BOSTON — Doc Rivers met with his team after Friday’s shootaround to make sure everyone knew his role. Rajon Rondo’s was simple: Spread the ball around.
The Celtics point guard immediately put the lesson into practice.
Rondo had a triple-double with a career-high 24 assists on Friday night to lead Boston to a 105-101 victory over the New York Knicks. It was second-most in franchise history and the most since Bob Cousy had 28 in 1959.
“It means a lot, but I’ll try and catch him,” Rondo said of being on a list with the Hall of Famer. “(It’s) all about the teammates. If they don’t make the shots, we don’t get team assists.”
Rondo had 10 points and 10 rebounds and topped his regular-season best of 18 assists set against Sacramento in March; he also had two playoff games with 19.
“If you’re not ready, he’ll embarrass you. He’ll hit you right in the head with the ball,” said Kevin Garnett, who scored 24 points with 10 rebounds. “He’ll see something you didn’t see, but he’ll make you see it.”
Rondo assisted on eight of Garnett’s 12 baskets and six of the seven by Glen Davis. He had four assists to Paul Pierce, three to Ray Allen, two to Shaquille O’Neal and one to Marquis Daniels. The only players who scored and didn’t get an assist from Rondo were Rondo himself and his backup, Nate Robinson.
“He pretty much got everyone involved,” said Pierce, who scored 25 points with 14 rebounds. “He got the popcorn man involved. He got the announcers involved. Everybody. It was beautiful to watch.”
Amare’ Stoudemire scored 27 for the Knicks, reserve Wilson Chandler had 19 and Raymond Felton scored 17. Landry Fields had 11 points and 10 rebounds in New York’s first loss after winning its opener on Wednesday.
And Rondo was the reason.
“He is one of the best point guards, no doubt,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said.
Boston led most of the game before Stoudemire converted a three-point play with 37 seconds left to make it 102-98. After Pierce hit one of two free throws — his first point of the quarter — Stoudemire hit a long 3-pointer to cut it to 103-101 with 18 seconds left.
But Pierce hit both free throws this time. Chandler had another 3-point attempt that would have cut it to one point, but he missed with about 13 seconds left.
“I probably rushed it a little bit,” he said. “I probably could have gotten a better shot.”
Davis had 16 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench before fouling out with 2:33 left in the game. Shaquille O’Neal had 10 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes; he left with a bruised right knee but said it was not serious.
With the much-hyped opener against LeBron James and the Miami Heat behind them, the Celtics got back to the long grind of the NBA regular season.
The crowd had come down from the excitement of the opener, which Boston won 88-80 (before losing the next night in Cleveland to the team James jilted). The signs mocking Miami were gone, along with the celebrities in the five-figure courtside seats.
So was the intensity on the court.
The Celtics were sluggish at the start and had 10 turnovers at the half (giving them 50 in their first 10 quarters). Boston trailed 15-6 before scoring 12 of the next 13 points.
Boston led 76-69 late in the third quarter when Toney Douglas hit a 3-pointer to pull the Knicks within four. But Pierce answered with a 3-pointer of his own.
Allen opened the fourth with a basket, on an assist from Rondo, and Rondo set Davis up for a three-point play that gave the Celtics an 84-72 lead. The Knicks didn’t get within seven points until the final 37 seconds.
Notes: Jermaine O’Neal was scratched with a sore left knee. … Celtics coach Doc Rivers confirmed before the game that backup guards Von Wafer and Delonte West had a fight after the morning shootaround. Rivers said the team would handle it internally. … Rondo was honored before the game for making the all-defensive team and for leading the NBA with 189 steals last year. … Allen reached the 21,000-point milestone in the second quarter.