C’s Look to Maintain Positive Momentum in Rematch vs. Knicks

BOSTON – Fifteen days ago, the Boston Celtics suffered what was perhaps their most eye-opening loss of the season – a 117-109 defeat at the hands of the visiting New York Knicks, who were only 4-14 at the time.

It marked Boston’s seventh defeat over a 10-game stretch and its ninth overall, as the team fell to 9-9 on the season.

But it also seemed to have marked a turning point for the C’s, who have since won four of their last five games, including three straight leading into Thursday night’s rematch against the Knicks at TD Garden.

“Our identity is definitely forming a lot better than when we were playing against the Knicks that day,” C’s point guard Kyrie Irving stated following practice Thursday afternoon. “Just in terms of our energy, our focus, our lineup as well, and just going out there and competing and having fun doing so.”

Through the first month of the season, that energy and that focus wasn’t there 100 percent of the time. Boston's inconsistency led to frustrating losses, like the one to New York on Thanksgiving eve, and those types of losses didn't sit well with the team.

The last two weeks, however, have contained some of Boston’s most complete efforts of the season. Its offense has been clicking, its defense has been playing on a string, and as a result, its collective attitude has shifted in a more positive direction.

"Everybody's not hanging their heads," said Marcus Smart, who has recently joined Irving in the starting backcourt. "It's a little bit more daylight in the locker room, and it's good to see everybody smiling.”

It’s understandable as to why the Celtics may have been hanging their heads during their November rough patch, especially considering all of the talent they had on paper.

“Everybody was just trying to find a way to come up with wins and (figure out) why we were losing,” said Smart. “Nobody could find a solution, so we were all just upset – not at each other, but just with the situation we were all handed.”

It seems now that the C’s have discovered the solution to their early struggles: to all be willing to sacrifice and play to their respective roles for the betterment of the team.

“I think that we all wanted to win individually, but I think we wanted to win on our own terms,” suggested Irving. “And when you have that, when you have your own individual intent, I think that that could get in the way of what’s best for the group. So, I think we’re getting past that point now.”

Some teams take longer than others to iron out their early-season kinks. Last season’s version of the C’s, for example, quickly found its footing after Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury on Opening Night, as it flew out of the gates to a 16-2 start.

This season’s team, on the other hand, has taken a bit longer to start forming an identity.

“It’s taken some time,” said veteran big man Al Horford, “but now we’re starting to understand that we need to play at a certain level. I just think that we’re all understanding what our roles are, and it’s making everything easier.”

With that being said, the Celtics also have to remain grounded. One thing they learned through the first quarter of the season is that they can’t take any opponent for granted. They’ll keep that in mind Thursday night during their rematch against the Knicks, who are now 8-17.

“We realize the challenge is tough,” head coach Brad Stevens said looking ahead to the matchup. “I mean, the last time New York came here, they pounded us, every which way and so we’re going to have to play better.”

This Celtics team, however, is different than the one that was pounded by the Knicks back on Nov. 21. In just 15 days, this group has grown into a more cohesive, positive unit, and they’ll look to continue to show that Thursday night.