BOSTON — The Knicks have hit the stretch of their season detractors had pointed to as the time it would fall apart. But instead of wilting against the big-boy portion of the schedule, the Knicks have thrived.
After they face the Celtics on Sunday, the Knicks will have played 12 of 18 games against teams with winning records. Five of those games have come against Eastern Conference contenders the Celtics, 76ers and Cavaliers.
So far, they are a stunning 13-4, and two of those losses — to the Clippers and Lakers — were in overtime.
Riding an eight-game winning streak, the Knicks are just one game behind the Cavaliers for fourth place in the Eastern Conference and 3 ¹/₂ in back of the third-place 76ers.
And the remaining schedule for coach Tom Thibodeau’s team is light, ranked as the 22nd-easiest in the NBA by Tankathon.com, based on the winning percentage of their remaining 17 opponents.
The Cavaliers’ schedule is 30th, while the 76ers’ is second.
Mitchell Robinson hasn’t looked like someone who missed five weeks this season.
Since returning from a fractured right thumb, the defensive stalwart is averaging 9.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 29.2 minutes.
His 27.3 defensive rebounding percentage in that span has been impressive, up significantly from his season average of 17.6 percent.
Robinson made the defensive play of the game Friday night in the win over the Heat, stealing the inbound pass after Julius Randle had given the Knicks the lead with 1.1 seconds left.
“It’s huge. He’s an elite defender,” Thibodeau said of Robinson. “The rim protection is tremendous. His pick-and-roll defense is very, very good. And offensively what he gives us is pressure on the rim. He gets out of screens quick. He’s going to finish everything around the basket. … I think he’s the best offensive rebounder in the league.”
Neither Robinson nor Jalen Brunson was listed on the Knicks’ injury report. Brunson had his right ankle taped during the game Friday and Robinson came up limping after a hard fall. Both, however, finished the game.
The Celtics will be without starting center Robert Williams (left hamstring strain) and standout reserve Malcolm Brogdon (right ankle soreness) is questionable.