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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Madison Square Garden sounds like the old days again

The Knicks bench celebrates late against the Boston

The Knicks bench celebrates late against the Boston Celtics during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. (April 20, 2013) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

The old place has been gutted and rebuilt -- much like the Knicks' roster -- but it turns out that playoff basketball at the Garden is a timeless vibe.

On Saturday, the echoes carried clear across a millennium as a capacity crowd imported a buzz straight from the 1990s.

"It was incredible,'' center Tyson Chandler said after the fans fanned the flames of a late surge as their Knicks beat the Celtics, 85-78, in Game 1 of what they hope will be a long playoff run.

"They feel like we feel. We feel like we have a great opportunity, a great shot, even though it's game by game. We are going to need them. The energy was amazing.''

Said guard Jason Kidd: "I thought the vibe was great. The Garden, as an opponent, when it's jumping like this, it's tough to play in. It's probably been some time, but it's good to see the city jumping and behind the team.''

"Some time?'' Ya think?

Before Saturday, the Knicks were 1-12 in playoff games dating to 2001, the last time they won a Game 1 at home to take a series lead. On that occasion, they went on to lose to the Raptors, three games to two.

But it was evident that it is serious business this time, certainly more so than in cameos against the Celtics in 2011 and the Heat last year, when the Knicks were showered with confetti at the Garden after winning a playoff game for the first time since 2001. Alas, they were down 3-0 in the series at the time.

Thankfully, there was no confetti to mark surviving a game against the Celtics that they trailed by seven points late in the third quarter. But there was no need for artificial enhancements. On numerous occasions, the fans' sound track was enough, never more so than in the final two minutes, when with the Celtics still within reach, Kidd maintained his dribble on a long possession and the crowd rose for an ovation.

The sequence ended with Carmelo Anthony hitting a long two-pointer with Jeff Green trying to defend him. It was 83-76 with 1:21 left, fans began chanting "M-V-P'' and the Celtics were through.

Soon Anthony was finding Kenyon Martin under the basket for his only assist of the game with 40.6 seconds left, and the place was jumping again.

The Celtics hope to do a better job keeping the crowd out of the game moving forward. "This is Knicks territory,'' Green said. "We have to do our part to make sure we stay in the game and we have each other's backs.''

It was an imperfect victory, especially on offense, as Boston successfully harassed Anthony for much of the day and J.R. Smith also sputtered. (Both players did have their moments, notably in the second quarter, when each scored on a spectacular spin move in quick succession.)

But the Knicks' defense was stout, especially on a series of late steals that sealed the result. They finished with 15 steals -- seven in the fourth quarter alone -- against the point guard-challenged Celtics.

Even as the Garden crowd enjoyed itself and booed the visitors from the north in all the usual places, the level of hatred did seem dialed down a notch in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath.

When some fans booed Paul Pierce as he addressed the crowd before the game, they immediately were shushed by the majority, who cheered Pierce's remarks. Later, Anthony said that was no time to be booing.

There will be plenty of time for that Tuesday -- and far beyond, if all goes as planned.

New York Sports