Their meeting with the New York Knicks on Sunday night will provide the Boston Celtics with a dual bounce-back opportunity. First, the Celtics will be looking to rebound after blowing a 28-point lead and losing to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night. Brooklyn's comeback was the largest of the entire NBA season, and obviously not the finest moment for the Celtics, who were booed off of the floor in the L. Boston will also be looking to bounce back after losing to the Knicks 109-94 earlier this week.
The Celtics have actually lost two straight games to New York, including a 120-117 overtime loss in late January, and exacting their revenge won't be an easy task, as the Knicks have recently started to resemble a legitimate playoff team. They've won eight straight games heading into Sunday night and have climbed up to fifth in the Eastern Conference standings in the process.
"I feel like right now we are clicking on all cylinders," Knicks guard Quentin Grimes said of the team recently. "Everybody is playing unselfish and playing for one another."
Tom Thibodeau's teams are typically known for their defensive prowess, but it's been on the offensive end where the Knicks have been special this season. They have the third's third-best offense on the season, and the top overall offense over the past two weeks, per Cleaning the Glass. They finished in the bottom third in the league in that category last season.
The offseason addition of Jalen Brunson has obviously been an enormous factor there. While some wondered if the Knicks overpaid for Brunson prior to the start of the season, he seems to have made it a mission to prove that they didn't. Over the past 15 games, Brunson is averaging nearly 29 points per performance while adding close to six assists and shooting well over 50 percent from the field. His impact on the offense is evident to everyone, including his teammates.
"It's just great," Randle said recently of playing with Brunson. "It makes the game easier for all of us. He's making plays and being efficient, and we're winning."
While Brunson and Randle have led the way, New York's success this season is the result of a multitude of contributors. Immanuel Quickley has provided reliable, consistent production off of the bench, and R.J. Barrett has been a decent, albeit somewhat inconsistent, third option. Also, after missing over a month of action following thumb surgery, Mitchell Robinson has posted four straight double-doubles.
Josh Hart, who the Knicks traded for prior to the trade deadline, has also made a positive two-way impact. He's averaged over 12 points, five rebounds and three assists per performance. New York's current winning streak also happens to coincide with Hart's arrival, as he's 8-0 as a Knick. The Celtics will be looking to prevent him from getting to 9-0.
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In order to do that, Boston will have to shoot the ball a bit better. In their most recent loss to New York, the Celtics shot just 9-of-42 (21 percent) from long range. That's not going to get the job done.
"Watching that game was tough," said Celtics forward Jaylen Brown, who missed the game due to personal reasons. "... I think we started off the game shooting way too many threes."
The meeting between the two teams is the fourth and final of the regular season. If the Knicks win, they'll claim the season series 3-1, while a Boston win will even it up at two games apiece. Boston bested New York in the first meeting between the teams in early November.
The matchup could also be a potential playoff preview. It seems somewhat unlikely that the teams will meet in the first round, but depending on how seeding shakes out, they could face off against each other if they're both able to advance.
After holding down the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings for most of the season, the Celtics have recently slipped to second -- a game behind the Milwaukee Bucks. Similarly, the Knicks are now just a single game behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fourth spot, so both teams will be fighting for seeding when they square off Sunday night. As a result, both squads should be motivated and roaring to go.