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Bob Ryan

Major points were earned for this one

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / March 5, 2012
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The thought occurs: many of the people in attendance probably had never seen a real game before.

They have now.

There was none of that 84-79 stuff, with neither team attempting 80 shots. No, no, no. This was a knockdown, drag-out, heavyweight title bout complete with manly stats - does Rajon Rondo’s 18-17-20 line get your attention? - constantly shifting momentum, star-level one-upmanship, and a big-time game-tying 3-pointer by Paul Pierce to keep us around for another five minutes.

And as a cherry on the sundae, the Celtics and Knicks gave us an exquisite athletic gift on Sunday afternoon atop North Station. There was even a 1 o’clock start. It was NBA basketball as the Hoop God intended. The only thing missing was John Kiley and his organ, otherwise this could have been a March Sunday 40 years ago, back when a majority of the coaches in the NBA actually liked offense.

“That,’’ said Boston coach Doc Rivers, “was a terrific game.’’ Yes, it was, and the Celtics fans among the gathering of 18,624 at TD Garden would have gotten their money’s worth even if their team hadn’t pulled it out by the overtime score of 115-111.

That was 115-111. I had to put that down again. You don’t get many chances to see an old-fashioned final score like that in this tightly controlled, play-not-to-lose league.

Let’s get one thing straight: There was plenty of human frailty on display. The mind’s eye told you the Knicks had positively sliced and diced the Celtics in the first half, shooting 56 percent from the floor thanks to an endless stream of layups and dunks against a porous Boston defense. But New York only came out of it leading by 5, 56-51, thanks to 14 turnovers. For long stretches it seemed as if on every possession the Knicks did one of two things. They either scored or threw it away.

But the volatility of this game had been established early on when the teams exchanged 12-0 runs in the first quarter. It was a game of ceaseless action, not all of it pretty. There were back-to-back turnovers on four occasions in the second quarter. But in contrast to the 21st-century NBA norm, at least both teams were trying to initiate offense, and for that alone this game was refreshing.

As for Rondo’s performance, what man better to assess such a stratospheric triple-double than the one who helped foster the very concept in the first place?

“That kid,’’ said Larry Bird, a spellbound televiewer, “is unbelievable. I got a text during the game from someone who works for us and he said, ‘How in the hell can they think about trading him?’ How much better can you play? You can’t. I know I’d take that stat line any day of the week.’’

Most guys would, I presume. But despite Rondo’s gargantuan numbers, a 29-9 run to open up the third quarter, and some of the other good stuff the Celtics managed to accomplish, they were still trailing by 3 with 4.9 seconds to go after Steve Novak made two free throws. Then Pierce, who had missed a tough fadeaway while down 1 (101-100) with 19.9 seconds remaining, nailed an even tougher shot, a pretty much straightaway 3-pointer on which he was, well, ridiculously off balance. Of course, that kind of thing is in a great player’s job description.

“I don’t know if that’s execution,’’ said Knicks mentor Mike D’Antoni. “That’s having a horseshoe up your rear. That’s what Paul Pierce does, though.’’

Had that clanged, and had the Knicks pulled this one out in regulation, the hosannas would have been for Carmelo Anthony, who scored 6 straight from the point of a 98-95 Celtics lead with 1:51 to go, and for, yup, Jeremy Lin, who came to life at the tail end of a foul-and-turnover-plagued afternoon to score 6 straight points and set up Amar’e Stoudemire for a pair of free throws as New York moved from 92-87 in arrears to trail only 96-95 after a Lin corner three.

Reality is setting in for Mr. Lin, who now encounters defenses geared to make him go left as often as possible and who sometimes throws himself into some tough on-court situations resulting in about an 80-percent turnover probability. But his quickness and overall derring-do have energized the Knicks, and if this game is an example, there will be no problem meshing his game with Anthony’s.

D’Antoni managed to avoid the dreaded phrase, “work in progress,’’ but that does spell out what Lin and the Knicks are going through in their new personnel configuration. “The thing about Jeremy is he’s going to make some mistakes,’’ D’Antoni said. “He’s got a learning curve. There’s no way you can throw him in there first time and expect it to be perfect. But he finds a way to be very positive in the end of games.’’

The Celtics were pretty positive themselves in an overtime punctuated by a Ray Allen 3-pointer and then an Allen layup (both assisted by Rondo) that made it 110-105 and created the cushion to make this fourth straight W possible.

Rivers admitted that entering this game he did have the big picture very much in mind, given that the Knicks came in just one game behind his team in the loss column. But the big picture was not on any spectator’s mind when it was over.

You always come to the arena hoping to see a great game, one worth your time, money, and emotional investment, and you are so often disappointed.

Not this time.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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