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Jan 17, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker (8) drives the ball against New York Knicks guard Elfrid Payton (6) in the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com

After playing what may have been their most complete game of the season on Friday, the Celtics took a step back on Sunday. The team was sloppy from start to finish in their 105-75 loss to the New York Knicks at TD Garden.

Whereas on Friday the Celtics did not look like a team who hadn’t played in a week, the rust certainly showed on Sunday. Boston’s misstep came with a number of players returning to the active roster after missing the last week due to NBA COVID health & safety protocols. The game also saw the return of Kemba Walker, who missed the team’s first 11 games this year rehabbing a lingering knee injury.

The Knicks jumped out to a 7-2 lead, drawing an early timeout from Brad Stevens to settle down his team. Initially, the sloppy play continued, but back-to-back Jaylen Brown three pointers cut the deficit to four points with four minutes to play in the first quarter. Yet the Knicks rallied back, taking a 28-17 lead into the first break.

Jan 17, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; New York Knicks guard Elfrid Payton (6) defends against Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) in the second quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

In the second quarter the sloppy play continued for the Celtics. They turned the ball over 11 times, and shot just 35 percent from the floor. After an 18-point second quarter, they trailed the Knicks 48-35 heading into halftime. 

The third quarter started with a four-plus minute scoreless streak from Boston. Before Marcus Smart finally hit a floater with 7:53 to go in the frame, the Knicks had already stretched their lead to 20 points. Things didn’t get much better from there, as a few minutes later Walker left the game after hard contact to his ribs. He would return to the bench, but did not reenter the game, having reached his minutes restriction.

Boston finally had a 20 point quarter in the fourth, with the game already out of hand. Brad Stevens emptied his bench for the final minutes – every Celtic in uniform played in the game.

The Celtics’ ultimate undoing was their poor shooting. Boston was 25-of-84 from the floor, and hit just seven of their 46 three-point attempts. Even free throws were a struggle, with the C’s shooting 18-of-29 from the stripe.

Jaylen Brown led the C’s in scoring with a game-high 25 points. He also put up six rebounds and three assists. With 10 points, Marcus Smart was the only other Celtic in double-digits. Kemba Walker played 20 minutes, his predetermined limit, in his return. The 30-year-old scored nine points on 3-of-13 shooting.

Sunday’s loss is Boston’s first in two weeks, and snaps a five-game winning streak. Their record now sits at 8-4, dropping them out of the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics now have two days off, a rarity for the 2021 schedule. They’ll return to play on Wednesday, for the first of a two-game set in Philadelphia against the Sixers. Coverage for that one begins at 6:30 p.m. on 98.5 The Sports Hub, with tipoff at 7:00.

Click here for 98.5 The Sports Hub’s complete coverage of the Celtics.

Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com