After five straight losses and a hard day of practice Saturday, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau stressed the need for his team to focus on the work and concentrate day by day on the task at hand. The reward was a day like Sunday afternoon.
The Celtics had won five straight games and entered the day atop the Eastern Conference, but the Knicks pummeled them, taking a 37-point lead en route to a 105-75 win at TD Garden. It was a surprising 63rd birthday gift for Thibodeau.
"I’m not happy unless I’m miserable," he said with a smile. "It’s great to get a win anytime, and obviously to get one here is not an easy thing to do, so I’m proud of the way the guys played."
The Knicks never trailed and held the Celtics to 50 points through three quarters.
You can point to Boston’s being without Jayson Tatum and having to blend Kemba Walker into the lineup for the first time this season, or perhaps it was the Celtics’ long break without even an ability to practice because of health and safety protocols.
Or you can just shake your head, recall that the Knicks did a similar job on the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this season and wonder why it hasn’t happened more often.
"I told our players this: The way they’re practicing, the attitude, the approach and how they’re practicing has been a positive," Thibodeau said. "I thought going to Cleveland, I thought we were ready to play. I thought we were terrific in the shootaround and we played well enough to win on the road. It’s not easy to win on the road and we didn’t close out the game the way we would’ve liked. Then in practice, I thought [it] was terrific. As long as we’re doing the right things, I know we’ll improve and we’ll keep getting better."
Still, there was little hint that this was coming. The Knicks dominated in every aspect of the game. Boston gave them an opening with a miserable performance from three-point range, shooting 7-for-46.
Perhaps it was just a fortunate outing for the Knicks, who saw the Bucks struggle from beyond the arc against them and come back to set an NBA record for most made three-pointers in their next game.
But the Knicks weren’t just idle bystanders. Julius Randle (20 points, 12 rebounds) scored 10 points as the Knicks took a 28-17 lead after a quarter. Immanuel Quickley (17 points, eight assists) came off the bench and provided a burst of energy, shooting 5-for-8 and scoring 11 points in the second quarter. He seemed to find a rhythm with fellow rookie Obi Toppin, finding him heading to the rim three times in the game, and the Knicks took their biggest lead at 101-64.
Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 25 points, but no one else had more than 10.
"I think we just bought in," said RJ Barrett, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds. "We showed them a crowd on all their drives and we rebounded . . . Just buying in, buying in and playing together. Brought energy from the jump and it carried us throughout.
"I think it’s very important [to see this result]. We really do work hard. We work hard every day. We’re really buying into Coach’s system and playing hard and trying to play together as much as we can. It’s great. It’s great to get the win.
"I just think this is the NBA. It can happen to any team. I’m pretty sure [losing streaks] happen to a lot of teams. Got to fight your way out of it. We did that and were able to get a big win today. We’ve just got to keep going."