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Lonely road for Celtics in New York

NEW YORK -- We have vacillated between sorrow and rage since two rogue brothers took it upon themselves to rip a hole in the heart of our beloved city. For those who craved healing on Saturday afternoon, the friendly confines of Fenway provided a comforting haven, where there were tributes, a passionate (and R-rated) declaration from the team's returning slugger not to mess with our city, and a rare appearance from Neil Diamond crooning a signature song that has become the anthem of Red Sox Nation.

Just a few winding turns up the road on Storrow Drive, the Bruins unveiled a moving tribute to the law enforcement officials who risked their lives to restore order to our neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, 225 miles away, across the state border and deep into sports enemy territory, the Boston Celtics embarked on their playoff run at Madison Square Garden without most of their grieving fan base in tow.

Although the Sons of Doc Rivers wore patches on their uniforms proclaiming "Boston Stands As One," the civic pride that has been wafting over our city felt as though it was a continent away.

The Knicks were respectful, offered the appropriate condolences, then completely manhandled the Celtics during a hideous fourth quarter in which Boston scored just eight points.

And turned the ball over eight times.

Maybe the Celtics were fatigued. Maybe they're just old, like every prognosticator outside the 617 area code has hypothesized. Maybe the Knicks should be credited with a defensive intensity that was both timely and effective. All of the above might be a decent choice.

In any case, Boston collapsed, in unison, in an 85-78 loss that should be filed under the distinct heading "opportunity lost."

That's the only conclusion you can draw when you blow a seven-point lead late in the third quarter and wind up with 20 turnovers.

"Completely unacceptable," said Avery Bradley, in the quiet of his locker room. "We're better than that."

When you force Carmelo Anthony into 13-of-29 shooting and J.R. Smith into a 7-for-19 outing, and play aggressively enough to earn 19 free throws, and then hit every single one of them, you have every right to expect to beat the Knicks.

But you can't when your bench doesn't contribute a single field goal and is outscored 33-4. You can't when you cough up the ball five times in seven possessions during a critical stretch in the fourth quarter.

"Some of them were forced," noted Paul Pierce, "and some of them were just bonehead plays."

It wasn't the feel-good story the Celtics had in mind when they quietly and privately remembered their fellow fallen citizens back home just before tipoff.

"It's been a crazy few days," acknowledged Jason (0-for-5) Terry, whose brutal slump continues in earnest. "(The marathon bombing) is always in the back of your mind, but it had no effect on how we played today."

Give the Knicks their due, both on and off the court. New York arranged for a pregame acknowledgement of Boston's tragedy and invited both Carmelo and Pierce to address the crowd. After Anthony offered his prayers on behalf of his city, Pierce began to speak, and a small smattering of boos interrupted his cadence.

Almost immediately that small kernel of negativity was squelched by the overwhelming number of New Yorkers who applauded Pierce when he announced, "Boston will rise and run again."

There were all sorts of promising early trends for the Celtics. Boston led 29-26 after one, and while that pace would not, on the surface, benefit a defensive-minded team like Boston, which likes to keep its opponent under 100 points, the Celtics had already dished out eight assists and displayed excellent ball movement and hints of transition offense.

By halftime, Jeff Green had scored 20 points (his previous playoff career high was 16) and Bradley had scored 15. Melo, after starting out 4-for-4, proceeded to miss 12 of his next 14 shots.

J.R. Smith had lapsed into one of his let-me-show-you-how-it's-done-all-by-myself stretches, and the Celtics were up seven late in the third quarter.

But Green's chance to establish himself as a front-line, playoff go-to guy faded to black in the second half. Knicks coach Mike Woodson velcroed Anthony to Green and instructed his team to put the clamps on Green's transition attempts.

"Keep him out of the paint," explained Smith. "That's the big thing. Make him shoot contested jumpers."

The formula for beating the Celtics is just that. Because they are indisputably the worst offensive rebounding team on the planet, if you limit them to perimeter shots, they are going to be one-and-done on those chances. And, if they don't go in, Boston is in trouble.

Not pursuing offensive rebounds is one thing. But not closing out on the defensive glass, which Boston failed to do in that critical fourth quarter, was one of the most damning developments of the game.

With the game hanging in the balance, Woodson called upon 40-year-old Jason Kidd and 35-year-old Kenyon Martin (why was it the Celtics didn't want him again?), who siphoned Tyson Chandler's minutes with his high-energy effort that included a key putback in the fourth quarter.

Boston's less-experienced bench simply could not match New York's veteran presence, savvy or toughness.

The game was lost on sequences like the one with 4:50 to play, when Green, standing at the 3-point line, tossed a casual pass across the top of the foul circle that was immediately deflected by Kidd, who dove after it, then fired it up the floor to Raymond Felton on the break.

At the time, it was a four-point game (78-74 Knicks). At the time, Green had coughed up the ball on the previous possession, too, when, driving to the hole, he looked around for help, indecisively continued ... and was called for a walk.

"I have to be more aggressive," Green conceded.

He's not alone. The Celtics need to get Kevin Garnett more than 12 shots. They need to see if Jordan Crawford (0 shots) can pump some life into the second unit. They need to take care of the basketball.

The Knicks were hardly thumping their chests in the wake of the win. As Carmelo admitted, "We haven't really done nothing."

That's not entirely true. Had the Celtics stolen Game 1 on the heels of a truly surreal and sickening week, it would have done two things: generated some serious momentum for a Boston team that is in the unfamiliar role of underdog, and more importantly, ratcheted up the heat on a Knicks team under tremendous pressure to advance beyond its longtime rivals.

That opportunity is lost. Game 2 presents a new chance to gain the split every road team covets.

There will be no flags waving or Jumbotron tributes blaring to spur Boston on in that game, either.

If the Celtics plan to prove they can Stand As One at Madison Square Garden, they're going to have to do it all by themselves.