Pierce Puts Celtics Over Knicks at Last Second

New York – The rivalry may not be renewed quite yet, but the hype surrounding Wednesday’s Celtics-Knicks matchup was certainly the highest it’s been in more than a decade. In the end, the build-up was plausible and the Madison Square Garden crowd was left stunned.

Paul Pierce’s two-point jumper over Knicks center Amar'e Stoudemire with 0.4 seconds remaining put the Celtics ahead, 118-116. That basket secured the Celtics 20th win of the season and perhaps jump-started what could become one of the premier meetings in the Eastern Conference.

“For the most part, we’ve been in a lot of these games, a lot of ball fights,” Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said. “Tonight was no different.”

During a timeout with 12.2 seconds left in the game, Boston coach Doc Rivers drew up a pick-and-roll play intended to get the ball into Pierce’s hands. Rivers' hope was for Pierce to draw shorter opponent Raymond Felton on him. Instead, Stoudemire found himself guarding Pierce, who backed up and drained the bucket.

“Paul in the locker room said he would have rather had the big guy because he felt he could get a step back,” Rivers said. “Overall, I think Stoudemire guarded him pretty well, but in the end it was a helluva shot.”

“We’ve been in that situation multiple times where we’re down and out,” Celtics forward Glen Davis said. “You can’t count us out. You have to play until the end because we’re going to play to the end.”

Wednesday’s win was without added drama, as Stoudemire knocked down a 3-pointer as the game clock expired, prompting the Garden crowd to erupt in excitement. Even some Celtics players thought the basket was good. Officials reviewed the shot, however, and ruled that Stoudemire didn’t get rid of the ball before the red lights came on.

“I actually thought Amar'e’s shot went in at the end,” Pierce said. “I was going to be stunned.”

This was Boston’s first visit to New York this season to face a Knicks team who, coming into Wednesday’s game, had won eight straight and 13 of 14 – an impressive stretch they hadn’t compiled since the 1994-95 season. With only four games separating each in the standings before tonight, a win was important for creating more distance in Boston’s case or closing the gap for the Knicks.

Prior to the game, Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni was asked if there’s been a bigger regular season game during his three-year tenure with the team. D’Antoni thought for a few seconds before offering up his response: “I’d say no because we haven’t been this good so there is a lot of anticipation, but the answer is no.”

Pierce finished with a team-high 32 points, while Ray Allen added 26. Guard Rajon Rondo, who left the game briefly after turning his ankle but returned, contributed 14 assists. Stoudemire poured in a game-high 39 points, his ninth straight outing with at least 30.

“This was a great game for the fans to watch, a lot of hype around the game,” Pierce said. “I’m just excited to win the game. I felt like we had our backs against the wall all night.”

The Celtics (20-4) also beat the Knicks, 105-101, in their first meeting this season on Oct. 29. That game in Boston featured a Rondo triple-double (10 points, 24 assists, 10 rebounds) and 25 points from Pierce.

Earlier in the week, several Celtics players, including Pierce, said there was no rivalry between their team and the Knicks (16-10). Truthfully, there was no need to have one in recent years as the Knicks failed to finish over.500 in six prior seasons.

There are those such as Allen though who believe, despite playing in the same conference, winning and quality basketball in New York City is good for the NBA.

“New York City is the biggest market that we have. People come from all over the world to New York and when you put your entertainment out on the forefront, people want to be there,” Allen said. “The NBA wants to show that this great model starts in New York. It’s almost prudent that the team here be successful.”

Success was not in the cards for New York on Wednesday. Boston made sure of that thanks to the man who believes there’s not much of a rivalry yet, but may have added fuel to that fire.