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Celtics-Knicks takeaways: No answers for Brunson in lopsided loss

Celtics-Knicks takeaways: No answers for Brunson in lopsided loss originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Celtics fell to the New York Knicks at TD Garden on Thursday night for their second consecutive loss.

It was a tightly contested matchup until the midway point of the second quarter when the Knicks went on a 25-5 run. The C's didn't make a shot for the final 6:38 of the frame and went down 21 points at the half.

From there, New York cruised to a 118-109 victory behind a game-high 39 points from Jalen Brunson, who certainly would have had his third straight game with 40+ points had he played the fourth quarter. Boston trailed by as many as 31 points to overtake Tuesday's loss in Milwaukee (24) for its third-largest deficit of the season.

Jayson Tatum led the C's with 18 points on a modest 5-of-13 shooting (1-7 3-PT). Payton Pritchard and Sam Hauser were bright spots with 16 and 15 off the bench, respectively.

The Celtics (62-18) will host the Charlotte Hornets (20-60) for their penultimate regular-season matchup on Friday night. First, here are three takeaways from Thursday's action.

Bullied on the boards

Before the game, C's coach Joe Mazzulla told our Abby Chin that rebounding would be the key to a victory over New York. That was an accurate assessment, because Boston's poor performance on the glass directly resulted in the blowout defeat.

The Knicks flat-out dominated in the rebounding department. They tallied 12 offensive rebounds in the first half to just three for the C's, translating to a 17-2 advantage in second-chance points. New York outrebounded Boston 32-17 through the first two frames.

That troubling trend continued for the Celtics the rest of the night as they were beaten on the offensive glass (17-10) and in second-chance points (22-12). The Knicks finished with 52 total rebounds to the C's 36. Kristaps Porzingis (eight) was the only Celtic with more than five boards.

The Celtics have been outrebounded in each of their last four losses. They allowed 15 and 17 offensive rebounds in their respective losses in Atlanta before giving up 10 in Milwaukee.

Jalen Brunson making late MVP push

Knicks fans at TD Garden rained "MVP" chants on Brunson before being drowned out by the boos of C's fans. He proved worthy of those chants with yet another outstanding scoring performance.

Brunson caught fire early on with 18 points in the first half, including a shot to beat the buzzer at the end of the second quarter:

The Celtics couldn't find an answer for Brunson throughout the game. They threw Jaylen Brown, Derrick White, Jayson Tatum, and Jrue Holiday at the Villanova product to no avail.

Brunson tweaked his wrist in the third quarter but shook that off to finish with 39 points on 15-of-23 shooting (6-for-11 from deep) in 30 minutes. While he just barely missed out on scoring 40+ points in his last three games, he has dropped at least 30 in six of his last seven. He started that torrid stretch with a 61-point outburst in San Antonio.

After Thursday's showing, Brunson is averaging 28.6 points through 75 games played. It's probably too late for him to overtake NBA MVP frontrunners Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but he at least belongs in the conversation as one of the game's top players for 2023-24. He could make New York a tough out in the postseason.

Emptying the bench

Mazzulla finally had something to smile about after turning to his second unit in the fourth quarter. The bench did its part to help cut a 31-point deficit to nine by outscoring New York 38-18 in the frame.

Payton Pritchard led the group with 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting (2-4 3-PT). Sam Hauser chipped in 15 points on 5-of-8 from the field (3-5 3-PT) and Svi Mykhailuk added nine points (3-4 3-PT) in 10 minutes. They ran out of time to make things interesting, but it was an encouraging showing for a unit we'll likely see plenty of over these final two regular-season games.

With the last two games of the campaign coming against the lowly Hornets and Wizards, Mazzulla should look to rest his starters. There's no need to risk a Giannis-like injury that could derail the Celtics' quest for Banner 18. Leave it to Pritchard, Hauser, and the rest of the "Stay Ready" group to finish the season strong.