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Celtics 110, Knicks 100

Garnett makes up for lost time

After missing out vs. Lakers, he's a force in win over Knicks

By Frank Dell'Apa
Globe Staff / February 7, 2009
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NEW YORK - Celtics coach Doc Rivers made certain his team would have a well-rested Kevin Garnett on the court during crunch time last night at Madison Square Garden.

And Garnett's play down the stretch keyed the Celtics' 110-100 victory over the Knicks, less than 24 hours after an overtime defeat to the Lakers.

The Celtics (42-10) played nearly the last 10 minutes of a 110-109 loss to the Lakers Thursday without Garnett, who departed after a controversial sixth foul. This time, though, Garnett did not commit a foul until the second half, then took a long breather while Ray Allen found his range, and returned to orchestrate the offense.

"[Thursday] night was so emotional," Rivers said. "I told the coaches before the game, we've just got to get into the fourth quarter, then we can spread the floor. That's why I sat Kevin that long in the third. As long as the score was 1-2 points, I felt good about that. I felt if we can get it down toward the end, get our shooters in and spread the floor, we'd be in good shape."

The Knicks (21-28) presented a much different challenge than the Lakers, their freewheeling offense keeping the Celtics off balance. But the Celtics, who host the Spurs tomorrow, took command with a 38-24 final quarter.

Garnett (15 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists) was involved in nearly every key play down the stretch. He committed his fourth foul challenging Chris Duhon, who converted a 3-point play with 3:58 left, the Knicks pulling within 95-89. Garnett then went to the left side of the block and found Leon Powe for a dunk (3:44), Paul Pierce for an open 22-footer (3:14), Powe again (2:36), and Eddie House for a 3-pointer and a 104-91 lead with 2:02 to go.

This time, it was Allen's turn to foul out - he committed his sixth in a mismatch against David Lee with 3:02 remaining. But Allen's shooting early in the quarter launched the Celtics toward the finish line.

"That stretch where Ray got it going bailed us out, that was huge for us," Rivers said. "That allowed us to give Kevin a couple more minutes rest. Then, with the lineup they had, it was either going to be one on one with Kevin; then, if you trap, we had Leon standing under the basket, and if you helped, we had Eddie and Ray and Paul, and you can't leave any one of those three."

But Garnett and Pierce (26 points) nearly took themselves out of action in the first half, their collision resulting in a right elbow problem for Pierce. Garnett also received treatment after being hit from behind by Al Harrington in the third quarter. And, just as Garnett is recovering from the flu (he missed two games earlier this week), Pierce and other Celtics are battling symptoms.

"I had the same dilemma with Paul [as Thursday]," Rivers said. "You're concerned if you take him out then bring him back in, he has nothing left. And that's what he said, I'd just rather stay out there - and I kind of prefer him staying on the floor."

Pierce played 43 minutes, Garnett 35.

"It felt like we had momentum in the game and the juices were running," Garnett said of landing hard under the basket. "I kept it loose, I don't think it affected me too much. I tried not to think about it; actually it doesn't hurt, but tomorrow it will probably be a different story. But I'm proud of myself for finishing the game. I thought we did a pretty good job at the end of the game of making it simple."

Garnett went 19 minutes in the first half without committing a foul, but did receive a technical after an elbowing clash with Danilo Gallinari with 6:36 remaining in the half. Garnett committed his first foul, a block on Harrington, 2:12 into the second half.

Then, Garnett challenged a Harrington jumper, won the race in transition, but traveled and was hit from behind by Harrington. Garnett stayed down and Harrington was charged with a technical. Allen (22 points) converted the free throw, later extending his consecutive streak at the line to 55.

The Celtics took the lead for good, 81-80, on Allen's drive with 8:41 remaining. Allen connected on two lefthanded drives and two 3-pointers in a 2:13 span as the Celtics regained control in the final quarter. House scored off a scramble with 4:42 to play and Allen found House for a 3-pointer and a 95-86 lead with 4:06 left.

"I think we slowed down," Allen said of the Celtics' fourth-quarter play. "Defensively, we got back in front of them and offensively we slowed down. We were able to pick their defense apart and we found shots that we wanted."

Then, Garnett took over.

"It was awesome," Rivers said of having Garnett available at the end. "It was better than [Thursday] night, for sure."

Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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