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Knicks know Celtics will be a tough test on Saturday

Any road to the Finals — no matter how far-fetched it may seem today for the Knicks — will probably go through the Celtics, the gold standard in the East.

But even after Jalen Brunson, his All-Star Knicks teammate, agreed Saturday’s Boston matchup is a measuring stick, Josh Hart wasn’t feeling that label.

For injury reasons.

Josh Hart said the depleted Knicks can beat the Celtics on Saturday, but added that it wasn’t a measuring
stick game since they are missing three starters. Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

“We’re not chalking up this game by any means. I think we still have enough to go out there and get a win,” Hart said. “But I wouldn’t say it’s a measuring stick. I don’t think you can really measure against the best team when you have three starters out.”

The Celtics (44-12), winners of seven straight, are close to full strength, with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday, Kristaps Porzingis and Derrick White all participating in their last game Thursday.

The Knicks, as Hart alluded, are still awaiting the returns of Julius Randle, OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson.

But Brunson was more urgent about the matchup, saying Friday, “It’s definitely a game we need to get.”

“They’re the gold standard right now the way they’re playing,” Brunson said. “So we’ve got to be up for the challenge, lock in, be ready to go. They present a great challenge for us. A lot of respect for them over there. We’ll just see where we’re at.”

“I think it’s an indicator of where we’re at, no matter what the playoffs hold,” Brunson added.

Knicks star Jalen Brunson calls Saturday’s game vs. the Celtics is “definitely a game we need to get.” Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Celtics already defeated the Knicks three times this season. They play twice more because of a scheduling quirk associated with the In-Season Tournament, which saddled the Knicks with extra matchups against Boston and Milwaukee.

Porzingis averaged 24 points on 56 percent shooting against his former team this season. The Celtics outscored the Knicks’ by 45 points in Porzingis’ 101 minutes.

“They’re strong on both sides of the ball,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “They have a number of guys who can go off the dribble, they shoot the 3 — they’re shooting 50 3s a game. We’re going to have to be at our best.”

A day after Isaiah Hartenstein expressed “a little frustration” that he didn’t come close to playing the planned minutes of his first game back from a sore Achilles, Thibodeau said it was just the flow of Thursday’s victory over the Sixers.

“That’s why I was saying to you guys, the minutes thing is more of a guideline and you have to read how the game goes, too,” Thibodeau said. “It’ll come for him. Some timing, he’s missed time now also. That’s just the way it went.”

Hartenstein, who had sat out two weeks to rest his Achilles, was on a restriction but thought he would get 21 minutes as part of a ramp-up process. He instead played 11 scoreless minutes in Philadelphia as the Knicks went small down low for longer periods, with Precious Achiuwa at center and Hart at power forward.

“It was the way the game unfolded, too. [The Sixers] went small. [Hartenstein’s] timing isn’t quite there. It’ll come,” Thibodeau said. s“Just be patient. He’s a good player. He knows that.”

New York’s small lineup pulled out the victory in the fourth quarter. Hartenstein said he hopes “to hit my minute mark” in the Celtics game.

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