MANCHESTER, N.H. — After swallowing three straight preseason losses, Brad Stevens finally tasted his first NBA victory Saturday night, when the rookie Celtics coach saw his team rout the New York Knicks, 111-81, at the Verizon Wireless Arena.
“If I’m not going to count those last three, I’m not going to count this one, I guess,” the former Butler coach said with a smile and shrug.
The Celtics’ decisive win came against a Knicks squad that was without Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, and Raymond Felton, so the win came with an asterisk.
That said, the Celtics played by far their best game of the preseason, offering a performance far improved from Friday, when Philadelphia pounded them, 97-85.
After that game, Stevens talked about getting off to a better start, and the Celtics did that against the Knicks, opening the game on an 18-4 run. Then they opened the third quarter on a 13-2 run.
They led by as much as 37 in the fourth quarter, pummeling a team that beat them last week in a preseason game in Providence.
“We didn’t run plays tonight; we just went out there and played,” said Avery Bradley, who scored 13. “The first play of the game was just a random pick-and-roll, and that’s how we played, and that’s how we want to play. Because we want to be able to move the ball in anybody’s court.”
Stevens cited how the Celtics pushed the ball up the floor more, played with better pace, and didn’t labor as much offensively as they did against Philadelphia. Their passing was sharper, and defensively, the team was tactical and played with energy.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it was good to play better,” he said.
Rookie forward Kelly Olynyk had 15 points, leading six Celtics who scored in double figures. The Celtics’ next preseason game is Tuesday against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. That game will mark the first of a back-to-back, as the Celtics will play the Raptors in Toronto a day later.
Green off the mark
Jeff Green’s struggles continued, as he shot 3 of 12 from the field, finishing with 11 points. In four preseason games, he’s shooting a combined 28 percent (11 for 40) from the floor.
“It hasn’t fallen for me yet,” Green said.
Green said he’s trying to stay aggressive, and Stevens said Green, pegged as the Celtics’ top scoring threat this season, played that way, especially attacking the basket. “He did not wait for the game to come to him,” Stevens said.
Before the game, Stevens said he wasn’t worried about Green’s slow start.
“Any time you’ve got a guy that is struggling at all, it’s easy to say that there’s an individual [reason] and just changing the individual is going to make a difference,” Stevens said. “I don’t think that’s the case. It’s too early a sample size to figure out if that’s legitimate.”
However, Stevens said it should help if they get Green more inside shots. “That usually opens the floodgates for making jump shots,” Stevens said.
Sullinger keeps pace
After the Celtics’ first preseason game, Jared Sullinger felt surprised.
He couldn’t believe how much energy he had in his first game nearly half a year after having back surgery. Adrenaline, he said. Yeah, it must be adrenaline. And then Sullinger noted how far behind he is in his conditioning.
But three games later, Sullinger has played with the same energy that he did in the first.
Sullinger credited the extra conditioning — much of it on the stationary bike or by running on the team’s anti-gravity treadmill — that he has done while working with Armand Lavallee and Bryan Doo, the Celtics’ strength and conditioning coaches.
“I’m just trying to get myself to drop a few pounds and be in the best possible shape and be in the best condition to help,” Sullinger said before scoring 12 points and grabbing five rebounds in 23 minutes.
Bogans on shelf
Celtics guard Keith Bogans (sprained right thumb) sat out. An MRI confirmed Bogans’s sprain, which he suffered in the Celtics’ loss to the 76ers on Friday. Bogans is scheduled to be re-evaluated Monday at New England Baptist Hospital, so a timeline for return is unclear . . . Like Friday, the Celtics had Jordan Crawford and Bradley share point-guard duties, and they looked much more effective against the Knicks.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.