NEW YORK — Carmelo Anthony scored 37 points, including a pair of free throws with the game tied and 16 seconds left, and the New York Knicks survived a seesaw season opener Sunday to beat the Boston Celtics 106-104.
Amare Stoudemire added 21 points and Toney Douglas had 19 for the Knicks, who led by 17 in the first half, trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter, then pulled out a thrilling Christmas victory in the delayed opener to the 2011-12 season.
Rajon Rondo had 31 points and 13 assists, nearly leading the Celtics back without an injured Paul Pierce. But Kevin Garnett missed a jumper just before the buzzer, the kind of shot Boston always seems to make against the Knicks.
Brandon Bass had 20 points and 11 rebounds in his Celtics debut, and Ray Allen added 20 points.
Garnett finished with 15 points. He and Allen had a sleepy Christmas start, with Rondo keeping the Celtics in the game until they got going in the second half.
But it wasn’t enough against the Knicks, who withstood a potentially serious knee injury to first-round pick Iman Shumpert to beat the team that swept them out of the first round of last season’s playoffs.
Pierce has a bruised right heel but hopes he can return Tuesday when the Celtics visit the Miami Heat.
Even without him, the Celtics fought back to tie it at 69 on Rondo’s layup midway through the third quarter. They surged ahead by eight going into the final period after Bass scored the final six points, then extended it to 89-79 on Bass’ jumper to open the fourth.
Anthony tied it at 100 on a 3-pointer with 3:25 to play, and it stayed tight until he was fouled on a drive with 16.3 seconds left, making both for a 106-104 lead. Rondo grabbed the rebound of Marquis Daniels’ potential go-ahead 3-pointer to give the Celtics a final chance, but Garnett was off on a jumper, then appeared to shove the Knicks’ Bill Walker away.
Coming off their first winning season in a decade, the Knicks added a defensive presence by signing Tyson Chandler away from the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks and have loftier expectations than they’ve seen in years. The original NBA schedule had them opening against Miami, but instead they got a chance to see if they’ve closed the gap against the team they hope to unseat atop their division.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers even compared the Knicks to the Lakers because of the length along their front line with Chandler in between Stoudemire and Anthony. Though the Celtics won all eight meetings last season, the Knicks have been listed some places as the favorites in the Atlantic Division, which the Celtics have ruled since their Big Three came together in 2007.
“It’s possible. Right now, anybody could win the division. Everybody knows how optimism kicks in before the season starts, but then once reality sets in after the first month of the season, we’ll see,” Pierce said before the game. “But it’s definitely a possibility. I mean, they have the talent, but we have the talent, too, So I can see that.”
D’Antoni was careful to keep the expectations low, saying the limited amount of practice time before the season started means it could be a few weeks before all the new players are used to each other. The Knicks won’t even have one, Baron Davis, for a while as he recovers from a herniated disc in his back.
Shumpert was expected to be a key until then, but he sprained a right knee ligament in the second half.
The Celtics are a changed team as well, with the retirement of Shaquille O’Neal and the season-ending loss of Jeff Green for surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. And they will face questions about how their veteran core can navigate the tight 66-game schedule.
But the acquisition of Bass from Orlando for Glen Davis paid immediate dividends, as he showed a nice midrange jumper when he wasn’t busy keeping balls alive on the glass.
The first game since renovations began at Madison Square Garden included the usual cast of celebrities such as Alicia Keys, Chris Rock and John McEnroe, and some new confusion, as at least one Celtics player had to ask how to get to the court from the new visitors’ locker room.
The Knicks led 34-23 after one and extended it to 49-32 with 7½ minutes left in the half on a pair of free throws by Chandler. But the Celtics shot 62 percent in the quarter, getting it back into single digits before New York took a 62-52 lead into halftime.
Notes: Rivers said Pierce may come off the bench when he does return, since he’s had only one practice so far. … The Knicks were without Mike Bibby, who dressed but didn’t play because of a sore back. Reserve Jared Jeffries was lost during the game to a sore right calf. … Stoudemire provided pregame breakfast to MSG staff in appreciation of the support in his first season with the team.