The Knicks’ regular season inability to close out the Celtics continued into the playoffs Sunday night in an 87-85 loss in their playoff opener at TD Garden.
Much in the manner of Paul Pierce’s last-second shot in the teams’ closest game this year, a 118-116 Boston win on Dec. 15, it was veteran guard Ray Allen who provided the impetus Sunday via a 3-pointer with 11.6 seconds remaining.
The shot ruined an evening in which the Knicks returned to the playoffs for the first time in seven years and hung with the Celtics all the way. But Carmelo Anthony, who finished with 15 points, threw an elbow at Pierce with 20 seconds left for his fifth personal and the Knicks with the ball leading by one. The resulting turnover was costly.
The Celtics, very experienced in the playoffs, worked the ball around the perimeter and got it to Allen as Toney Douglas tripped, giving the guard just enough of a look to swish the game winner.
The Knicks had no timeouts left, and Anthony’s final 3-point heave fell off target.
Were it not for Amar’e Stoudemire scoring 12 of his 28 points in the final quarter, the Knicks wouldn’t have been in it at all after giving up a 12-point halftime lead with an atrocious third quarter.
The Knicks also got some potentially long-range bad news in the form of an injury to Chauncey Billups’ left thigh with 50 seconds left in the game after he had layup blocked. He was in the locker room when Allen hit his shot.
The Knicks went into halftime up by 12 despite Anthony sitting more than 10 minutes of the first quarter after picking up two quick fouls. They were able to stay right with the Celtics, who struggled with chemistry since they sent physical center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. Indeed, the Celtics committed 10 turnovers in the half alone after averaging 14 per game during the regular season.
Once Anthony re-entered at the beginning of the second quarter, the offense took off. Anthony started things with a 3-pointer, and from that point the Knicks made 11 of 13 shots to finish the half at 54 percent shooting.
Stoudemire, Anthony and Billups finished off the half by putting together a 10-2 run for a 51-39 lead at intermission, with Stoudemire scoring six of those points.
That wouldn’t last as the Knicks hit just 1-of-8 field goals to start the second half. While New York struggled, Jermaine O’Neal went to work on both ends, blocking shots and triggering a 12-4 run to cut the lead to two. But Shawne Williams’ trey with 1:07 left allowed the Knicks to head into the fourth quarter up 64-59 despite 5-of-25 shooting in the quarter.
A jumper by Delonte West tied matters at 9:36 of the fourth, and another by Jeff Green gave the Celtics their first lead since the second quarter.