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Celtics 110, Knicks 106

Letter-perfect

'D' of the Celtics in fourth quarter silences the Knicks

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / February 24, 2010

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After spending the first three quarters of their 110-106 win over New York practically racing their offenses like sports cars, the Celtics spent the fourth quarter trying to slow down the speed demon that the Knicks had been.

The man who threw himself into traffic with the game in the balance was an unlikely suspect.

“I was in a very precarious situation,’’ Ray Allen said. “I was the last line of defense.’’

With David Lee streaking down one side of the court and Wilson Chandler coming down another, Allen had to make a decision.

“I was either going to have to foul [Lee], or I was going to have to get to the 3-point line,’’ Allen said. “Then I saw Chandler cut to the basket, and when I saw him go up, I just said just try and get to the ball.’’

Allen swooped in from behind Chandler and swatted away a layup attempt that would have cut the Celtics’ final-minute lead to 1. With Celtics captain Paul Pierce out because of a sprained thumb and flu-like symptoms, Allen filled the void, scoring a team-high 24 points, his fourth straight game in double figures.

But the block, his 17th of the season, was the punctuation mark of a fourth quarter where the Celtics clamped down on defense, holding the Knicks to 15 points on 7-of-19 shooting.

“That’s unexpected,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of Allen’s rejection. “But that was great. He said he was a step late and he had to try to make a play on the ball.’’

With the Celtics hosting the Knicks in their first home game since the All-Star break, it wasn’t about who was added to the equation, it was about what was missing from it. The team’s newest face, Nate Robinson, was at TD Garden early, getting up shots, meeting teammates and the media. However, its old and faithful trademark - defense - made it to the gym a little late.

The Celtics gave up 60 points in the first half - one shy of the season-high they gave up to Phoenix Dec. 30 - and the Knicks tied for the most field goals by a Celtics opponent with 42.

The Celtics had no problem playing at their pace, matching their season high for points in a first quarter by blasting New York out of the gate, 38-27.

“I don’t mind us scoring,’’ Rivers said. “I just didn’t like the way we were defending.

“I thought the second quarter we got caught into it a little bit where we were scoring every time, they were scoring every time, and then there were four or five times we didn’t score and next thing you know the game was tied.’’

The Celtics led by as many as 14, but a 12-point second quarter by Al Harrington (who finished with 18) sparked the Knicks’ comeback in the period.

“At halftime I just said we have to get stops to be able to win the game. We’re going to score. Scoring will not be an issue. But we have to get five, six, seven, eight in a row. If we get those in a row, we win the game. If we don’t, then it’s going to be tough.’’

Making it equally difficult was Lee, who scored a game-high 28 points mostly by being crafty on pick and rolls.

“He wasn’t even setting picks,’’ said Kevin Garnett. “He was just slipping out and getting layups and our help was just late getting there.’’

Garnett put together a 16-point, 8-rebound, 6-assist night, and Rajon Rondo filled the box score with 15 points and 16 assists, but offense wasn’t the issue. It was finding a stop down the stretch, which Rondo emphasized in the huddle late in the game.

“We started the game off well defensively, but just the way they play,’’ Allen said. “[They’re] so carefree shooting the ball.

“They keep the floor spaced and they force us to use our strengths against us where we help so much that they throw the ball over the top. Sometimes you’ve got to make a decision while doing the same principles that defensively we believe in.’’

The first three quarters may have shown that the Celtics have as many horses as any other offense, but the fourth, Rivers said, showed their true identity.

“I like us to be a team that reacts from our defense more than our offense,’’ Rivers said. “It’s nice to have the luxury to be able to do both.’’

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