Rapid Reaction: Celtics 102, Knicks 96

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

New York City traffic: Celtics captain Paul Pierce looks to dish against the Knicks.NEW YORK -- Rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics defeated the New York Knicks 102-96 on Monday night at Madison Square Garden:


Paul Pierce overcame foul trouble to do what he does best -- thrive inside Madison Square Garden -- as Boston's captain scored a team-high 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting with six assists and three rebounds. Kevin Garnett added 18 points and nine rebounds, but the Celtics -- without Rajon Rondo after he was suspended for Monday's game for bumping an official -- got contributions from all over their roster. Avery Bradley overcame early shooting woes to chip in 13 points on 6-of-13 shooting (with five assists), while Jeff Green pounced each time he saw Steve Novak in front of him (16 points on 5-of-10 shooting). Jared Sullinger continues to do non-rookie things (10 points, 5 rebounds, team-best +9 in plus/minus) and Leandro Barbosa (3-of-3 shooting, 8 points) provided a little first-half spark. JR Smith scored a game-high 24 points on 7-of-17 shooting, while Carmelo Anthony had 20 points on 6-of-25 shooting to pace the Knicks.


After giving up a 35-point second frame, the Celtics limited the Knicks to 16 third-quarter points. New York was a mere 6-of-17 overall and missed all three 3-pointers it put up. Boston owned a four-point lead going to the fourth quarter, where it doubled its lead before a back-and-forth battle developed. Boston didn't just hit big shots, it had different players step up in key situations. Pierce inserted the dagger with a tough little step-back 21-foot jumper over Tyson Chandler for a six-point lead with 45 seconds to play.


Pierce saves some of his most inspired play for MSG, but two fouls over the first 4:33 left him frustrated on the bench (and he picked up his first technical of the season for his complaints). Boston's captain didn't return until two minutes into the second quarter, but made up for lost time by scoring 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the frame to help Boston hang around (and trail by just three at halftime). Pierce picked up his fourth foul three minutes into the third quarter and again got banished to the pine. It only seemed to add fuel to his fire when he returned.


Garnett had Boston's only points over the first seven minutes of the game. Ninety seconds after he came out of the game, the Celtics were staring at a double-digit deficit. Riding a second-unit lineup spearheaded by Barbosa and Green, Boston rallied for a one-point edge after the first frame. The Knicks responded by hitting 8-of-11 3-pointers in the second quarter, pushing their lead back as high as nine, but the Celtics leaned on Pierce to keep it a one-possession game at halftime.


Garnett and Anthony got tagged with double technicals after some early fourth-quarter jawing during a dead-ball situation. The two continued to bark at each other before referee Tony Brothers gave a little verbal warning to knock it off. Celtics coach Doc Rivers was incredulous later when Melo took a little post-whistle swipe at the ball in Garnett's hands, thinking it should have been another tech. Just wait until the two are teammates at the All-Star game in Houston next month.


The Celtics have now won three straight, matching their longest winning streak of the season (Nov. 10-14). But it's the quality and variety of wins that stands out in this stretch. Boston did it with defense against Indiana; rallied back from a 19-point hole in Atlanta; and grinded it out versus the Knicks while asserting that the Atlantic Division still goes through Boston. That's three Eastern Conference playoff teams and the Celtics found a way to top them all -- the common thread being a renewed commitment on the defensive end. The Celtics will take a day off before kicking off a five-game homestand with a visit from the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night at TD Garden.