Jalen Brunson scored 39 points in three quarters and the New York Knicks kept up their quest to finish with the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference by beating the Boston Celtics 118-109 on Thursday night.

“We made shots and made the right plays,” Brunson said. “Obviously, we know they’re the top dog in the East. Whenever you play against them, it’s always a good measuring stick to see where you’re at. We played pretty well, but we know what they’re capable of doing. We just had their number tonight.”

One day after clinching a playoff spot, the Knicks pulled within a game of the Milwaukee Bucks for second, with each team having two games remaining. New York would have to win both and have the Bucks lose their games at Oklahoma City and Orlando, because Milwaukee has the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Brunson shot 15 of 23 from the field and 6 of 11 from 3-point range. Backcourt mate Donte DiVincenzo had 17 points and Josh Hart finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds. New York also received a lift off the bench from its primary acquisition at the trade deadline, as Bojan Bogdanovic had 14 points.

Playing in his first game against Boston since getting traded to the Knicks in late December, OG Anuoby had 12 points.

“We got stops, got out and scored and JB was getting in the paint and doing his thing,” Anuoby said. “We all do it together.”

Jayson Tatum scored 18 points for Boston. Payton Pritchard had 16 points off the bench and Jaylen Brown and Sam Hauser each had 15. The Celtics were badly beaten on the glass as the Knicks decisively won the rebounding battle (52-36) and had 22 second-chance points compared to Boston’s 12.

“It stings to have this loss, but maybe we need this before heading into the postseason with a killer mentality,” center Kristaps Porzingis said after Boston dropped its second straight. “It’s not who we are. This is not the team our fans love. That wasn’t on display. You best believe we’ll show up when we have to. We know what the goal is and make no mistake about it.”

Despite having already clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, the Celtics took the court with their top eight players. With the Knicks up 29, Boston coach Joe Mazzulla opened the fourth quarter with a unit entirely of reserves. Brunson’s night was also done with one quarter to spare as New York denied Boston’s bid of a season sweep of its Atlantic Division rival.

“We got out-toughed the last two games and haven’t played to our standard,” Brown said. “The game has shifted and it’s going to shift even more in the playoffs.”

The Celtics shot 11 of 19 overall and 5 of 10 from beyond the arc, yet trailed 32-29 after one quarter. Hart set the tone for a productive opening quarter for the Knicks, who at one point were shooting 69% from the field.

New York was ahead 47-45 in the second quarter before ripping off 17 straight points as part of a half-closing 22-3 run over the final 6 1/2 minutes that made it 69-48 at the break.

Brunson helped the Knicks extend their lead to as high as 31 points as the All-Star guard turned it up several notches in the third quarter, piling up 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting.

“The ball went in a lot tonight,” Brunson said.


Knicks: Host the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night.

Celtics: Host the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

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