The Boston Celtics dominated the NBA over the first month-and-a-half of the season with a 16-game win streak. That impressive run was led by the league’s No. 1 rated defense and a top-five rebounding percentage.
The C’s have failed to keep up that pace for most of December, as they are 4-5 over their last nine games after a bad 102-93 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. Boston’s struggles during this stretch are rooted in noticeable dips in its defense and rebounding.
The C’s have allowed 100-plus points in six of their last nine games after allowing opponents to reach the century mark just 10 times in their first 26 contests. Boston ranks 22nd in defensive rating and 30th in rebound percentage during this 4-5 stretch over the last 13 days.
The Celtics entered Thursday having played at least three more games than any team in the Eastern Conference. The second-place Toronto Raptors have played six fewer games than Boston. This jam-packed schedule is tiring out the C’s, and it’s been easy to notice this week. Combine the tough schedule and injuries to key players and you have a recipe for regression.
But the Celtics still are in a great spot despite their recent struggles. They’re 26-9, young players are developing nicely and the schedule will get easier soon — Boston plays only one game in a 10-day stretch in early January.
But there needs to be a quick improvement on defense and on the boards or the C’s might not sit atop the East when the calendar turns to 2018.
Here are some other notes from Celtics-Knicks:
— Jaylen Brown didn’t play because of his Achilles. Here’s what Brown said about the injury before the game.
Shane Larkin (knee) and Marcus Morris (knee) also didn’t play, leaving the C’s with 10 healthy players, and five of them were rookies.
— Kyrie Irving led the Celtics with 32 points on 12-of-27 shooting. He was very aggressive from 3-point range, attempting 15 shots from beyond the arc but hitting just six of them.
Irving has upped his offense in December. He’s scored 30-plus points in five of his last six games and is averaging 27.5 points this month. His 45.7 percent mark from 3-point range — a seven percent jump from last month — is the most encouraging part of Irving’s improvement in December.
— Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum scored 17 points, and two of them came on this pretty reverse layup.
Tatum has scored 10-plus points in 10 of 12 games this month.
— Michael Beasley has rejuvenated his career in New York this season. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft scored a season-high 32 points, giving him 15-plus points in four straight games. Beasley scored 18 points in the fourth quarter. He also pulled down a season-high 11 rebounds.
Beasley even got “MVP” chants from the MSG crowd.
— Kristaps Porzingis was completely shut down by the C’s. In fairness, he’s been battling an injury of late, but he scored just one point on 0-of-11 shooting. He didn’t play the entire fourth quarter, either.
Porzingis has 13 points on 3-of-25 shooting in two games against the Celtics this season.