Ford Keys to the Game: Celtics 118, Knicks 116
Celtics 118, Knicks 116
Rivalry? Maybe Not. But the seed has officially been planted.
The Celtics marched into Madison Square Garden tonight to face the hottest team in the league that doesn’t call Boston it’s home and they pulled out a gritty win to up their winning streak to 11 games. That win came via the most dramatic finish to a basketball game that the NBA has experienced this season.
With Amar’e Stoudemire playing out of his mind, the Knicks were able to stay ahead of the Celtics for nearly the entire game. Every time Boston made a run, New York would answer right back, and that trend held true until the very last moment of the very last second.
Despite playing from behind all night, trailing by 12 in the second half and their point guard essentially playing on one leg after he sprained his left ankle, the C’s showed their enviable perseverance and battled back to tie the game up at 113-113 on Kevin Garnett’s free throws with 1:29 remaining. After Raymond Felton missed a layup at the other end, the Celtics pushed hard on the fast break and dropped the ball of to Paul Pierce, who was wide open behind the 3-point line on the right wing. But instead of taking the shot himself on a night in which he was in his best offensive rhythm of the season, Pierce skipped one more pass off to Ray Allen, who was standing in the corner ready to fire up a trey. He drilled it to give Boston a 116-113 lead, the first time Boston was ahead since leading 7-5.
The Knicks, however, weren’t going to quit. They came down court and gave the ball to their hottest player in the second half, Danilo Gallinari. The sharpshooting forward put the ball on the floor and drove past Pierce while drawing contact. When he heard the whistle blow, he tossed up a wild, high-arcing floater that would eventually sink through the net, giving him a possible and-one attempt. He hit the free throw to knot the game back up at 116-116.
Boston’s next possession resulted in a turnover when Rajon Rondo forced a pass to Allen for an attempted shot from the same vicinity in which he hit his previous 3. But when Stoudemire missed a layup attempt at the other end, as a result of some phenomenal help defense from Pierce, the C’s were left with a chance to win the game with 12.2 seconds remaining.
The strenuous comeback made it clear that after their timeout, the Celtics would do everything they could to steal this game on the final shot. It executed such a plan to near perfection.
Pierce took the inbound pass and slowly made his way to the top of the key before he and Garnett met for a pick-and-roll – the exact same play that resulted in a buzzer-beating bucket from KG in MSG last season. This time, however, Pierce kept the ball as Stoudemire switched off onto him. Pierce made his way toward the basket a couple of feet removed from the right side of the lane before stopping on a dime and stepping back to his sweet spot on the right wing. As athletic as Stoudemire is, he had absolutely no shot. Pierce created plenty of separation, rose up and swished in a 14-footer as if no one else was in the building with him. The bucket went through the net with 0.4 seconds remaining to give Boston a 118-116 lead, and the celebration began.
But wait, remember how I told you the Knicks would always answer right back? Buckle your seatbelts.
New York called timeout with the sole purpose advancing the ball into the frontcourt while the clock was stopped. The Knicks were much less interested in drawing up their desperation play as they were at getting a chance to inbound the ball 50 feet closer to their basket. Such became obvious when, though littered with 3-point threats and athletic forwards, the Knicks settled for an inbound pass to Stoudemire 25 feet from the basket. You’d think that was a Godsend for Boston, but Stoudemire made everyone watching think otherwise.
In one motion, Stoudemire caught the ball at the top of the key and stepped into a game-winning 3-point attempt. The player who hit only one 3-pointer all of last season proved that he was, in fact, a legitimate MVP candidate when he drained the shot for his 40th, 41st and 42nd points of the game - the game-winning points. Well, almost.
After reviewing the shot numerous times, the referees determined that Stoudemire’s 3-pointer was not released in time and that the shot would be no good. So in an instant, the Knicks' apparent nine-game winning streak was snapped while the Celtics were able to celebrate their 11th victory in a row in a thriller that undoubtedly set the table for this Northeast rivalry to take off.
Key Box Score Line
Is it impossible to have a quiet game of 32 points, 10 rebound and five assists? Paul Pierce did… until he made the biggest shot of the NBA season.
While Amar’e Stoudemire gained all of the attention for his stellar 39-point performance, his ninth straight 30-point game, Pierce methodically racked up his stats at the other end of the court. Per usual, the points didn’t come in flashy style and the rebounds weren’t loud, but they all piled up and resulted in a monster game from the Captain.
Without Pierce tonight, Boston stood no chance. He was their offense when they needed it, and he made back-to-back plays at each end of the court to seal the win. His perfect help defense forced Stoudemire into a miss on New York’s final shot of the game, and his step-back jumper put the winning points on the board.
Just a typical night for the captain, one he and his teammates will surely savor in until they take the court against the Hawks Thursday night.
Box Score Nuggets
- Both teams had three players finish with double-doubles.
- Boston's three were Paul Pierce (32 points, 10 rebounds), Kevin Garnett (20 points, 13 rebounds) and Rajon Rondo (10 points, 14 assists).
- Amar'e Stoudemire scored a game-high 39 points on 15-of-22 shooting. He also grabbed 10 rebounds.
- Wilson Chandler (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Raymond Felton (26 points, 14 assists) were the other Knicks to secure a double-double.
- Without Shaquille O'Neal, the C's still managed to score 62 points in the paint.
- New York finished with five blocks and five steals.
- Ray Allen also scored 26 points for the Celtics on a team-high 19 shot attempts, 10 of which were made.
- None of Boston's starters finished with a positive plus/minus rating. All four reserves, meanwhile, finished with at least a plus-four in that category.
- Of Boston's 39 rebounds, only seven were hauled in by reserves.
- New York's bench totaled only seven points, four rebounds and one assist.
- Boston committed only 13 turnovers, and three of its nine players who appeared finished with zero.
- Both teams could not be stopped on offense. The C's shot 52.3 percent and the Knicks shot 53.1 percent.
- Boston shot a perfect 21-of-21 from the free-throw line.
- Each team made 21 free throws.
- Four of NEw York's five starters played at least 42 minutes.
Quote of the Night
Paul Pierce on the Kevin Garnett-Amar'e Stoudemire matchup: "Amar’e and Kevin have had some battles and it’s great to watch. I’ll probably go home and watch this game just to watch those two go at it. You talk about two of the elite power forwards, Kevin down the stretch really took the challenge. Amar’e was hitting tough shots over him all night. Kevin just said ‘I got him.’ He pretty much saved us."