10/26 Game Preview: Celtics at Knicks
Two teams that battled to the final horn with different outcomes 24 hours earlier will encounter their first back-to-back of the young season Saturday night when the Boston Celtics visit the New York Knicks.
Kemba Walker saved 11 of his 22 points for the fourth quarter of his Boston home debut, and Jaylen Brown buried a key late 3-pointer, helping the Celtics erase a six-point deficit with a 36-24 flurry and overtake the Toronto Raptors 112-106 on Friday night.
Meanwhile in Brooklyn, the Knicks saw a crunch-time, three-point lead slip away when they failed to score in the final 3:41 of their 113-109 loss to the Nets.
The Atlantic Division matchup is the first of four between Boston and New York this season, with the Celtics having won three of the four matchups last season.
Boston has made significant changes in the meantime, as the Knicks are well aware. In its loss to Brooklyn on Friday, New York saw ex-Celtic Kyrie Irving hit a pair of big baskets in the final minute to give the Nets the lead for good.
Irving has been replaced at the head of the Boston attack by Walker, who rebounded from a nightmarish, 4-for-18, 12-point effort in the Celtics' season-opening loss at Philadelphia on Wednesday with an 8-for-22 night against the Raptors.
Brown and Jayson Tatum had 25 points apiece, and Gordon Hayward added 15 for the Celtics in the type of balanced attack that might be required this season to make up for the loss of the high-scoring Irving in free agency.
That depth figures to be compromised against the Knicks, with the Celtics' top two big men -- Enes Kanter (bruised knee) and Daniel Theis (sprained ankle) -- likely to be sidelined.
The Celtics finished Friday's game with Tatum at center.
"We'll probably have a rotating center spot a lot during the year," Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters before Friday's game, even before his starter (Theis) got hurt.
Kanter, who played for the Knicks last season before a trade to Portland, was injured in the Philadelphia game.
"We don't have very many bodies that match up with (big guys) better than Enes," Stevens continued.
The Knicks employ one such 7-footer -- Mitchell Robinson -- but he is more of a defensive weapon than an offensive force. And he's hurting, too, having missed Wednesday's opening 120-111 loss at San Antonio with a sprained right ankle before going just 17 foul-plagued minutes at Brooklyn.
After releasing Kanter and trading away Kristaps Porzingis last season, the Knicks snatched Marcus Morris in free agency this offseason. And the former Celtic has paid immediate dividends, with 37 points in New York's first two games.
The Boston reunion caps a whirlwind first three games for Morris, who made his Knicks debut against the Spurs -- with whom he had reached a verbal agreement in the offseason before changing his mind -- followed by a head-to-head with last year's attention-grabbing teammate, Irving.
Morris took time before Friday's game to take some of the blame off Irving for the Celtics' perceived failures last season.
"There's five people on the court," he noted to reporters. "At the end of the day, it's not just one guy."