BOSTON — The Celtics were missing their best player, but the Knicks went missing in the second half.
Boston, minus Kyrie Irving, ran the Knicks off the TD Garden floor Wednesday night. The Celtics led by 33 in the fourth quarter and breezed to a 103-73 victory in what was the Knicks’ worst performance of the season.
Down by five at halftime, the Knicks went AWOL on both ends of the floor after the break. They were outscored 53-28 in the second half, and had just eight in the fourth, matching their franchise low for points in the final quarter.
“I have no explanation for it,” Jeff Hornacek said. “They played better, they played harder and they’re a little bigger than us. When you’re not as big as the other team you got to out-hustle, outmuscle, you got to do little things. They did those things on top of that.”
It was an awful performance from a team that keeps talking about wanting to make the playoffs. The team rose to the challenge was the one that was missing three starters, not the one that should have been hungry.
The Knicks (23-29) looked nothing like the team that blew out the Nets Tuesday night. Besides Irving, who didn’t play because of a right quad contusion, the Celtics (37-15) played without Marcus Smart (right hand laceration) and have been without Gordon Hayward since opening night. But the Knicks put up no fight, and let up when things weren’t going their way.
“We didn’t play hard on the defensive end and we missed a lot of shots,” Enes Kanter said. “Offense affected us on defense. We cannot let that happen if we want to be an elite team.”
The Knicks are not an elite team. They showed how far they are from being one. During a 5:58 fourth-quarter stretch, they were outscored 16-0. The Celtics also had a 15-4 run in the third.
“They just blitzed us,” Hornacek said. “Just a bad second half.”
Kanter led the Knicks with 17 points and 18 rebounds. He might have had his second consecutive 20-20 game, but Kanter was pulled early in the fourth. He also was elbowed in the face in the third quarter, and needed his mouth to be re-stitched. Kanter cut his upper lip in practice Monday and required seven stitches.
Kristaps Porzingis scored 16, but he was just 1-for-6 with three points in the second half. He was a minus-36 for the game. The Knicks shot 10-for-45 after halftime.
“Everybody was off,” Porzingis said. “Myself, I felt like I missed so many good looks, great looks. That’s what happens, off night as a team today shooting-wise.”
Terry Rozier, who started for Irving, registered his first career triple-double against the defenseless Knicks. He finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
Marcus Morris scored 20 off the bench in 19 minutes. He left the game at the end of the third after suffering a bruised left hip. He fell hard and landed awkwardly after a fast break dunk.
The Knicks didn’t view this as a wasted opportunity though. They kept praising the Celtics for being a great team, even without Irving. But should they have been 30 points better than the Knicks?
“Nights like this you learn from this,” Porzingis said. “Take this game and use it as motivation. We don’t ever want to lose by 30. Take this and then take that anger if you have it inside and bring it out the next game.”
The Knicks are in Milwaukee Friday to close out this two-game road trip. It’s a very important stretch for them with one week left before the trade deadline.
Management knows how important it would be for Porzingis and other young players to get some postseason experience. But the Knicks haven’t shown they’re really contenders for a spot. Knicks officials will weigh whether to make a move that helps them this season or they could try to add assets. They’d like to do both, but they don’t want to take back any long-term contracts.
The Celtics’ quickness and athleticism hurt the Knicks right from the beginning as Boston had no trouble getting where it wanted on the court.
Rozier’ first three baskets were three-pointers, and he scored 11 of Boston’s first 18 points. Jaylen Brown had an emphatic second-quarter dunk over Porzingis that brought the Garden and everyone on the Celtics’ bench out of their seats.
“That was a great dunk, especially on the top blocker in the league,” Porzingis said. “That guy should be in the dunk contest. He has crazy athleticism and that was a great dunk.”