By: Danny Kramer — School Sports Editor
The Boston Celtics opened their regular season with a heartbreaking double-overtime loss in Madison Square Garden against a revamped New York Knicks team that has added a considerable amount of offensive firepower. In Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier’s first matchup against Boston since their departure, the Celtics’ were unable to capitalize on a strong first half and would ultimately be their downfall.
The Celtics started off the night riding guard Jaylen Brown’s hot hand as he scored 20 points in the first quarter leading to a six-point first-quarter lead. Center Robert Williams III ended the game with 5 blocks and 10 rebounds proving himself as a valuable disruptor in the paint. Brown and Williams III playing 46 minutes and 45 minutes respectively — an underrated bright note. Brown had just come off of the COVID-19 list and injury-prone Williams III is a top 10 potential for the position if he can stay on the court.
Building off the electric first quarter, the Celtics went on a 9-0 run and seemed to take control of the game. If Tatum could have seen some shots drop, Boston could have put the game even more out of reach. Celtics fans watched as their blossoming superstar uncharacteristically failed to live up to the hype as Tatum stretched his disastrous first quarter into the second. Tatum’s opening night was marred by a missed technical free throw, twenty-three missed shots, and a missed game-winner.
As the third quarter started, Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau made adjustments as his rotation was trimmed down to eight players, cutting rookie center Jericho Sims and second-year guard Immanuel Quickley out of the lineup. While Tatum struggled to put the ball in the hoop, Knicks guard R.J. Barrett gave the Knicks a much-needed 18 points in the third quarter. The Celtics lead dwindled down to six points leading into a pivotal fourth quarter.
Boston’s improved depth was put on display, especially towards the end of the game. Down 11 points with four and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter, forward Grant Williams was able to jumpstart a Celtics comeback with three big threes leading to heroics of guard Marcus Smart.
Down four points with nine seconds left in the game, first-year Celtics head coach Ime Udoka incorporated a defensive trapping strategy that led to two steals. The first one led to Jaylen Brown pulling up from the end of the Knicks logo to bring the Celtics within one point. After two converted Knick free throws, Smart hit a miraculous three, off a steal, to tie the game as the buzzer sounded.
Both teams traded three-pointers, hitting over 35% from deep. Brown and Fournier led their teams hitting 8 and 6 three-pointers respectively, yet the ball was questionably put in Tatum’s hands at the end of the first overtime. Taking a fading shot to the right baseline over the outstretched arms of Barrett for a chance to win the game, Tatum continued to be off-kilter as the ball missed badly left of the rim leading to the second overtime.
The Knicks’ offseason moves were a big benefactor for them in the second overtime. Arguably the biggest pickup the Knicks made was signing former Celtics guard Evan Fournier for 19.5 million dollars per year, and if last night was any indication, the signing was worth every penny. The Celtics could not figure out how to guard the dribble handoff between Fournier and rising forward Julius Randle. Thus, Fournier would end up hitting a three to take the lead off of a Randle dribble handoff in double overtime before a layup to ice the game and end his 32 point night.
Veterans Al Horford and Josh Richardson were missed. Horford could have been the solution to at least containing Randle who dropped a quiet 35 points, and Richardson is an impactful perimeter defender.
Udoka’s stress of ball movement solved last season’s offensive woes as Boston dropped 34 assists to New York’s 27, and Brown broke a record as his 46 points were the most by any Celtic ever on opening day.
It is dangerous to put too much emphasis on game one, but from the looks of it, Boston seems to be a deep team that can wear out the opposition on both sides of the ball. On the other hand, with most starters playing over 45 minutes in the first game of the season, be on the lookout to see how Udoka handles minutes and rest. Boston could see their rotation get a little deeper to try and recuperate some stamina as the first week of NBA basketball draws on.