No Jalen Brunson, no problem for the red-hot New York Knicks.
Immanuel Quickley carried the Knicks to a pulsating 131-129 double-overtime thriller Sunday night at TD Garden, extending their winning streak to a season-high nine games.
Quickley stepped up for Brunson, who was out with a sore left foot. The cat-quick backup guard started in Brunson’s place and made the most out of it, exploding for a career-high 38 points. He had the Celtics under his spell in the second half and the two overtime periods, dancing his way to 28 points.
Just as when everybody thought the streak was getting snapped when the Celtics zoomed to a 14-point lead in the third quarter, Quickley rallied the gritty Knicks back into the game.
Quickley shot 15 of 28 from the field, including 5 for 12 from downtown. He added eight rebounds and seven assists in a season-high 55 minutes.
“Quickley’s my guy,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said. “To me, he celebrates the team, he celebrates winning. Those are the things you celebrate.”
“I want our team to have fun. I want them to have joy. But I don’t want to get lost, I don’t want to get twisted [that] winning is way more fun than fun as fun. So make sure we’re taking care of business.”
Quickley took care of business as he had seven points in the second overtime. But also, he had fun, irreverently celebrating and dancing on the Celtics’ home floor after every big basket in a nationally televised game.
“Quickley has arrived on national TV,” beamed ESPN analyst Richard Jefferson at the height of Quickley’s scoring outburst.
Julius Randle added 31 points and nine rebounds but was clearly exhausted toward the end. That’s when Quickley picked up the slack.
RJ Barrett set the tone for the Knicks with 14 of his 29 points in the opening quarter. But the Celtics pulled away in the second quarter, smothering the Knicks’ small ball lineup with Randle as the center.
Boston closed out the first half with an 11-4 run to take a 61-54 lead. The Celtics’ lead grew to 14 with 6:27 left in the third quarter.
Then Quickley led the Knicks’ comeback with six straight points. Randle capped a 9-0 closing run with a step-back three-pointer at the buzzer to inch ahead, 88-87.
The Knicks led by as many as 11 in the fourth quarter.
But the game of runs did not end there.
The Celtics stormed back from a seven-point deficit in the final 85 seconds of the regulation to send the game into the first overtime.
Jaylen Brown, who missed the Celtics’ 109-94 loss in New York last week, scored 29 points, including a three-point play off Quentin Grimes’ foul with 13.9 seconds left. He stopped Randle’s attempt to win it at the buzzer with a steal.
In the first overtime, Horford’s three-pointer put the Celtics on top, 121-119, with 29.8 seconds remaining. But Quickley refused to give in, sinking a floater in the final 13.1 seconds to tie the game. Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 40 points, but he muffed a chance to end up as a hero with his layup falling short as time expired, sending the game into another five minutes.
Quickley scored the Knicks’ first seven points in the second overtime for a 128-123 advantage. Tatum answered with six straight points, giving Boston one more shot at winning the grueling battle.
But after a 24-second shot-clock violation by the Knicks, the Celtics wasted 10 seconds before coach Joe Mazulla called a timeout for their final play.
Horford missed a three-pointer from the corner.
The Knicks (39-27) tied the Celtics for the most road wins this season with their 20th victory away from Madison Square Garden.
More importantly, the Knicks have pulled one game back from the fourth-seed Cleveland Cavaliers (40-26), who were idle Sunday night.
Thanks to Quickley, who injected fun into the Knicks game that sparked their spirited comeback sans their no-nonsense leader Brunson.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo