Carmelo Anthony turned it up offensively down the stretch and the Knicks' defense turned back the clock when it mattered most.
Anthony carried his strong regular-season finish into the first playoff game, scoring 36 points -- and matching the Celtics with eight in the fourth quarter -- as the Knicks beat Boston, 85-78, inside an extremely loud Madison Square Garden on Saturday and took a 1-0 lead in their first-round series.
Anthony shot 13-for-29 but made his last four attempts. All of them came after Kevin Garnett's short jumper tied the score at 72 with 8:12 left, and he added his only assist of the game when he found Kenyon Martin underneath for a clinching layup with 40.6 seconds left.
"It's a wonderful feeling to know that we got our first win of the series on our home court, took care of that business," Anthony said. "That was real important for us.''
This was the first time the Knicks opened a playoff series at home since 2001 and the first time they've led a series since that year. They were up 1-0 and 2-1 on Toronto in the first round but lost in five.
The second-seeded Knicks are trying to win a playoff series for the first time since 2000, but after winning 54 games and the Atlantic Division title, they believe they can win it all. Above each player's locker is a picture of the championship trophy on one door and "16 to win!" on the other.
That's how many victories it takes to win it all. Now the Knicks have 15 to go. Game 2 is Tuesday night at the Garden.
"This is a veteran ballclub," Jason Kidd said. "We know we haven't accomplished anything. For us, Game 1 is over and we've got to find a way to protect home in Game 2 because the swing games have always been the biggest ones."
Before the game, the Boston Fire Department Color Guard and the New York Fire Department presented the flag and Anthony and Paul Pierce addressed the crowd regarding the tragic events of the past week in Boston.
The Knicks and Celtics were united for that moment and adversaries the rest of the afternoon. But the Knicks won the battle when they easily could have been down 1-0.
After starting 4-for-4, Anthony missed 15 of his next 19. The Knicks were playing too much one-on-one, with Anthony and J.R. Smith (15 points) seemingly alternating shots.
Pierce's three-pointer gave the Celtics a 70-63 lead with 1:20 left in the third quarter, but the Knicks' defense was stifling after that. They held the seventh-seeded Celtics to 3-for-14 shooting the rest of the way.
With the crowd chanting "Dee-fense" louder than it had at any point this season, the Knicks forced the Celtics -- who desperately missed injured point guard Rajon Rondo -- into eight turnovers in the fourth quarter and allowed eight points in the quarter, a Knicks playoff record. They held the Celtics without a field goal in the last 4:32.
"When you're struggling to make shots, you have to damn sure make sure they're not making them," Mike Woodson said. "I thought in the second half we were as solid as we've been all year from a defensive standpoint."
Kidd and Martin, playing for the first time since spraining his left ankle April 9, spearheaded the defensive performance as the Knicks limited Boston to 25 points and 7-for-27 shooting in the second half.
Martin finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. His play was big because Tyson Chandler, who missed 15 of the previous 19 games with a bulging disc in his neck, was ineffective (zero points, five rebounds). Kidd had eight points, five rebounds and three assists, and all three of his steals came in the fourth quarter.
"He has a champion's heart," Chandler said. "He got his hands on the ball and dove for it and came up with it for a key possession. That's championship."
Jeff Green led Boston with 26 points but had only six after halftime. Pierce scored 21 but shot 6-for-15. Garnett had a quiet game with eight points and nine rebounds. But the Knicks expect him and his teammates to play differently Tuesday.
"It's going to be a battle," Anthony said. "Although we won, we didn't really do nothing. We just protected our home court, got our first win. Game 2 will be even tougher."