Paul Pierce thought it was good. So did the fans who roared in celebration at what appeared to be the victory that would punctuate the New York Knicks’ return to relevance.
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Ray Allen knew otherwise, and so did the referees.
Amare Stoudemire’s 3-pointer came just after the final buzzer, giving the Boston Celtics a thrilling 118-116 victory Wednesday night and their 11th straight win.
"It was great basketball. It was a great Eastside barnyard knockdown, backyard scuffle, if you will," Boston’s Kevin Garnett said. "Good basketball, though."
Pierce made a tiebreaking jumper with 0.4 seconds left to win it. The Knicks’ eight-game winning streak is over, but a dormant rivalry might be back.
"We definitely earned our respect," Stoudemire said. "I guarantee you right now Boston respects us. We’re no slouch. We’re ready to play every night. Boston knows it."
Pierce’s late jumper proved to be enough for the Celetics after a video replay of Stoudemire’s shot showed the ball was clearly still in his hands as time expired.
"The Knicks are playing great basketball, can’t take anything away from them, and I actually thought Amare’s shot counted," Pierce said. "I would have been stunned there for a minute, especially after all the theatrics, so I’m glad we got the win."
Pierce scored 32 points for the Celtics, who trailed most of the night before running their record to 20-4, best in the Eastern Conference.
Stoudemire tied a season high with 39 points, extending his franchise-record streak to nine straight 30-point games. But the Knicks were denied the victory they crave over a top team.
They get another chance Friday, when LeBron James and the Miami Heat come to Madison Square Garden.
Allen scored 26 points and Garnett had 20 points and 13 rebounds for the Celtics, enjoying their fifth winning streak of 10 games or more since their Big Three came together before the 2007-08 season.
Raymond Felton had 26 points and 14 assists, Danilo Gallinari scored 20 points and Wilson Chandler had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks, who lost for just the second time in their last 15 games.
Most of those victories came during a soft part of the schedule, leaving the Knicks needing a victory over an established NBA power to prove doubters they were back, despite their 16-10 record.
The Celtics just wouldn’t let it happen.
Stoudemire’s dunk snapped a 94-all tie with 8:05 left, and the Knicks stayed ahead until Garnett made two free throws with 1:29 remaining. Felton was late getting back after landing hard on a missed drive and the Celtics swung the ball around to Allen, whose 3-pointer gave Boston a 116-113 lead with 1:02 to play.
Gallinari answered with a three-point play and the Knicks got the ball back after the Celtics threw it away trying to find Allen, but Stoudemire’s shot from the lane rolled out.
Pierce ran the clock down and created enough space to make his shot over Stoudemire, who had picked him up on a switch. After a timeout, the Knicks inbounded the ball to Stoudemire behind the arc, and the Madison Square Garden crowd that was standing for most of the final minutes roared when his shot went through.
But the referees had ruled it came too late, and with the Celtics standing behind them as they watched it again on video, they saw their judgment was correct.
"When I seen that shot, it was like he went to a natural shooting rhythm and just seemed like he took a little bit more time," Allen said. "And that goes back to our possession when P hit the shot, taking as much time off the clock that we could, because imagine if they had .8 on the clock or .9 on the clock, that would have been a different story."
The Knicks were seeking their first nine-game winning streak since winning 15 in a row from March 1-April 2, 1994. But the Celtics, showing their huge advantage in late-game experience, scored 67 points in the second half.
"Very disappointing," Chandler said. "We had the game all the way until the last minutes of the game. We got to give our hats off to them because they’re a veteran team. They’ve done it in and out, won championships."
With the Knicks off to their best start since the mid-1990s, this one had a big-game feel that’s been missing at Madison Square Garden – especially when Spike Lee danced out onto the floor at halftime and slapped five with fellow front-row fans after Felton banked in a running 3-pointer just in front of them to give the Knicks a 58-51 lead.
Stoudemire had to work hard to extend his streak in Sunday’s 129-125 victory over Denver, but this one came easily. He was more than halfway there by the time the first quarter was over, and surpassed 30 points in the final minute of the third.
With Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal both on the bench with injuries, the Celtics used Turkish rookie Semih Erden and then Glen "Big Baby" Davis on Stoudemire, and neither could contain him. Stoudemire was 7 of 10 for 17 points in the first quarter, Chandler scored 10, and the Knicks led 32-24.
Gallinari was 0 for 10 from the field in his first six quarters against Boston this season, then broke out with a huge third quarter. He scored 11 in the period, highlighted by a driving reverse dunk, and the Knicks led 90-83 after Felton made all three free throws when Pierce inexplicably fouled him with 0.1 seconds left.
Notes: Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was helped off with an ankle injury in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. He later returned and finished the game, but Pierce didn’t think Rondo would be available Thursday against Atlanta. … Doc Rivers got his 300th victory as Celtics coach, improving to 300-216 in his six seasons with Boston. He’s fourth on their wins list and needs eight to tie K.C. Jones for third. … Stoudemire’s streak is the longest in one season since Kobe Bryant had nine 30-point games in a row at the end of the 2005-06 season. … Donald Trump did MSG Network’s Q & A segment at halftime and didn’t rule out a run for president in 2012 or competing on Dancing With The Stars.