The New York Knicks had their eight-game winning streak broken on Wednesday night in a heartbreaking 118–116 comeback by the Boston Celtics in what has become a renewed Eastern Conference rivalry.
The atmosphere had all the makings of playoff caliber basketball at Madison Square Garden, with the Celtics riding high on their own 10-game winning streak and the Knicks holding their own in the conference on the big shoulders of Amar’e Stoudemire.
“The Knicks have arrived, and they’re going to be a team to reckon with in the division. That was a sign of it tonight,” Celtics captain Paul Pierce told ESPN after the game.
Pierce hit the game-winning shot with 0.4 seconds on the clock and led the Celtics in scoring with 32 points.
Stoudemire tied his season high of 39 points and extended his 30-point consecutive scoring record to nine games. That’s already two games more than the Knicks previous franchise record. The all-time record for the most consecutive 30-point games was set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962 with 65.
The Celtics, who had not led since the early minutes of the first quarter, took a three-point lead with a minute to go in the game off a 3-pointer from ace shooter Ray Allen.
Danilo Gallinari then tied the score back up with a 3-point play on the next possession, and Landry Fields stole the ball from Rajon Rondo to give the Knicks an opportunity to recapture the lead.
Stoudemire got off a good shot from within the paint but missed, and Paul Pierce hit a fade-away jumper with 0.4 seconds left that sealed the win.
Stoudemire actually made a wide-open 3-pointer on the next play to the roar of the fans, but the shot didn’t get off before the buzzer sounded
Stoudemire started the game like he ended it—on fire. He scored the Knicks first seven points, opening with a 3-point play off a soft floater in the paint.
Celtics starting center Semih Erdin had a hard time guarding Stoudemire so Celtics head coach Doc Rivers pulled in the wide-bodied Glen Davis and put Erdin on Ronny Turiaf instead.
By that point Stoudemire had already racked up 11 points, and the change-up didn’t help as Stoudemire finished the first quarter with 17 points.
“The defense doesn’t matter, he’s going to score points,” Rivers said to ESPN about Stoudemire at the end of the first quarter. “I was more concerned with the offensive rebounds and the loose balls, really. Amar’e is just a great player.”
The Knicks Raymond Felton hit a thrilling deep 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the half on a high note 58–51.
“We’ve done a great job with spacing on the court. Guys are responding and we pretty much get what we want,” Stoudemire said at the half.
In the second half Gallinari, who went scoreless in the first half shooting 0–4 from the field and missing three free throws, gave the Knicks a huge spark. The Italian shot 4–4 to start the third quarter, including a powerful reverse dunk and a 3-pointer to help lift the Knicks by as much as 12 points.
Gallinari finished the half with 20 points.
Ray Allen tied the game 94–94 off foul shots from a technical foul against Stoudemire three and a half minutes into the fourth quarter in a sign of things to come.
Pierce was followed in scoring by Allen and Kevin Garnett with 26 and 20 points, and Rondo had a double-double with 10 points and 14 assists.
Stoudemire’s double-double of 39 points and 10 rebounds was followed by Felton’s 26 points and 14 assists.
The Knicks now get ready to face the Miami Heat on Friday in another tough test of their ability to play top level ball.