The Knicks’ five-game losing streak is over. All it took was a showdown with the team atop the Eastern Conference standings.
With the Celtics missing Jayson Tatum and looking out of sorts, the Knicks took advantage and brought the energy to run away with a dominating 105-75 win Sunday afternoon at TD Garden.
The Knicks (6-8) never trailed, leading by as many as 37 points to snap out of their funk and deliver coach Tom Thibodeau a gift on his 63rd birthday. The defense led the way, holding the Celtics (8-4) to a season-low in points.
“As long as we’re doing the right things, I know we’ll improve and we’ll keep getting better,” Thibodeau said. “I love the attitude and I love the approach of the guys that we have. We had a number of guys step up and play really well today. … We’re starting to find a rhythm. I thought the defense was terrific. We defend and we rebound and we share the ball, good things will happen for us.”
Julius Randle (20 points, 12 rebounds), RJ Barrett (19 points, 11 rebounds) and Immanuel Quickley (17 points, eight assists) fueled the Knicks while Obi Toppin chipped in a career-high 12 points in the winning effort.
Despite their recent struggles, the Knicks now own blowout wins over the Celtics and Bucks, two of the Eastern Conference’s best teams. The 20-point win over the Bucks on Dec. 27 was the first of five wins in a six-game stretch before the Knicks dropped five straight. But Sunday, they had something to show for their work once again.
“I think it’s very important,” Barrett said. “We really do work hard. We work hard every day. We’re really buying into coach’s system and playing hard and trying to play together as much as we can. It’s great. It’s great to get the win.”
Amid questions about shaking up the lineup, Thibodeau stuck with the same starting five, and they came out strong from the tip to establish an early lead. Randle and Barrett combined for 19 points and 10 rebounds in the first quarter as the Knicks staked their way to a 28-17 lead.
The Celtics got within six points, 35-29, midway through the second quarter, but Quickley delivered yet another jolt off the bench to fuel a Knicks surge. The rookie point guard set up an alley-oop for Toppin, then hurt the Celtics with three floaters on the next five possessions to take a 44-29 lead as Quickley racked up 11 points in the second quarter alone.
“It’s just his craftiness,” Thibodeau said. “For a rookie to come in and play the way he plays, he’s got every shot you can imagine.”
The Knicks offered no letdown to start the second half, going on a 10-0 run to begin the third quarter and shutting down any chance of a Celtics comeback.
Though the Celtics had played just one game in the past week because of COVID-19 issues, they dropped 124 points on the Magic on Friday night and then added Kemba Walker to the mix Sunday for his season debut. But they shot just 25-for-84 (29.8 percent) from the floor and a putrid 7-for-46 (15.2 percent) from deep as the Knicks held tight defensively with 11 steals and seven blocks.
Thibodeau pointed to the early 1 p.m. start, the Celtics being shorthanded and adjusting to getting Walker back, in addition to the Knicks playing well defensively as contributing factors in the win. But they will take the win any way they can get it.
“We showed them a crowd on all their drives and we rebounded, a team effort,” Barrett said. “Brought energy from the jump and it carried us throughout.”