With a minute left, the gap was 7 points. With 36.6 seconds left, it was 4. With 17.5 seconds, it was 2.
The final outcome was , but something might have been gained in those final minutes at the TD Garden. The Knicks did not cower in the face of three future Hall of Famers or surrender to another humiliating rout, the sort that have characterized the last three seasons.
In the Amar’e Stoudemire era, some things will indeed be different.
“I definitely think we earned some respect tonight,” Stoudemire said after leading the near-comeback with a block and 6 points in the final 1 minute 46 seconds. He added: “Boston definitely earned respect, because they played tremendous tonight and also in previous years. So hopefully they respect us and understand we’re a team to be reckoned with.”
Stoudemire sent that message repeatedly — never more emphatically than when he dunked on with 3:38 to play. He started the late comeback with a block of Rajon Rondo. And he made two big baskets, including a 3-pointer that cut the deficit to 2 points with 17.5 seconds left.
“I just try to provide hope, knowing that if we’re down a few amount of points in the fourth quarter, that we got a chance to win,” Stoudemire said.
With Danilo Gallinari still slumping, and the Knicks thoroughly outmuscled in the paint, they needed all that Stoudemire could provide: 27 points and 8 rebounds in nearly 36 minutes. The Knicks (1-1) can only hope that their new leader has some bounce left for the home opener Saturday night against the .
The Knicks have lost eight straight games in Boston, or every game since the Celtics brought together the new Big Three of Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. On Friday, it was the fourth wheel who beat them, as Rondo collected a career-high 24 assists — 4 shy of Bob Cousy’s team record — plus 10 points and 10 rebounds. Garnett (24 points) and Pierce (25 points) were as effective as ever, and each had double-digit rebounds.
“He pretty much got everybody involved,” Pierce said of Rondo. “He got the popcorn man involved, he got the announcer involved, he got everybody involved tonight. And it was beautiful to watch.”
Wilson Chandler was again the Knicks’ best scorer for much of the night, finishing with 19 points, though he missed 11 of 20 shots. His last miss was the costliest — an open 3-point try that bounced off the rim with 23.9 seconds left, the Knicks down by 4 points.
“I probably rushed it a bit,” Chandler said.
Chandler, one of the few holdovers from the last few grisly Knicks seasons, noted that in the past, “we probably would have laid down at the end of the game, and it probably would have been a bigger victory for those guys.”
Gallinari, still dealing with a sore right (shooting) wrist, had another miserable night, going 0 for 6 from the field. He played just 3:13 in the second half and was benched for the fourth quarter. He left the locker room with a massive bag of ice wrapped around his wrist, and an edgy tone.
“The wrist is fine,” he said flatly. “The wrist is fine, that’s it. If I say it’s fine, it’s fine. Everything else is fine.”
Even without the injured , Boston had a major size advantage. The Celtics outrebounded the Knicks by 54-38 and outscored them in the paint (54-38) and on second-chance points (16-7).
powered his way to 10 points, and Glen Davis added 16 points off the bench.
“I thought our guys played with as much heart as you can play with,” Coach said. “Hit some big shots, gave us a chance to have a little flurry at the end.”
With Stoudemire in the fold, the Knicks hope they are closing the gap in this lopsided rivalry, though the teams play in different universes. The Celtics’ magic number — featured prominently in a pregame video — is 18, as in their next championship. The Knicks are focused on 8, as in the final seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
“They’re much, much better,” Celtics Coach said. “Adding Stoudemire gives them a closer. And I’ve always thought last year they were in a lot of close games and just couldn’t close them. Now they’ve added a guy that can close them for them.”
It was a strange opening week for the Celtics. They beat ’s new team, the , then turned around and lost to his old team, the . On Friday morning, two reserves, Delonte West and Von Wafer, got into a fight after practice.
“There was a fight, and that’s all you need to know,” Rivers said, adding, “I’m obviously not real thrilled with it, but it happened and we’ll handle it.”
Anthony Randolph (sprained ankle) is no longer using crutches and seems to be healing. The team expects him to be out at least another week to 10 days.