Are the Celtics ‘Back’? Why Thursday’s Game vs. Knicks Will Provide More Answers

Are the Celtics ‘Back’? Why Thursday’s Game vs. Knicks Will Provide More Answers article feature image

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Brad Stevens

Betting odds: New York Knicks at Boston Celtics

  • Spread: Celtics -13
  • Over/under: 217
  • Tip: 8 p.m. ET
  • TV channel: TNT

>> All odds as of 11 a.m. Download The Action Network App to get real-time NBA odds and track your bets

The Boston Celtics might finally be getting it together.

After their abysmal start to the season, the Celtics have won four of their past five. In those games — since their loss to, ahem, the Knicks (who they face Thursday night on TNT as 12.5-point favorites) — Boston has the best net rating in the league with the seventh-best defense and the fifth-best offense in that span.

The combined records of the five teams the Celtics played during that span? 48-75. So, yeah, they’ve gotten right vs. the bad teams.

But there are real signs of growth.

For starters, Gordon Hayward has come alive. It’s a small sample, but he’s averaging 16-6-5 on 50 percent shooting with the best net rating on the team during this stretch.

That is huge, because Hayward looked near-lost for the first six weeks of the season.

Part of the change has also been what I wrote about a few weeks ago, playing Aron Baynes more. The Celtics are now 8-4 when Baynes plays at least 15 minutes. He has played more than 15 in all of the games in this last stretch.

Jaylen Brown returns Thursday, which means Baynes will likely get another squeeze as Brad Stevens opts for small-ball again.

Regardless, the best way for the Celtics to get themselves back to where they should be is to beat up on the bad teams and form good habits.

Hence why Thursday night vs. the Knicks matters.

The Knicks caught the Celtics by surprise a few weeks ago, cementing Boston’s rock-bottom status.

Despite the 13-point spread, Thursday night is a legit test for Boston. Sure, the Knicks are bad, but they’re scrappy. They’re resilient, and they have some talent.

Brown coming back threatens to mess with Boston’s chemistry and rotations again.

The Celtics are in that spot where you still have to worry about them reverting to their early season woes.

The blessing and the curse of the NBA season is that there’s always another game in two days, and Boston has kept grinding and worked its way out of the pit they were in two weeks ago. But a loss to the Knicks would wipe away all of their good mojo.

And while a worst-case result is always a possibility, so is this: Thursday’s game against the Knicks provides a golden opportunity to continue to validate what many people around the league think: The Celtics are back.

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