If there is anything that has distinguished Enes Kanter this season, it’s been his strong will.
It was there for all to see again Thursday night when the Knicks took down the Celtics, 102-93, at the Garden. You could see his grit when he went up against Aron Baynes to pull down the first of Kristaps Porzingis’ many missed shots and scored on a putback. Also when he backed the bulkier Baynes down for a short jumper in the lane. And the center brought the Garden crowd to its feet before halftime when he blocked Daniel Theis at the rim, sprinted down the floor and slammed home Courtney Lee’s miss with one-tenth of a second left for a four-point lead at the break.
He is simply a big source of energy for the Knicks and they needed it in the battle with Atlantic Division-leading Boston and Porzingis showing rust after missing two games with a knee ailment.
Kanter finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, his 13th double-double. The Knicks are 17-11 when he is in the starting lineup.
Kanter’s strong will has been there between games, too. In the past month he played through numerous maladies. He pushed himself back on to the court after back spasms sidelined him for three games at the end of November. He walked out of a tough Dec. 9 loss in Chicago on crutches after taking a knee to the hip, arrived at the Garden the next day still on them and then started the game. And in last Saturday’s win over Oklahoma City, Kanter got hit on a shot by Andre Roberson and ended up with a balky neck and a bit of a shiner under one eye.
But he continues a season in which he is virtually averaging a double-double. He arrived at Thursday night’s game with a 13.2-point scoring average and a 9.8 rebounding average.
Asked about whether Kanter still is feeling repercussions from the Roberson hit, Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said “[it’s] his neck — and no, he looks good. He looks fine.”
“The back is done with. He was really bad there for a while trying to play through it,” he added. “We’ve had a couple of days to get rested, so he looked pretty bouncy.”
Kanter had 16 points and 19 rebounds in the teams’ first meeting this season in Boston and Celtics coach Brad Stevens singled him out as a potential problem when he said before the game, “Kanter has been a guy that has absolutely given us fits forever. The more we can have size on [him] the better.”
The Celtics put size on the 6-11 Kanter in the form of Baynes, who has 20 pounds on him. Still Kanter was strong enough to back him down and quick enough to maneuver around him, as he did on a backdoor cut in the third quarter to score a reverse layup on a dish from Lee that left him crashing to the floor.
Hornacek said Kanter also has made strides on the defensive end.
“He’s got the length where guys have to always know where he’s at,” Hornacek said. “That in itself is a deterrent for guys to take it into the lane.”