12/6 Game Preview: Knicks at Celtics
BOSTON -- It was just two weeks ago that the Boston Celtics staged a frantic comeback but came up just short and lost to the New York Knicks, who were 4-16 at the time.
The Celtics, off to a surprisingly mediocre start as the Eastern Conference favorites, have won four of the five games since, including the last three -- and may have also gotten the REAL Gordon Hayward back as they head into Thursday night's rematch with the Knicks at TD Garden.
Hayward, lost to the Celtics with a horrible leg injury in the first quarter of his first game with his new team last season, has been coming along slowly in his return. He broke out in a major step forward last Saturday night in Minneapolis.
He scored 30 points and added nine rebounds and eight assists in a road win over the Timberwolves.
And he did it off the bench.
"It's slowly coming along," said Hayward. "I think my confidence is slowly coming back, too. I'm still not where I want to be, but for sure, me attacking is better for our team and not being hesitant or passive."
Hayward broke loose after a practice confrontation with teammate Marcus Smart, who challenged Hayward by fouling him ... a lot.
"He just got red at one point," teammate Marcus Morris said. "He was really upset. He was going really hard."
The Celtics are 3-0 since inserting Smart into the starting lineup.
"I'm not going to let being in the first unit, the second unit, whatever unit deter from how I play, and that's bringing the energy straight off the bat," Smart said. "I try to lead by example, and, hopefully, my energy can rub off on guys. I think it's been doing that."
A win Thursday would allow Boston (13-10) to match its longest winning streak of the season.
The Knicks are 8-17. They are 4-3 in their last seven games but have lost three of their last four, capped by a 110-107 loss at Washington Monday night.
New York, down by 16 with 4:24 remaining, staged a furious comeback but fell just short.
"That's us. That's our team," coach David Fizdale said. "As long as there's time on the clock our guys will fight to try to win the game."
That loss came as the Knicks were rumored to be assembling pieces to try to deal for Washington's John Wall, who is very much on the trade market. Wall had 18 points and 15 assists in that game Monday.
Trey Burke, who had 29 points and 11 assists in the Knicks' win in Boston that evened the season series at 1-1, is out with a mild knee sprain. Former Celtics player Courtney Lee played his first game of the season for the Knicks Monday night. He had been out with a neck injury and played 16 minutes in his return.
Jaylen Brown, who has missed Boston's last three games with a bruised lower back, is expected to return Thursday night. He is ready to come off the bench to contribute if that's the plan.
"I'm good. I'm ready to go," Brown said Tuesday. "I'm feeling better every day. Just looking forward to being there on Thursday. Let's keep this win streak going."
As far as that mini-winning streak, Kyrie Irving said, "Our identity has changed since last time we played the Knicks. As a competitor I'm looking forward to tomorrow night."