Rapid Reaction: Knicks 106, Celtics 104

NEW YORK -- Rapid reaction after the Celtics lost, 106-104, to the Knicks on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

CelticsKnicks* HOW THE GAME WAS LOST: The inability to stop Carmelo Anthony, who finished with 37 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter and 8 in the final three minutes, including the game-deciding free throws with 16.3 seconds left. The Celtics had two good looks to win (Marquis Daniels missed a wide-open three) or tie (Kevin Garnett bricked a wide-open 15 footer) in the closing seconds.

* TURNING POINT: Early in the fourth quarter, the Celtics were in control, having erased a 17-point deficit to take a 10-point lead early in the final quarter. But a prolonged drought allowed Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire to get going again and the Celtics struggled over the final six minutes, getting only four baskets.

* STAT OF THE GAME: 65. As in the combined free throws by both teams, which slowed the game down and dragged it to nearly three hours. The Celtics themselves attempted 15 free throws in the first quarter alone and it was via the freebie that the Celtics managed to stay reasonably close until their offense got going.

* UNSUNG HERO: Brandon Bass. As in, “Baby Who?” Wow, what a debut for the former Magic man. Bass and Rajon Rondo helped keep the Celtics afloat in an otherwise underwhelming first half -- and then the newcomer, along with Rondo and Ray Allen, took over in the third quarter. After three quarters, he already had a double-double (18-10) which, by game’s end, had grown to 20-11.

* WHAT IT MEANS: With no Paul Pierce? Not a lot. Nonetheless, this represents the first opening season loss in the new Big Three era. The acquisition of Tyson Chandler was supposed to shore up New York’s porous defense -- and that was all the pre-game talk coming from the Knicks. Chandler did contribute 6 blocked shots, but the Celtics, after a slow start, still managed to shoot 51.3 percent, scored 104 points, and even outrebounded them, 41-31.

* WHAT’S NEXT: After Christmas featured a rematch of the first-round playoffs last year, Tuesday is a rematch of the second round, with a visit to Miami against the Heat. The Celtics were 0-3 in Miami in the playoffs last season. Both teams played on the road on Christmas; Miami will travel home after opening their season in Dallas. The Celtics don’t know yet if Pierce will be able to play, but the sooner the better.