To tip-off the NBA’s 2011-2012 season opener, New York Knicks All-Star forward, Carmelo Anthony, delivered his hometown the most cherished gift of them all on Christmas Day– a win against the Boston Celtics.
Anthony saved his Christmas gift until the fourth quarter for the star studded crowd at Madison Square Garden. With native New Yorkers; Spike Lee, Chris Rock, Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz and NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg nervously cheering on, Melo matched the Celtics point total in the final period, scoring 17 on his way to a game-high 37 points, as New York rallied late to defeat Boston 106-104 on Sunday.
Melo, who played his first opening day as a Knick, led New York’s offensive attack, scoring 17 points in an explosive first half before he landed in foul trouble at the start of the third. With Anthony sitting and Knicks’ All-Star power forward Amar’e Stoudemire (21 points) under duress by Celtics’ newcomer Brandon Bass (20 points, 11 rebounds), the Rajon Rondo (31 points, 13 assists) led Celtics rebounded from an early 17-point deficit to carry a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter.
New York tied the score at 100-100 late in the final period on consecutive 3-pointers by starting point guard Tony Douglas (19 points) and Anthony. The score was tied again at 102 and 104 before Anthony put New York ahead with two decisive free throws with 16.3 seconds left. Boston had two opportunities to win the game or tie the score to force the game into overtime, but failed to capitalize. First, Celtics’ guard Marquis Daniels missed a corner 3-pointer before veteran power-forward Kevin Garnett bricked a jumper off an inbounds play with 3.9 seconds remaining. Newly acquired Knicks’ center Tyson Chandler, who was a part of the NBA champions Dallas Mavericks last season, rebounded Garnett’s missed shot and heaved the basketball towards the Garden rafters, as the celebrity crowd at MSG burst into merriment.
Garnett attempted to play the Grinch who stole New York’s Christmas, but instead settled for league bully, as he jawed and later struck Knicks’ forward Bill Walker in the face with an open hand, after the buzzer. A former MVP and 14-time All-Star, Garnett was clearly frustrated in Boston’s defeat, as the Celtics won all eight games between the two teams last season, swept the Knicks in the first-round of the playoffs, and have dominated the Atlantic Division since 2007, when the Big Three (Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Garnett) were united. With the absence of Pierce on Sunday, who is out due to a bruised right heel, New York’s new frontcourt of Melo, STAT and Chandler proved to be too much for the Celtics to handle. Allen contributed 20 points but was hounded by the Knicks’ second-year two guard Landry Fields for most of the afternoon. And when Anthony erupted in the fourth to rescue his team from a season opening defeat, the Celtic had no answer to stop the charge.
The Celtics’ depleted roster, which lost Shaquille O’Neal to retirement, Jeff Green to a heart condition, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis to the Orlando Magic, will have to figure out a way to add more production before Tuesday’s match up against the LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and the defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat. Rondo ignited Boston’s offense to keep the Celtics in the game, but his high-level play wasn’t enough against the Knicks. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rondo joined Larry Bird (2/18/1985) as the only Celtics players with 30 plus points, 10 plus assists and 5 plus steals in a single game.
For the first time in over a decade, New York has an opportunity to be contenders in the East. The Knicks will travel to the West Coast on Tuesday to play three games in four nights, against the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. They will have to suit up without rookie sensation Iman Shumpert, who suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his Knicks debut. He’s expected to be out two to four weeks. With injuries to newly acquired guards Mike Bibby (sore back) and Baron Davis (herniated disk), STAT and Melo will try to survive this lockout-shortened season.