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Celtics surge behind physical play and Jayson Tatum’s late scoring, push past Knicks

Jayson Tatum hit four 3-pointers and converted a 4-point play in the fourth quarter against the Knicks.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The Knicks do not always play the most aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball. But they are tough and gritty and fierce, and they love to tangle.

When the Celtics faced them on opening night in New York, the Knicks nearly escaped with a win by bullying Boston on the offensive glass. Monday’s rematch at TD Garden felt similar at the start.

The Knicks registered 8 second-chance points before some fans had even settled into their seats. New York set the tone and made it clear that the Celtics should probably expect to be sore the next morning.

But the Celtics did not run or put on extra armor. Instead, they countered.


“We just had to get in the mix a little bit,” forward Jaylen Brown said, “rough up the game a little bit.”

Boston flustered the Knicks with full-court pressure, leaving them with so little time to get into their offensive sets that they committed a pair of shot-clock violations within a three-minute span in the third quarter.

When shots did go up, the Celtics swarmed into the paint from all angles, with all five players prepared to do what it took to come down with the ball rather than surrender another putback.

“If nobody’s in there fighting, those are going to fall right in their lap and they’re going to be able to get second-chance points,” Brown said. “We started fighting in the second half. Even the guards started getting a little scrappier.”

The Celtics prevailed in a physical battle against the always-tough Knicks on Monday.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

In the second half, the Knicks shot 38.7 percent, committed eight turnovers, and mustered just 4 second-chance points. While the Celtics’ 3-point spree certainly helped, they eventually secured a 114-98 win because they had made things grimy.

“I heard a great analogy,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “If you get into a fight, and you don’t have any bruises, that’s called bullying. And if you get into a fight and you have some, that’s a real fight.


“And so, I enjoy those. I love games like this.”

After wobbling through a brief two-game losing streak, the Celtics have three consecutive commanding wins against divisional foes. They will close out this stretch with another significant challenge, as they return to Philadelphia Wednesday seeking to avenge a loss to the 76ers one week ago. If nothing else, Boston clearly has steadied itself.

For the offense, the script was less predictable until the end Monday. Jayson Tatum missed his first six 3-pointers. His teammates picked him up, with the scorching-hot Sam Hauser continuing his surge.

But Tatum has been in so many games with stakes so much higher than they were in this game to be rattled by a little lull. In this case, after the Knicks had pulled within 91-88 with a Jalen Brunson 3-pointer about four minutes into the fourth, Tatum closed the game by drilling four 3-pointers, including a 4-point play that caused TD Garden to erupt.

The All-Star forward scored 17 of his game-high 35 points in the fourth quarter.

“You know, all really, really good scorers know it just takes one, takes one to change your momentum, change how you feel about yourself shooting the ball,” Tatum said.

Kristaps Porzingis added 21 points and 6 rebounds and was a deterrent at the rim against this physical New York squad. The Celtics were 19 for 43 from the 3-point line as a team, with Hauser hitting 4 of 6.


Brunson had 26 points and Julius Randle added 25 for the Knicks, who were without leading scorer RJ Barrett, who was sidelined because of a migraine.

The Knicks led, 51-43, with 75 seconds left in the first half when the Celtics had a mighty finish, a constant point of emphasis for Mazzulla. Porzingis scored inside before Tatum and Payton Pritchard broke free for fast-break baskets.

Pritchard’s basket, with 32 seconds left, was particularly significant, because it set up a two-for-one opportunity that Brown capitalized on when he drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key at the buzzer to pull the Celtics within 53-52 at the break.

“Closing quarters is the difference between winning and losing games,” Brown said.

In the third quarter, the Celtics’ pressure defense seemed to wear on the Knicks, who were often left scrambling to get a clean look before the shot clock expired.

In the final minutes of the quarter the Celtics went on a 12-2 run — the first substantial surge by either team — that included 3-pointers by Hauser and Jrue Holiday, helping them take an 84-74 lead that was the first double-digit advantage of the night.

“Games like this are fun, toughing it out, using our physicality, figuring it out down the stretch,” Brown said, “and I think that’s what we did tonight.”

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