Knicks guard Jalen Brunson celebrates after scoring against the Boston...

Knicks guard Jalen Brunson celebrates after scoring against the Boston Celtics during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Boston. Credit: AP/Steven Senne

BOSTON — When the Knicks clinched a top six playoff spot with Miami’s loss on Wednesday night, it marked another step in the path the team had set forth in its goals this season. So how did they celebrate the occasion?

By following it up with one of their best wins of the season, a 118-109 win at TD Garden — their first victory over the Celtics in five tries this season.

The Knicks now need one more win in their final two games to clinch at least the third seed. If they win both and Milwaukee loses their final two games, the Knicks can still get the No. 2 seed.

“We know that they’re obviously the top dog in the East,” Jalen Brunson, who led the Knicks with 39 points, said of the Celtics. “Whenever you play against them it’s always a good measure to see where you’re at. Obviously we played pretty good tonight. But we know what they’re capable of. We just had their number tonight. But if it does come to a point where play them, we know we have our hands full.”

The Knicks built a 31-point lead and the game wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. They dominated until a late run by Celtics bench players. With 47.4 seconds left in the third quarter, the Celtics waved the white flag — pulling all five players off the floor and emptying their bench with the Knicks up by 30 points and Brunson waving kisses to the crowd with one three-point field goal after another.

Brunson once again carried the offense. He shot 15-for-23 overall and 6-for-11 on three-pointers, and did it all before sitting out the final quarter. But this beatdown came from almost every angle, and mostly was just a result of the Knicks outworking the Celtics.

Josh Hart had 16 points and 16 rebounds, Isaiah Hartenstein added 11 points and 13 rebounds and the Knicks outrebounded Boston, 52-36.

The challenge in front of them in this final game of a four-game, eight-night road trip was no easy task. The Celtics entered the night as just one of three teams the Knicks had not beaten this season — and at 0-4 the most dominant. But the Celtics have dominated everyone like that this season, with a league-best 62-18 record.

But the Celtics also were not treating this as a rest day or hiding players from the Knicks for possible postseason scouting purposes. After listing six of their top seven players as questionable a day earlier, all of them were made available shortly before game time. Still, while the Knicks had lost four times to the Celtics this season, this was the first time that they had OG Anunoby when they faced them and his presence was felt from the start as he provided the Knicks with a defensive weapon to match up against Jayson Tatum.

“You’ve got to play hard for 48 minutes,” Brunson said. “You’ve got to play smart for 48 minutes. You don’t have to play perfect. It’s not a perfect game. You’ve just got to be able to play hard and capitalize on the slim mistakes that they make. Just play the best solid basketball that we create. It’s a lot of things that go into it. But the ball went in a lot tonight and we got a lot of stops.”

“Obviously, we know how good they are and to win a game on the road is hard,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We’ve been a good road team all year. But they don’t count any more than any other game. But it’s a good test for us to show us exactly where we are.”

What the Celtics couldn’t have planned for was the Knicks just outhustling them through the first half. With a 19-0 run in the second quarter — the Knicks held Boston without a field goal from the 6:38 mark of the second quarter until 1:16 into the second half. The Knicks built a 69-48 halftime lead, outrebounding the Celtics, 32-17, and getting contributions up and down the lineup.

Brunson shrugged off the notion that he would care about missing out on another 40-point night, but Anunoby had one thing to say afterward, when the chants of “MVP” had finally died down.

“He should win MVP,” Anunoby said. “He’s playing like an MVP.”


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