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CELTICS 105, KNICKS 101

Target acquired

Led by Rondo, Celtics get back on track

Rajon Rondo started the season with 26 assists in two games, but that didn’t satisfy coach Doc Rivers.

“He told me I could do a lot of things better,’’ Rondo said. “I could be here all day if I tell you what he told me.’’

Kevin Garnett had a double-double in the opener, and he pulled down 15 rebounds against the Cavaliers Wednesday, but Rivers wanted more.

“He wanted me to be a lot more aggressive and not be so passive,’’ Garnett said. “I’m adjusting. I know I’ve got a barcode on my neck, but I am human.’’

Rivers told Shaquille O’Neal any thoughts of 20-point nights were fairy tales, that his job was to rebound and be an enforcer. O’Neal respected it.

“It’s good that he got in people’s faces early,’’ O’Neal said.

Rivers had a reality check for Paul Pierce, too. Rivers told his captain that when he rebounded he was a better player. Pierce grabbed two rebounds in Cleveland, leaving the glass work to the bigs. The Celtics were outrebounded, 10-6, in the fourth quarter and the Cavs dealt the Celtics a 95-87 punch in the mouth.

When Rivers gave the orders, they all listened. And the Knicks happened to be the team that had to deal with it, taking a 105-101 loss at the Garden.

Rondo dished out 24 assists, second most in Celtics history, and crafted the fifth regular-season triple double of his career (10 points, 10 rebounds). Garnett dropped 24 points on 17 shots and provided 10 rebounds. O’Neal scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Pierce put up a team-high 25 points, but also pulled down more rebounds (14) than he had in four years.

“I tried to respond to it. I wanted to make a concentrated effort on that,’’ Pierce said. “Sometimes it’s hard when you’ve got Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal down there rebounding the ball, and then you have a point guard who rebounds the hell out of the ball. It’s a scrap.’’

It had been a long week for the Celtics. They handled the emotion of the anticipated season opener by upstaging the Miami Heat, but then they went to Cleveland and laid an egg, falling into the habits that led them down a rocky path last season, when they dropped games to Eastern Conference bottom-feeders. After an off day, Rivers addressed each player and reestablished their roles before old patterns started to surface again.

Then, not long after the meetings, Rivers had to deal with the day’s biggest development, a locker room altercation between Delonte West and Von Wafer.

“The way the day shook out, it was perfect timing,’’ Rivers said. “I didn’t anticipate that after [talking about] roles, we would be rolling in the locker room. But it clearly was the right time.’’

The fight didn’t distract the Celtics from focusing on New York, but the first thing they had to do was find the restrictor plate. The Knicks were in NASCAR mode, and the game felt like a nonstop suicide drill — 4.4 possessions per minute, and the Celtics had to floor it just to keep up. They needed to figure out a way to regulate the pace.

Eventually, the Celtics cut off the Knicks’ fuel supply by curbing their turnovers (11 in the first half), and then turned up the offense.

Rondo continued the assist binge he started when he dished out 17 on opening night and another nine Wednesday, finding Glen Davis (16 points, six rebounds off the bench) for open jumpers and layups. Rondo fell four assists shy of Bob Cousy’s team record of 28.

“That’s what we ask for him to do night in and night out,’’ Pierce said. “I think everybody responded after the loss.’’

Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks’ free agent coup, dropped 27 points on 8-of-17 shooting, but his fourth-quarter push fell short. The Celtics bullied the Knicks on the glass, 54-38. It was Boston’s highest total since grabbing 55 in a win over the Bulls, Dec. 12, 2009.

It was what the coach ordered, and the players delivered.

“He’s not ashamed to tell you,’’ Pierce said. “That’s what you love about Coach, he’s straightforward. Sometimes it’s going to be the hard truth, but it’s what’s good for the team, and we respect him for that and it makes us a better team at the end of the day.’’ 

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