NEW YORK — The first quarter used to be an issue for the Celtics, who often fell into a deep hole and then spent the next three quarters trying to escape.
But they’ve been getting off to much better starts lately, especially Sunday, when they destroyed the Knicks, 114-73, at Madison Square Garden.
Boston scored the game’s first 12 points, then led 18-1 and 25-3 in the first quarter.
They also scored the game’s first 14 points in their win Friday against Denver.
“I think we’re starting to understand what it takes for us to win,” veteran swingman Gerald Wallace said.
“At the beginning of the season, the first quarter was one of our most horrible quarters of the game, and then we found ourselves trying to fight back into the game the last three quarters.
“I think now we’ve made that turn to where the first quarter has pretty much been one of our best quarters and we’re able to maintain through the next three quarters.”
But what has been the difference?
“Our defense,” Wallace said. “We’ve paid real good attention to details, the scouting report, our game plans, and we came out and executed them real well in the first quarter. We’re taking teams out of what they wanted to do; we’re forcing them to one shot and we’re able to knock down shots on the offensive end.”
Avery Bradley also praised the scouting reports, which are considered a specialty of Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
“The coaches are doing a great job preparing us for the game,” Bradley said.
“I mean, they’re doing an excellent job. They’re just laying everything out for us and telling us what we need to do, and we just have to go out there and give that effort every single game and I feel like we have a chance to win every single game.”
But even though the Celtics have been better in the first quarter and have lowered their turnovers, Jeff Green said there is still room to improve.
“We’re not content with where we are at,” said Green, who scored 16. “We have some things that we can get better at as far as communication, our defensive schemes, and offensively.
“There are some things that we can get better at. We enjoy a win like this, yes, but we still have some room to improve and that’s what we need to do [Monday at practice].”
Three’s a charm
Jordan Crawford continued his hot streak with a team-high 23 points, including making six 3-pointers. He added 7 assists and didn’t turn the ball over in 31 minutes.
It’s the third straight game that Crawford has led the Celtics in scoring. Over the last eight games, six of which have been Celtics wins, he’s averaging 17.1 points, 7.1 assists, and 3.9 rebounds.
But Crawford said his big game against the Knicks didn’t mean more to him because he didn’t play much against them during the playoffs last year, when the Knicks beat Boston in a first-round series.
“No,” he said. “If it was my choice, I would have played last year.”
Bradley recorded the first double-double of his career. The fourth-year guard scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Bradley said rebounding has been a point of emphasis for him this season.
“It’s been a focus for me because I know my team needs me to do it, especially not having [Rajon] Rondo,” Bradley said.
“We’re not the tallest team, so they need the guards to help. That’s what I’ve been trying to do every game. I just need to be more consistent with it.”
In practice, Bradley said Stevens “tells the big guys, ‘You might not get it, but box out for the guards to get it,’ and that’s what they’ve been doing. That’s why we’re becoming a better rebounding team.”
Old school ties
The first camp that Stevens ever attended was run, in part, by the coach on the opposing sideline Sunday: Mike Woodson.
“He’s not going to be happy with me when I share this,” the 37-year-old Stevens said before explaining that he was 6 or 7 when he attended the basketball camp in Indiana.
Woodson also played for the Indiana Hoosiers, the team Stevens grew up cheering for.
“I don’t remember watching him play,” Stevens said. “But growing up in a house where dad was an IU grad, certainly I was familiar with his name and what he accomplished.”
Back at the Garden
Sunday’s blowout win wasn’t Stevens’s first game at Madison Square Garden. When he was the head coach at Butler, one of Stevens’s teams was beaten during a tournament by Georgetown but another won the Preseason NIT during his final year as an assistant. “We beat Tennessee and Gonzaga and that was great, one of my fondest memories in coaching to be honest,” Stevens said . . . The noon start was the earliest of the year for the Celtics, and Stevens said he prefers those. “I personally like them because usually you’re done with your preparations by now anyway, and you’re just waiting the day out getting ready to play,” he said.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.