Knicks guard Jalen Brunson and forward Julius Randle low-five against the...

Knicks guard Jalen Brunson and forward Julius Randle low-five against the Cavaliers late in the fourth quarter of an NBA game at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

BOSTON — There was a time early last season when there was a question about whether the Celtics might have to break up their core. Rumors abounded that Jaylen Brown could be available or Marcus Smart should be moved while Jayson Tatum took over as the leader of the team.

It took only a few months for the Celtics to find themselves in the NBA Finals, putting the talk to rest. And it taught teams that maybe patience is required as talent is accumulated, a lesson that the Knicks might consider as they find themselves two weeks from the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

The Knicks are far from the class that the Celtics were in, or are in, as Tatum and Brown have been established as elite talents. But Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett have given them something they have never had — a chance to have three players average at least 20 points per game.

It’s not just that they’re capable but that they have fit together reasonably well even though all three are ball-dominant players who flourish driving into the paint. While no one projects this Knicks roster to contend for a title, there has been little issue with how they’ve managed to fit the pieces together in Tom Thibodeau’s offense.

“I think it starts just with our willingness to kind of play off each other,” Brunson said. “And Thibs puts us in positions where we can succeed, and I think it’s just whatever it takes to win games. Obviously, for us, it involves a little bit of sacrifice. We’re all sacrificing every day, and we’re just trying to figure out ways to win and keep stacking wins and not be complacent in how we do it. So we’ve just got to keep getting better that way.”

“Obviously, Jalen kind of helps me out, and Julius out a little bit, just from the fact that he can really shoot,” Barrett said. “So when we drive, we have more lanes, because they’re worried about him. He’s averaging 20-something points a game and they gotta worry about him. It kind of really works well. We have spacing, and when he has the ball, we let him do his thing. So yeah, it’s just kind of been working. We’ve been able to just learn how to play off of each other.”

Randle and Barrett already had spent three seasons together, but Brunson was added to the mix as a free agent this past summer. The addition meant that Randle and Barrett would have to surrender not only some shots but also leadership roles to Brunson.

“I felt in knowing Jalen and watching him grow from high school to college to the pros, and he really, if you watched what he did at Villanova, his first year was basically the same thing,” Thibodeau said. “Each year his role changed.

“Same thing in Dallas, and that’s the beauty of Jalen is he can play with the ball, he can play off the ball. I think we saw that in Dallas, and when he’s running the team, he’s going to organize the team.

“He understands the role of being a point guard, but I think the way he shoots the ball allows him to play very effectively off the ball. And that’s really the way the game has gone now, where you have multiple guys pushing it, triggering action, spacing the floor differently. So that didn’t surprise me, and he lives in the paint. He’s always lived in the paint. And he’s got the ability to finish, he’s uncanny. But he’s also very good at spraying the ball out.”

The Knicks entered Thursday night’s meeting with the Celtics at TD Garden with a 26-23 record, holding seventh place in the Eastern Conference. It hardly portends a deep playoff run, but it also is a quick ascension from last season, when they finished 37-45 and out of the playoffs.

The Knicks have made a shift toward defense in the rotation, and while Brunson is not a defensive stopper, he has managed to find ways to contribute on that end, drawing 18 charges — second in the NBA to Oklahoma City’s Kenrich Williams (and more than three times the total of the rest of the Knicks, who have managed only five).

“It’s whatever it takes to win, whatever helps the team out,” Brunson said. “Obviously, I’m not going out there and contesting and meeting people at the rim, so I’ve got to find a way to impact the game. And one way is just getting in there and taking charges, being able to help guys when things happen. So it’s just instinct.

“The trick to taking a good charge? I would say just not being afraid to take contact. Guys get there and then they fade once the contact starts to approach. But I’m just going to take the contact and just hope you get the call.”

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