NEW YORK — The Knicks spent most of Monday night successfully rebuffing the Celtics’ comeback attempts, with Boston’s 3-point struggles doing little to bolster its hopes.
With four minutes left and New York leading by 11, Jayson Tatum was hoping to wipe away another frustrating shooting performance and provide the elusive jolt. He pulled up from the top of the key, with Knicks forward Julius Randle closing in, and fired up another shot that missed.
But Tatum thought Randle had made contact, and he angrily waved both arms as he shouted toward an official. He’d already picked up one technical foul in the first half for complaining about a non-call on a dunk, and he appeared perilously close to another.
At the other end, Knicks guard Josh Hart drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner that essentially finished off the Celtics, and perhaps Tatum knew it. He turned to the nearest official and had his final say.
“I just told him this was probably the best officiated game I’ve been a part of,” Tatum said later, his sarcasm obvious. “I tried to give him a compliment. Didn’t go over so well.”
Tatum received his second technical, leading to an automatic ejection, the first of his career. It was a fitting end to a difficult night for him and the Celtics, who were handed a 109-94 loss.
Tatum was 6 for 18 from the field and 1 for 9 from the 3-point line, finishing with 14 points and 4 turnovers. This follows his 18-point night against the 76ers that was salvaged by his game-winning 3-pointer, and a 9 for 25 shooting performance against the Pacers.
He did not have very much help Monday, either. Fellow All-Star Jaylen Brown sat out for personal reasons, and the others could never get untracked. After Al Horford started the game by hitting a 3-pointer, the Celtics missed 15 in a row, putting them in a hole they could never escape.
The Knicks’ defense is built on packing the paint and daring opponents to fire away from long-range. This approach was fateful when these teams met at Madison Square Garden in November and the Celtics connected on a franchise-record 27 3-pointers. But this 9 for 42 performance was grisly.
“I thought we executed pretty well,” coach Joe Mazzulla said. “I thought we got a lot of really good looks. When those don’t fall, it puts more pressure on you. It puts more pressure on your defense, and then you’re constantly in that 5-10 point range where you’re down.”
Tatum wasn’t the only one who voiced frustrations about the officiating. Mazzulla, who said before the game that the free-throw disparity against the 76ers was justified because the Celtics had committed plenty of fouls, said he did not feel the same way after this game. Guard Malcolm Brogdon said the Celtics appeared bothered by some perceived missed calls. Horford agreed, and said they simply cannot let that happen.
“For the most part [this season] we’re staying the course and just continuing to play,” Horford said, “and I think tonight, we got rattled.”
The Knicks held a 34-14 edge in free throws, but there was bound to be some discrepancy since Boston attempted 11 more 3-pointers. In the end, the sour shooting night probably ignited some of the angst.
With the loss, the Celtics fell to second place in the Eastern Conference behind the Bucks, who have won 14 games in a row, on winning percentage. The Knicks, a potential Celtics second-round playoff opponent, have won six games in a row and appear rejuvenated since acquiring Josh Hart at the trade deadline.
“They certainly played with more energy than us,” Horford said. “Seemed like they played a little harder more often than not. You’ve just got to give them credit.”
The Knicks took a 37-25 lead after one quarter and shot 62.3 percent from the field in the second, helping them stretch their advantage to as many as 20 points. They eventually went to halftime with a 60-46 edge.
Boston pulled within nine a couple of times in the third quarter but could never quite craft a defining run. Trailing by 10 four minutes into the fourth, Sam Hauser missed an open 3-pointer and the Knicks converted consecutive baskets to push their lead back to 100-86 with 6:18 left.
When Boston lost Tatum just over two minutes later, it also lost any hopes of crafting a comeback. Tatum said he went to the locker room, iced his knees, and watched the final minutes on television. But the Celtics’ chances would have been slim even if he had remained on the court.