Sometimes the most rewarding gift is the one that’s hardest to unwrap.
In a game that showcased both the best and worst of last year’s Knicks, Carmelo Anthony’s clutch Christmas heroics punctuated an afternoon at once nerve wracking and promising.
Anthony netted 17 of his 37 points in the final stanza, single-handedly matching Boston’s entire fourth quarter output and propelling the Knicks to a 106-104 victory — the team’s first over the Celtics since 2010.
Kevin Garnett (15 points, 8 rebounds) had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds, but missed a 15-foot contested jumper from the wing.
Amar’e Stoudemire chipped in 21 on 11 shots (including a pair of three pointers) to go along with six rebounds, two blocks, and two steels.
With the two long distance dial-ups, Stoudemire — who says he spent much of the summer extending his range from deep — needs just one more trifecta to equal last seasons’ output.
With a sore heal sidelining Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo picked up the slack for the visiting Celts, rendering the Knicks time and again a helpless Christmas turkey en route to 31 points, 13 assists, and five steals.
Brandon Bass — acquired from Orlando in a trade for Glen Davis two weeks ago — tallied 20 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench.
Toney Douglas added 19 points, four assists, and three steals for the Knicks, in a mixed bag performance defined more by the streaky guard’s inability to contain the hot-handed Rondo — particularly in transition. Still, Douglas finished the game with a +12, second only to Anthony’s +15.
In his first regular season game in the orange and blue, Tyson Chandler coupled a quiet seven points and three rebounds with six booming blocks and trademark interior defense that helped ignite a number of early fast breaks.
Rookie Iman Shumpert registered 11 (on 13 occasionally questionable shots) before leaving mid way through the third quarter with a sprained MCL. The injury is expected to sideline the Knicks’ first round draft pick for at least two weeks.
It was a tale of two halves for the Knicks, who led by as many as 17 midway through the second quarter before a late Boston flurry cut the lead to ten at the half.
Aided by a 35-17 third quarter blitz, the Celtics would eventually build their own double-digit lead, and it seemed for a moment that the old rivalry’s recent demons were doomed to haunt the Knicks anew.
That’s when Melo took over.
Echoing his heroic Game 2 performance from last year’s largely one-sided first round Playoff series, Anthony connected on four of five fourth quarter shots and seven of eight free throws — including the two go-ahead tallies in the final minute — erasing at least momentarily the bitter memory of last April’s disappointing exit, and giving the raucous Garden crowd a Yuletide gift they won’t soon forget.
Anthony’s deft touch (a TS% of 78% for those keeping score at home) — while by no means an expected harbinger — certainly bodes well for a team still searching for an offensive identity.
With injuries to Shumpert and Jarred Jeffries (a strained calf is expected to keep the newly re-signed Knick vet out 1-2 weeks) further denting an already shaky bench, it might not be the last time the Bockers beckon a Melo bailout in the coming days.
The Knicks begin a three game West Coast road trip Wednesday at Golden State.