Published January 13, 2015
No Rajon Rondo, no problem this time for the Boston Celtics.
Playing without their suspended All-Star point guard, the defending Atlantic Division champions received big efforts from their other established players to come through with a much-needed 102-96 victory over the rival New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Paul Pierce amassed 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting and Kevin Garnett added 19 points with 10 rebounds as Boston matched a season-high with its third consecutive victory.
Taking over ball-handling duties with Rondo forced to sit out after making contact with an official during Saturday's win at Atlanta, Avery Bradley delivered 13 points and five assists for the Celtics, who also got a lift from Jeff Green's 16 points off the bench.
Boston also shined on the defensive end, limiting the Knicks to a 40.8 percent success rate from the floor. Carmelo Anthony managed 20 points for New York, but made good on just 6-of-26 field goal attempts.
"They took us out of what we wanted to accomplish," said Knicks center Tyson Chandler. "They were physical on the ball, forced us into some tough shots."
J.R. Smith finished with 24 points and Chandler had 13 along with 17 rebounds in the loss, which halted the Atlantic-leading Knicks' two-game win streak.
New York clawed out of an 8-point hole early in the fourth quarter to tie the contest at 86-86 on a Jason Kidd triple with 6:41 left to play, but Pierce threw down a slam off a Jason Terry feed 38 seconds later and the Celtics would never trail thereafter, though the outcome remained in doubt up until the final moments.
Pierce buried another clutch shot, this one a 17-footer that gave Boston a 94-91 lead with 3:30 to go, and Garnett followed an Anthony miss with two good free throws to push the margin to five shortly afterward.
Smith drove and scored on New York's next possession, but Pierce found Bradley for a layup to put Boston in front by a 98-93 score with 1:55 on the final clock.
Pierce later delivered the back-breaking basket, a step-back jumper with Chandler in his face for a 100-94 Celtics' advantage with 45.5 seconds left.
"We know that [the Knicks] can put up a lot of points in a hurry, and I thought we did a good job of sustaining their attack," said Garnett.
Both Pierce and Anthony were saddled with early foul trouble, and each team struggled offensively in the opening quarter with its top scorer on the bench. New York shot just 36.8 percent for the period, while the Celtics went 6-of-16 from the field in owning a slim 22-21 edge.
The Knicks put together the first significant run of the game, an 11-2 spurt that began just past the midway stage of the second quarter, to take a 47-38 lead with four minutes remaining until halftime. An 8-2 Boston burst later on trimmed the deficit to two, and the Celtics headed into the break down 56-53 after Bradley made a short hook shot at the buzzer.
A tightly contested third quarter saw three lead changes within a span of 1:12 late in the frame, with Garnett accounting for the last with a turnaround jumper that put Boston up 69-68 with 2:03 to go. That basket began a string of seven straight Celtics points that increased the visitor's advantage to six.
Boston entered the fourth quarter ahead by a 76-72 count, then scored six of the first eight points of the session to make it an 82-74 game with 10 1/2 minutes remaining. New York countered with a 7-0 tear capped by Anthony's 3- pointer that pulled the Knicks within one with 8:52 showing.
Rondo will be eligible to return for Boston's home game against Phoenix on Wednesday ... The Celtics also won three in a row from Nov. 10-14 and improved to 19-4 in their last 23 meetings with New York, and they've gone 11-4 in their last 15 visits to Madison Square Garden ... The Knicks lost for only the fourth time in 18 outings against Eastern Conference opponents this season ... Anthony's 20 points marked his lowest total since scoring the same amount against Washington on Nov. 30. He had been averaging a league-best 34.4 points over his last 10 games.