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Celtics 87, Knicks 85

Nick of time

A late 3-ball by Allen beats NY in Game 1

Rajon Rondo pulls down a second-half rebound, one of nine he had in the game. Rajon Rondo pulls down a second-half rebound, one of nine he had in the game. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 18, 2011

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Mike D’Antoni didn’t need game film to remind him.

The Celtics snatched regular-season games from his Knicks in the fourth quarter, whether drilling an icy step-back jumper for the winner or going on a 10-0 game-sealing run.

If the Knicks cracked, the Celtics would capitalize, and D’Antoni had a short list of the tiny things that would mean the difference in teams’ opening-round playoff series.

“A great defensive play,’’ he said. “Discipline. A rebound. A ball on the floor, can you get there? Can you draw a foul? Can you flop when necessary?’’

The difference would be which team would execute in the fourth quarter, and the Celtics did it a little better in last night’s 87-85 win, with Ray Allen hitting a decisive 3-pointer with 11.6 seconds left.

With 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter, TD Garden became a kiln. Toney Douglas drilled a 3-pointer that put the Knicks ahead by 3. But Rajon Rondo inbounded a long lob to Kevin Garnett, who flushed the alley-oop to cut it to 85-84.

Then came the crack.

Fighting Paul Pierce for position, New York’s Carmelo Anthony was whistled for an offensive foul.

The Celtics turned the mistake into Allen’s winner; he took a pass from Pierce and hit from 24 feet out.

They didn’t shoot the ball well (43.8 percent), they didn’t protect it (18 turnovers), and they fell behind by as many as 12 points in the second half. But they treated D’Antoni’s checklist like it was their own, diving for loose balls to create extra possessions (19 second-chance points), fighting on the glass (15 offensive rebounds), and putting themselves in position to make the last two minutes the most important of the night.

“The whole thing about tonight was our fourth-quarter execution,’’ Pierce said. “Regardless of how many shots we missed or if we were down, it’s all about our defense and our execution down the stretch and we were able to do that. Down the stretch I thought we found a way to win and that was because of our experience.’’

Pierce missed 10 of his 16 shots, but he made Anthony miserable most of the night (15 points on 5-for-18 shooting, 1 for 11 in the second half), frustrating him enough to draw the crucial late foul and open the game up.

“I don’t know if he ‘drew’ it,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “But he took it. And it was the right call. Heck of a call to make, but it was the right call.’’

D’Antoni had a different view.

“In my eyes, obviously I’m biased, I thought it was a tough call to make,’’ he said.

The next play, Pierce worked a pick-and-roll with Garnett to find Allen for a deep three. Douglas, the Knicks’ skilled, but undersized, guard who spent most of the night being posted up by the taller Allen, tried to lunge at Allen as he took the shot, but Garnett stepped in front, giving Allen a clear look.

“I thought the call that Toney went flying trying to chase Ray Allen was a tough no-call,’’ D’Antoni said.

For Allen, it was the timeliest of breakthroughs after slumping to end the season. He took 15 shots (he hadn’t taken that many in more than a month) and found a rhythm, scoring a team-high 24 points.

The Celtics were 18-4 in the regular season when Allen scored at least 20 points.

“It’s all about rhythm,’’ Allen said. “You just can’t let it get into your head, thinking that you don’t have a rhythm.’’

The Knicks, fueled by Amar’e Stoudemire’s 28-point, 11-rebound night, were ahead by as many as 5 points with 3:36 left, but fumbled the game away.

Fouls troubled Anthony from the start, derailing his postseason debut with the Knicks in less than two minutes.

He fouled Garnett and put him on the line. Then, Pierce stepped in front of him and drew a charge. Anthony stayed on the floor long enough to cough the ball up on the Knicks’ next possession. Then D’Antoni called him over to the bench, plugging Bill Walker in for the rest of the quarter.

Anthony made up for it in the second, though, scoring 12 points and pushing the Knicks to a 51-39 halftime lead. But he lost the touch in the end, shooting 2 for 8 from 3-point range.

Still the Knicks felt confident, playing the Celtics’ game and nearly stealing one on their home floor.

“I missed some shots I normally make,’’ Anthony said. “I’m not too concerned about my individual performance. As a team I think we did a hell of a job competing out there. I’m excited about this series.’’

The Celtics left feeling like they won without playing their best game.

“We just found a way,’’ said Rondo, who flirted with a triple-double (10 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists). “It’s not going to be pretty, it’s not going to be easy, winning this thing. For us to get a win tonight was huge. We didn’t play well at all.’’

Except for the last 50 seconds.

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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