The Boston Celtics will look to avoid their second three-game losing streak of the season when they begin a four-game homestand with a matchup against the New York Knicks on Thursday night.
Boston was 7-0 in the second game of back-to-backs before falling 98-95 in Miami on Tuesday, one night after a 113-98 loss at Orlando.
The Celtics, who entered the week on a nine-game winning streak, played the second game in Florida with a significantly short-handed lineup. They hope to return to fuller strength starting Thursday with their first of two games in three nights.
Starters Jaylen Brown (injury management), Al Horford (back) and Marcus Smart (ankle) and sixth man Malcolm Brogdon (personal) were out against the Magic.
“We take pride in being the deepest team, so when people are out we have to have the ‘next man up’ mentality,” Celtics guard Derrick White said. “Obviously, two games we dropped that we could’ve won, so we don’t look at who’s playing, who’s not playing.”
Without his usual supporting cast, Boston star Jayson Tatum scored 31 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field and added 14 rebounds and seven assists, though he committed seven turnovers.
The Celtics were held to 13 points in the fourth quarter and finished below the 100-point mark overall for just the fourth time this season. They lost despite limiting Miami to 36.2 percent shooting from the floor.
Because of the absences, Payton Pritchard stepped up and played a season-high 42 minutes Tuesday. He had 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
“I love what (Pritchard has) done,” Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla said. “I think he’s given great ball pressure, great detail and physicality on the defensive end, and I think he’s generating good looks for us on the offensive end.”
New York snapped a four-game slide with a 105-103 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday. The Knicks’ Julius Randle, who had 36 points and 13 rebounds, broke a tie with 2:07 left by sinking his eighth 3-pointer of the night.
Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, who had a streak of eight 25-plus-point games snapped on Friday, saw the Tuesday victory as a building block with two strong teams on the upcoming slate, the Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets.
“It wasn’t the cleanest (or) the smoothest, but we found a way to grind it out and get the win,” Brunson said. “It’s easy to win when everyone’s clicking and the ball’s going in the hoop, but can we win games when things aren’t going our way? This was a good stepping stone for us.”
The Knicks’ first win since Jan. 15 at Detroit included a massive play, as reserve center Isaiah Hartenstein blocked a short shot by Cavs star Donovan Mitchell with 47 seconds left.
“I was just trying to help any way I can, especially with (Mitchell Robinson) being out — just trying to fill his role, just protecting the rim,” said Hartenstein, whose 23 minutes were his most since Dec. 11.
The Celtics and Knicks have not met since Nov. 5, a 133-118 Boston road win in which Brown scored 30 points and Randle had 29.
Boston has won the past three home meetings with New York, but Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau believes his team has what it takes to compete.
“Sometimes we fall short, but they’re great workers, they study, they come in and try to do the right thing every day,” Thibodeau said. “When you have those types of guys, they’re going to improve. A big part of learning is trial and error. You have to go through it.”
–Field Level Media