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celtics 123, knicks 110

Kristaps Porzingis continues encouraging play, and other observations from Celtics’ preseason win over Knicks

Kristaps Porzingis (center) looks poised to add a new dimension to the Celtics' offense.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Jayson Tatum scored 28 points and Kristaps Porzingis added 20 as the Celtics rolled to a 123-110 preseason win over the Knicks on Tuesday at TD Garden. Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Immanuel Quickley, and RJ Barrett sat out for the Knicks.

Observations from the game:

▪ Porzingis is very much 7 feet 3 inches, and even though he is not the most athletic defender, he has good timing and his length makes him a nuisance. He generally plays in drop coverage, but he revealed after the game that coach Joe Mazzulla is allowing him to freelance a bit.

“Joe has kind of given me a green light on defense to be able to trap sometimes in certain situations in the pick-and-roll,” Porzingis said. “That’s what I’m looking for. When I see an opportunity to maybe put some pressure on them defensively, I go for it. We had a few good situations today where they had to look for the next pass, the offense stagnates, and they have to run toward the ball and you kind of lose some seconds on the clock.”

▪ Porzingis’s play has been the most encouraging part of this preseason for the Celtics. He did a bit of everything on offense, from stepback 3-pointers to tough putbacks.

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The Celtics have never had an offensive weapon quite like him, but Porzingis has never been surrounded by this much skill, either. He continues to gush about the presence of Tatum and Jaylen Brown giving him more space than he has ever had. And the sentiment appears to be mutual.

“He’s obviously a very skilled player,” Tatum said. “He makes the game easier for myself and for everybody else. His versatility, obviously the ability to stretch the floor and shoot anywhere. So when he’s open, find him.”

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▪ Al Horford came off the bench, with Jrue Holiday joining the other regular starters. Horford has started every regular-season and playoff game of his Celtics career, and Mazzulla could just be experimenting. Horford’s absence left Boston a bit vulnerable on a pair of early putbacks, but the offense flowed smoothly, generating one open 3-point look after another.

Horford turned 37 in June but is not going through the motions this preseason. He beat Donte DiVincenzo to a loose ball near the sideline and threw the ball off of the Knicks guard. Horford ignited fast breaks by dribbling upcourt himself. He has shown no signs of slowing down.

“Regardless of who’s starting, who’s not, Al’s a critical piece of our team and our locker room,” Mazzulla said, “And he seems to be the guy that always makes the right play on both ends of the floor, and we can’t take that for granted.”

▪ Substitution patterns will be more important than starters. Tatum was the first to exit the game, an approach the Celtics used for much of last season. And the Celtics broke open the game with him anchoring the second unit and Holiday, Brown, and Porzingis on the bench. Tatum scored 15 of his 23 first-half points during the second quarter.

We saw countless pictures and videos of Tatum’s weightlifting sessions over the summer. It’s always hard to tell if a player has gotten stronger, but Tatum offered evidence throughout this game by powerfully backing down any smaller defender who tried to stand in his way. Tatum has been working on post-ups with Celtics assistant Sam Cassell after most practices.

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▪ Holiday still might be getting comfortable in Boston’s offense. Even though he had four first-half assists, he was involved in a couple of miscommunications. He went to halftime 1 for 3 from the field with three turnovers but had a more productive third quarter.

“I think it’s just learning how to play with guys, four guys that have been playing with each other for a long time, and again, all of our team just getting to know each other better on the court,” Mazzulla said. “It’s hard to simulate that when you’re practicing. You need those types of game reps. Jrue’s a smart guy. We have a willing team that’s willing to incorporate everybody and we just have to continue to learn about each other and how we can make each other better.”

▪ It was clear that pushing the pace remained a priority for the Celtics. They hurried into their actions and kept the Knicks off balance with their urgency and movement. Even after baskets by New York, the Celtics routinely started plays just four seconds into the shot clock.

▪ Mazzulla was clearly treating this like a regular-season game. Through three quarters he’d essentially used an eight-man rotation, with Luke Kornet getting a brief stint. Brown, Tatum, and Holiday played the entire third quarter.

▪ The crisp, precise passing that was generating so many open looks in the first half started to wane in the third quarter, with a bit more isolation play. The real issue was on defense, however, where the Celtics were in the penalty just three minutes in and lost some intensity at the perimeter. The Knicks sliced a 27-point deficit to 8 before the Celtics regained control.

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“Not playing our best basketball, whether it was with turnovers or lack of offensive execution, it’s going to happen throughout the game,” Mazzulla said. “It’s more about recognizing when you’re in those situations and then quickly getting out of them with good execution, good defensive physicality. And so I thought our guys did a really good job from the middle of the third to the end of the fourth of getting it back.”

▪ It might not mean anything, but Dalano Banton was the only Celtic on a partially guaranteed deal to appear in the game. Svi Mykhailiuk, Lamar Stevens, and Wenyen Gabriel did not play.


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.