It took the just five minutes to puncture the hype balloon and present a healthy reminder of the distances the Knicks still must travel to consider themselves contenders.
On a raucous afternoon at TD Garden, the Celtics muted Jeremy Lin, withstood Carmelo Anthony and — as they have so often done — converted the most critical plays, dealing the Knicks a 115-111 overtime defeat.
Paul Pierce hit a 3-pointer that forced overtime, then handed off to Ray Allen, who scored 5 straight points to give Boston the lead for good. Along the way, Rajon Rondo made modern statistical history, with 18 points, 20 assists and 17 rebounds — the ’s gaudiest triple-double since Magic Johnson had 24, 17 and 17 in 1989.
Although the details were different, the result felt a lot like the Knicks defeat here Feb. 3, and the playoff losses they sustained here last spring. The Celtics (19-17), for all of their struggles, remain the model for what the Knicks hope to become by the end of April.
“We will,” Anthony said after scoring 25 points. “That takes time. That takes time. They’ve been through the wringer long enough. They’ve been around long enough to know how to close out games. That’s something that we can take from that.”
Anthony and Pierce dueled all afternoon, until Pierce hit the shot that mattered most — a 3-pointer that tied the game at 103-103 with 4.9 seconds left in regulation. Anthony had a chance to win the game but missed a 17-foot jumper at the buzzer, then missed all four shots he took in overtime.
But the Knicks (18-19) were mostly undermined by careless play, including 22 turnovers, as they lost for the 11th straight time in Boston.
“We always play them tough,” Anthony said. “It’s just some little things that we have to get better at.”
The game presented a sentimental moment for Lin, as well as a difficult challenge. He starred nearby at Harvard, and his former coach Tommy Amaker and the university president, Drew Galpin Faust, were in the crowd. But Rondo hounded Lin with his length, and the Celtics kept throwing extra bodies in his path.
Lin finished with 14 points, 5 assists and 6 turnovers, his second-worst game as a starter. He was 1 for 7 in overtime and 6 for 16 over all, alternately hearing boos from Celtics fans and light cheers from pockets of supporters. The Celtics, like the Miami Heat two weeks ago, were determined not to let the N.B.A.’s newest star beat them.
“Definitely a target,” Lin said, “but I think that’s fine, because I think we have such a well-rounded team. It’s just going to take time. It’s my, whatever, 11th, 12th game, 13th, I don’t really know. Early on, so I’m learning a lot and absorbing information right now.”
Coach Mike D’Antoni lifted Lin for defensive purposes twice in the last 30 seconds of regulation. Still, he stuck with Lin through most of the fourth quarter and overtime despite his struggles, using him over the more seasoned Baron Davis. Davis also had a mixed game, with 8 points, 7 assists and 6 turnovers.
Sticking with Lin nearly paid off as the Knicks came back from a 15-point deficit in the second half. Lin scored 6 straight points late in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer that cut the deficit to 96-95. Anthony took over from there, scoring 6 straight points for a 101-100 lead with 35.4 seconds to play. Steve Novak added two free throws for a 3-point lead. Then Pierce did what Pierce does, raising up for an off-balance 3-pointer over Iman Shumpert.
“The thing about Jeremy, he’s going to make some mistakes, and he’s got a learning curve,” D’Antoni said. “There’s no way you can throw him in here, the first time he ever does it, and expect it to be perfect. But he finds a way to be very positive at the end of games.”
D’Antoni did not rule out using Davis to close out a game but said, “I’m comfortable going with Jeremy.”
Bill Walker will have surgery on his left elbow on Monday and is expected to miss four to six weeks, possibly wiping out the rest of the regular season. He could be available for the playoffs. Walker was a rotation player for the first 30 games of the season, but he had been squeezed out by the additions of J. R. Smith and Baron Davis and the emergence of Steve Novak. “It’d have been tough,” Mike D’Antoni said Sunday of finding a role for Walker. “But for sure if he’s hurt and not playing well, then there’s no way.” … Tyson Chandler is wearing a protective brace on his injured left wrist, which continues to bother him two weeks after falling on it. “I think it’s something that he’s going to have to live with for a month, two months,” D’Antoni said. … The Knicks plan to recall Jerome Jordan from the Development League on Saturday after their four-game trip. Jordan was sent to the Knicks’ affiliate in Erie, Pa., on Friday. …The Knicks’ last victory here was on Nov. 24, 2006, behind 22 points from Steve Francis and 21 points and 10 rebounds from Eddy Curry. The next summer, Boston acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. “They’ve been the best, and they’re smart,” D’Antoni said, adding, “We’ve been young and dumb and we haven’t done it.”