With both teams playing competitively with something at stake this season, somewhat of a fun rivalry between the Knicks and Celtics has been renewed. Both teams seem to have each other's number at times, matching up well, playing spirited and physical basketball, etc.
Tuesday's matchup was merely further evidence of just that. And while Isaiah Thomas' pesky and persistent play on both ends of the floor continues to make him a thorn in the Knicks' side, New York proved to be the better team on this night.
Ball movement was tremendous. Spacing was strong and the Knicks were constantly moving with and without the ball, keeping the Celtics defense on their toes. By the time the second half came around, Boston began to respond with very physical play down low, something that New York still has trouble matching up with. Nevertheless, six players in double-figures (led by Kristaps Porzingis' 26 points) helped the Knicks hit their opponent in different ways all game long. Here are some other observations from the victory.
- Porzingis appears to be the type of player who is hand-crafted to shine in New York. He's bold, confident, and downright brazen with some of his shot attempts. While one might cringe while these shots go up, only celebrations follow when they come down. He knows how to change the momentum of a game, and isn't afraid to embrace a centralized role on the offense. He and Carmelo Anthony had a great one-two punch going in the first half.
- Before Anthony's injury late in the second quarter, he was as dominant as Porzingis. But he showed maturity to defer to the rookie just a tad, because he knew Porzingis had a very hot hand. It would have been just as easy for Anthony to try and take over, but he once again displayed a refinement in his game and attitude.
- Brad Stevens of the Celtics seemed to bring the best out of Derek Fisher on Wednesday. This was a game of strategies and reactions, and Stevens' Celtics competed with the Knicks by excellently responding (quite effectively, in fact) to many of the things that were working for New York. In turn, however, Fisher made better decisions. Even though Porzingis fouled out late in the fourth, the choice to hold him on the bench for a bit with five fouls was a smart one. Fisher was calm throughout.
- Jerian Grant had the game of his life with 16 points and 8 assists. He stepped up in a major way life in the fourth by pouring in the points while Porzingis and Anthony were out, but his ball movement was the real key. Grant maturely pushed the pace. With the slower Jose Calderon unable to keep up with Thomas, Grant proved just how important a strong balance between the two guards really is in the Knicks' rotation. The team needs to keep encouraging Grant to give them what they want, instead of altering his minutes too sporadically. New York needs to depend on him more.
- Arron Afflalo also stepped up with some late game heroics, adding 24 points. It's clear he's at his best when he doesn't hesitate. Afflalo needs to continue attacking the basket. When he shoots, he needs to do so without hesitation. When his first instinct is to score, Afflalo is a stellar offensive player. When he tries to do too much and puts the ball on the floor for too long, such higher percentage looks seem to disappear.