The Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks welcomed the 2021-22 NBA season with another exciting battle inside the World’s Most Famous Arena. In front of a hyped-up crowd, the Knicks outlasted the Celtics in a back-and-forth contest that was not decided until the final seconds of a double-overtime thriller.
The edge-of-your-seat affair was a fitting start to the Boston Celtics' and New York Knicks' seasons with spectacular highlights from both ends of the floor for both teams. Tom Thibodeau's team continues to impress after a solid preseason. The Knicks, at least for this game, solved last year's woeful offensive performance with valuable additions from Bronx-native Kemba Walker and veteran Evan Fournier.
Alternately, the Boston Celtics came into the game a little undermanned without Al Horford. Horford’s absence was critical as he could have made a big difference on offense and provided another useful body to slow down the Knicks’ productive frontline.
The game will be remembered as the Julius Randle and Jaylen Brown show amidst the confrontation between the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks. It was a fantastic display of skills and will to win that the MSG fully appreciated.
Here are five talking points from the game:
#1 Madison Square Garden was electric
When MSG is near full capacity, there are not many venues across the globe that are as entertaining and engaged. Due to health and safety protocols mandated last season, the New York Knicks only allowed 10% venue attendance, which is roughly 2,000 people. MSG just wasn't the same without the raucous home crowd that normally roots for the New York Knicks.
The number of people allowed in the first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks was 15,000 per game. But it was still way too little and unusual for a venue of such history and magnitude. This season, one of the NBA’s most storied venues welcomed a large throng of fans that filled the Garden almost to the rafters.
Madison Garden, which is now back to its usual pomp and circumstance, is a win for the NBA and basketball. More importantly, it helps the New York Knicks every time they play host to a league game. It was very evident in the season opener as the buzz in the crowd definitely did its part in the Knicks’ 8-to-0 start.
The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks played their season curtain-raiser in front of a crowd that was bringing playoff intensity. The familiar “Boston sucks and Go New York Go” chants reverberated throughout the Garden every time the Knicks went on a scoring binge and when they finally got the win.
Games like this in New York’s hallowed home floor are a must-see in the NBA, particularly against a storied opponent like the Boston Celtics.
#2 Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier bring offensive versatility to the New York Knicks
The New York Knicks were summarily dismissed by Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks in the last postseason. A weakness that became very apparent during that series, which the Hawks thoroughly took advantage of, was the Knicks’ apparent lack of scoring.
Former Boston Celtics teammates Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier were brought in to lighten Julius Randle’s scoring load. Walker and Fournier, particularly the latter, made impressive debuts for the New York Knicks. Fournier logged 32 points on top of an efficient 6-13 attempts from deep. He also converted crucial baskets in the two overtime periods.
Their presence alone opened opportunities for Tom Thibodeau’s team that were not there for most of last season. Additionally, RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin started hitting their strides because of the extra space on the floor to operate and the attention given to the new acquisitions.
It feels like Thibodeau’s vision after last season’s quick playoff exit is beginning to bear fruit for the New York Knicks.
#3 Julius Randle is a beast
The Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier effect only happened for the New York Knicks against the Boston Celtics because of Julius Randle’s spectacular array of skills.
Randle is out to prove that last year’s impressive showing that resulted in an All-Star selection was no fluke. If an impressive preseason was not proof enough, the first game out of 82 for the New York Knicks is a stamp on his growing caliber as a franchise player.
Except for Marcus Smart, who had minimal success against Randle, the Boston Celtics were clueless about how to stop the lefty big man from dominating. Randle isn’t just the usual bully in the post. He just does not bump and grind opponents into submission; he also mixes his attacks extremely well.
Ime Udoka was very wary of sending consistent double teams because of Randle’s excellent passing ability out of double teams. Randle had a team-high nine assists in this game to complete his dominance over the Boston Celtics.
He torched the Celtics with such variety in this match-up. Randle tallied 35 points, eight rebounds and nine dishes for the New York Knicks to underline a tremendous display.
#4 Tom Thibodeau's defense bares its teeth
Jayson Tatum has developed a reputation as an elite scoring machine for good reason. His scoring outburst at the tail end of the regular season and in the series against the Brooklyn Nets was as good as it gets for an NBA player. Tatum's 50-point games against the Washington Wizards in the play-in and against the Nets in the first round of the playoffs showed how clutch he is.
The game against the New York Knicks, though, was such a struggle for him. Tom Thibodeau, no doubt, planned specific schemes for Tatum. Knowing how usually tough Thibodeau’s teams are on defense, Tatum was bound to have some rough spots for the Boston Celtics on the night.
The New York Knicks crowded out Tatum whenever he had the ball. They gave him different looks and sent him help on different occasions. The ploy seemed to have worked as the ultra-talented Boston Celtics All-Star forward finished with a horrific 7-30 from the field, including a head-shaking 2-15 from rainbow country.
Although many of his shots were hurried, Tatum also had instances where he simply missed. The New York Knicks’ defense was excellent, but the Celtics talisman also happened to have an off-day. It happens to the best players from time to time.
How he bounces back after his exploits last season with the Boston Celtics and at the Olympics will be worth keeping an eye on.
#5 Jaylen Brown is for real
Before Jaylen Brown was sidelined because of a bout with COVID-19, he overwhelmed the Orlando Magic in his only preseason game with 16 points in the first quarter for the Boston Celtics. Brown topped it with a 20 in the opening salvo in front of a hostile New York Knicks crowd.
What was even more impressive in this contest was the fact that the All-Star shooting guard was only cleared to play yesterday. Boston Celtics fans can clearly recall that Jayson Tatum struggled for months to get back into form after being ruled out for testing positive for the virus.
But Brown seemed to shrug it off and played like he was not prohibited from physical work for ten days. The Celtics front office should be jumping for joy with this development.
A day after being cleared to play, Jaylen Brown put up a career-high 46 points with nine rebounds and six assists. The game also showed that he can carry the Boston Celtics if Tatum struggles. If this is the version of Brown that the Cs will consistently see this season, the team could make a deeper run in the postseason.