Carmelo Anthony scored 37 points, including a pair of free throws with the game tied and 16 seconds left, as the New York Knicks survived a seesaw season opener on Sunday to beat the Boston Celtics 106-104.
Amare Stoudemire added 21 points and Toney Douglas had 19 for the Knicks, who led by 17 in the first half, trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter, then pulled out a thrilling Christmas Day victory in the delayed opener to the 2011-2012 season.
Rajon Rondo had 31 points and 13 assists, nearly leading the Celtics back without the injured Paul Pierce, but Kevin Garnett missed a jumper just before the buzzer, the kind of shot Boston always seem to make against the Knicks.
Brandon Bass had 20 points and 11 rebounds on his Celtics debut, while Ray Allen added 20 points.
Garnett finished with 15 points. He and Allen had a sleepy Christmas start, with Rondo keeping the Celtics in the game until they got going in the second half, but it was not enough against the Knicks, who withstood a potentially serious knee injury to first-round pick Iman Shumpert to beat the team that swept them out of the first round of last season’s playoffs.
Pierce has a bruised right heel, but hopes he can return today when the Celtics visit the Miami Heat.
Even without him, the Celtics fought back to tie it at 69-69 on Rondo’s layup midway through the third quarter. They surged ahead by eight going into the final period after Bass scored the final six points, then extended it to 89-79 on Bass’ jumper to open the fourth.
Anthony tied it at 100-100 on a three-pointer with 3 minutes, 25 seconds to play and it stayed tight until he was fouled on a drive with 16.3 seconds left, making both for a 106-104 lead.
Rondo grabbed the rebound of Marquis Daniels’ potential go-ahead three-pointer to give the Celtics a final chance, but Garnett was off on a jumper, then appeared to shove the Knicks’ Bill Walker away.
Coming off their first winning season in a decade, the Knicks added a defensive presence by signing Tyson Chandler from NBA champions the Dallas Mavericks and have loftier expectations than they have had in years. The original NBA schedule had them opening against Miami, but instead they got a chance to see if they have closed the gap against the team they hope to unseat atop their division.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers even compared the Knicks to the Lakers because of the length along their front line, with Chandler in between Stoudemire and Anthony. Though the Celtics won all eight meetings last season, the Knicks have been listed in some places as the favorites in the Atlantic Division, which the Celtics have ruled since their “Big Three” came together in 2007.
“It’s possible. Right now, anybody could win the division. Everybody knows how optimism kicks in before the season starts, but then once reality sets in after the first month of the season, we’ll see,” Pierce said before the game. “But it’s definitely a possibility. I mean, they have the talent, but we have the talent too, so I can see that.”
D’Antoni was careful to keep expectations low, saying the limited amount of practice time before the season started means it could be a few weeks before all the new players are used to each other. The Knicks will not even have one, Baron Davis, for a while as he recovers from a herniated disc in his back.