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NBA scores 2016: Celtics' defense takes the fun out of the Knicks

A stingy Celtics defense stymied the Knicks, plus the shorthanded Rockets squad dominated the Heat and everything else from NBA Tuesday.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the game against the New York Knicks, the Boston Celtics had won eight of 11 games. Averaging 112.5 points per game in that stretch, the Celtics -- who have made a name for themselves with smothering defense this season -- were relying on the offense to lead the charge. The defense took the spotlight against the Knicks, though, as the Celtics gutted out a physical 97-89 win in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

Isaiah Thomas led the way with 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Jae Crowder added 16 points and some stingy defense on Carmelo Anthony. The Celtics are 9-3 in their last 12 games and improved to 28-22 overall, which is currently tied with the Atlanta Hawks for third in the Eastern Conference.

Anthony led the Knicks with 16 points and 14 rebounds on a night the Knicks failed to find any sort of offensive rhythm.

Not that the Celtics were much better. It was a physical, sloppy game with both teams struggling to find the bottom of the net. The Knicks shot 37.8 percent from the field and an even worse 30 percent from deep. The Celtics shot 44.4 percent from the field, but were a miserable 3-of-19 from behind the arc.

Fortunately for Boston, its defense more than made up for the poor shooting effort. The Celtics were a step ahead of the Knicks' offense all night. There was a hand in the face on nearly every Knicks shot and the Celtics forced 16 turnovers. Evan Turner and Marcus Smart were ball hounds with three and two steals, respectively. Turner teamed up with Crowder to hold Anthony to 4-of-16 shooting.

The defense was one of the only things to get the Celtics' offense going, too.

It was a return to form for the Celtics' defense, which is tied with the Golden State Warriors as the No. 2-rated defense in the league, trailing only the San Antonio Spurs. On the season, they give up 98.9 points per 100 possessions.

But in the recent 12-game stretch, the defense has waned. They're giving up 100 points per 100 possessions. The offense, on the other hand, has gone into hyper drive. On the season they have an offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of 102.9. Over the past 12 games that number has jumped a staggering 5.8 points to 108.7.

The uptick in offense is nice, but Boston's ability to defend is the reason it's going to be a threat in East. With Thomas capable of taking the game over offensively and tough defenders like Crowder and Turner, the Celtics appear to be ready to hang with anyone.

2 other things we learned

Kobe Bryant will be terribly missed by the NBA

The Bryant retirement tour will continue to have rough spots. He's going to miss games and he's going to struggle at times. But he's going to go vintage, too, and NBA fans need to cherish those games. Bryant scored a season-high 38 points as the Los Angeles Lakers held on for a 119-115 win against the youthful Minnesota Timberwolves. The Lakers almost gave up a double-digit fourth-quarter lead with Bryant on the bench, but the retiring star came in to help close things out and was superb. Bryant hit two threes -- he had seven on the night -- to extend the lead, then with a one-point lead and the shot clock winding down with less than 30 seconds to play, he ended it.

Bryant hit free throws down the stretch to MVP chants. Lakers fans know what they'll be missing next year.

The small-ball Houston Rockets can light up the scoreboard

Unlike the Celtics, the Miami Heat defense was nonexistent on Tuesday. The Heat allowed the Rockets to shoot 59 percent from the field in the first quarter and Houston never slowed, making 52 percent of its shots on the evening en route to an easy 115-102 win. With Dwight Howard serving a one-game suspension, Donatas Motiejunas working to return from injury and Clint Capela out with a hip flexor strain, the Rockets had to go small. It worked with James Harden leading the way. Harden had 26 points and tied his career-high by dishing out 14 assists.

The return of Josh Smith continues to bode well for the Rockets, too. The enigmatic veteran struggled with the Detroit Pistons last season and the Los Angeles Clippers this season, but he has found a spot in Houston. In his second start since returning to the Rockets, he scored a season-high 19 points. The Rockets still have work to do, but a win without a full roster following a three-game losing streak is a step in the right direction.

Play of the night

Markieff Morris showed how happy he was that the Phoenix Suns fired Jeff Hornacek with a monster slam, not to mention his best game of the season. The Suns lost again -- this time to the Toronto Raptors -- but Morris had 30 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. The Suns can go nowhere but up and a motivated Morris will help.

2 fun things

Dwyane Wade's son is so good he's getting daps from referees!

Clutch, the Rockets mascot, casually nailed a half-court shot.


Celtics 97, Knicks 89 (Celtics Blog recapPosting and Toasting recap)

Rockets 115, Heat 102 (The Dream Shake recapHot Hot Hoops recap)

Raptors 104, Suns 97 (Raptors HQ recap Bright Side of the Sun recap)

Trail Blazers 107, Bucks 95 (Blazer's Edge recapBrew Hoop recap)

Lakers 119, Timberwolves 115 (Silver Screen and Roll recap | Canis Hoopus recap)