Al Horford sitting out because of back soreness, and Luke Kornet unavailable due to personal reasons, the Celtics frontcourt was remarkably thin for Saturday’s game against the Knicks. It quickly became clear that this game would be decided much farther from the hoop.
Nine of the Celtics’ first 10 shots came from beyond the 3-point arc; a harbinger, not a fluke. Boston spread the floor with shooters and sprayed from all angles. Second-year forward Sam Hauser hit a career-high five 3-pointers. Fourth-string center Noah Vonleh drilled his first since February 2020. All nine Celtics who appeared in the game made at least one.
This approach was nothing new for Jayson Tatum, of course, and his step-back dart with 3:34 left both set the franchise’s single-game record for made 3-pointers, and also essentially put the finishing touches on Boston’s 133-118 win.
The Celtics made 27 of 51 shots from beyond the arc, breaking their old mark of 25 and finishing two shy of the NBA record of 29. Jaylen Brown finished with 30 points, Tatum added 26, and six Celtics finished in double figures in scoring.
For the second game in a row, the defense was hardly perfect, as the Knicks shot 51.1 percent. New York lingered for most of the night, despite Boston’s scorching shooting.
The Knicks clawed back from a 14-point first-half deficit and briefly led by three early in the third quarter. The Knicks were still within 116-112 with 4:51 left in the fourth. But a pair of 3-pointers by Tatum extended the lead, and Grant Williams added to the record-setting night with one more in the final minute.
Observations from the game:
▪ The Celtics’ long-range approach was revealed early. Less than three minutes into the game, Tatum, Brown, Marcus Smart, and Derrick White had all connected from beyond the arc. It was hard to fault the approach considering the results. Brown and second-year forward Sam Hauser were particularly dominant in the first half, combining to make 9 of 15 attempts. Hauser has emerged as a dependable sniper for Boston and it’s unlikely that injured forward Danilo Gallinari would have been this productive from deep. Hauser has a quick release on his high arcing shots, and it’s clear his teammates trust him.
▪ A 3-pointer by Hauser with 7:39 left in the second quarter gave the Celtics a 53-39 lead, their largest of the half. But the Knicks, who also started the game with a similar 3-point approach, clawed back by going on the attack. They had 30 points in the paint in the first half and used a 27-12 run to briefly take a 66-65 lead before Derrick White converted a last-second putback. The absence of Robert Williams really dents Boston’s defense, but this unit still has holes. Opponents have tried to attack Hauser and the limitations were more glaring with Blake Griffin starting for Horford.
▪ Smart had a first-half stat line that plenty of Celtics fans would love to see more often. The guard attempted just three shots, made his lone 3-pointer, and dished out eight assists without committing a turnover. He went at his own pace and didn’t force anything.
▪ Luke Kornet has emerged as the Celtics’ clear backup center as long as Robert Williams remains out, so it was surprising when Blake Griffin started at center in place of Horford and Noah Vonleh came off the bench. A team spokesperson later said that Kornet, who was in uniform at his locker about an hour before the game, left the arena for personal reasons. Griffin and Vonleh both had solid moments and certainly didn’t hurt the Celtics, which should be considered a win.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism