The celebration began. But it was off by 0.1 of a second.
Officials watched a replay and confirmed that Stoudemire’s shot came too late and cemented the ’ on Wednesday.
The ’ eight-game winning streak — their longest in 16 years — ended in heartbreaking fashion and dropped their record to 16-10.
In past years, no Knick had the star power to match Pierce blow by blow, point by point. But Stoudemire did Wednesday. He tied his season high of 39 points and extended his franchise record with a ninth straight game of 30 or more.
On the Celtics’ final possession, Pierce cozied up to the right elbow of the free-throw line in the same easygoing manner he has done playoff game after playoff game. Stoudemire picked him up on a defensive switch. Pierce jabbed forward and stepped back, while Stoudemire drifted toward the basket and watched the ball fall through the net.
Pierce let his hand dangle in midair after the ball went through the rim, smiled and bowed. The game appeared over.
“I knew what I wanted to do,” Pierce said with a chuckle.
Knicks Coach called a timeout. The rookie Landry Fields inbounded the ball at midcourt to Stoudemire, who did not hesitate.
“I wasn’t sure if it was good or not, but it felt good,” Stoudemire said.
The crowd held its breath and then exhaled in delight and thunderous cheers. Stoudemire jumped in exaltation, and the Knicks bench raced onto the court.
“I actually thought Amar’e’s shot counted, one last time there for a minute, especially after all the theatrics,” said Pierce, who scored a team-high 32.
The dreaded words came from the public announcer Mike Walczewski: officials had ruled that time expired before Stoudemire’s release.
“It was just a second late,” Stoudemire said.
From D’Antoni’s vantage point, the distance between win and loss was even smaller. “If it was .05 seconds, it would have been good,” he said.
The joy ride that mattered most came to a screeching halt in the customary scene of a Boston celebration.
“You never enjoy losing, especially game-winners,” Stoudemire said. “They tend to linger a little bit longer, but Boston respects us. They know how good we can be and how good we are. We’ll see them again.”
One of the Knicks’ most anticipated regular-season games in years went into its final moments just like the old days. ’s free throws tied the score, 113-113, with 1 minute and 29 seconds remaining. Ray Allen’s 3-point deep corner shot gave the Celtics their first lead of the fourth quarter, but Danilo Gallinari, who scored all 20 of his points in the second half, responded with a 3-point play.
The Celtics returned the ball to the Knicks on Rajon Rondo’s turnover, but Stoudemire — who said he was fouled by Pierce on the play — missed a jumper from four feet.
“A good backyard scuffle, if you will,” Garnett, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds.
The Celtics (20-4) allowed the most points all season and appeared out of sorts in stretching their -high winning streak to 11. They played without , who missed his third consecutive game with a calf injury.
Allen had 17 of his 26 points in the second half. Rondo, who had 24 assists against the Knicks earlier this season, settled for 14 and added 10 points.
The pace benefited the Knicks most of the evening, and Garnett labeled the Knicks’ offense as one of only a couple that give them trouble.
Point guard Raymond Felton bullied his way through Boston’s defense for 26 points and 14 assists. Wilson Chandler added 18 points.
The Knicks are in the midst of a six-day stretch that poses the reconfigured organization’s biggest challenge this season. , Dwyane Wade and Miami visit on Friday.
The Knicks claimed Wednesday as one game on the calendar even if the atmosphere was different from most nights. The crowd swayed with every basket in a game played on television before a national audience.
Both teams brushed off talks of a refurbished rivalry. In the recent past, the matchup held plenty of prerequisites for one, from trash talking to bravado and an extra shove here and there. But it was usually one-sided. The Knicks entered Wednesday having lost 13 of their last 15 games against Boston.
With a win in hand, Pierce was more complimentary. “Hey, that’s how they start,” he said. “Two elite teams going at it, battling.”