"I wouldn't want to go through it again, but that's exactly what our team needed," Stevens said after the Celtics blew a 17-point second-quarter lead but then rallied from 11 down in the fourth to pull out a 90-86 win. "We needed to have a lead, lose it, be backed up against the wall and figure out a way to win."
The Celtics, down 79-68 with 10:32 left Friday, held the Knicks to just two field goals in the final 7:16. They ran off 10 points in 1:48 to climb right back in the game and took the lead for good on guard Avery Bradley's 3-pointer from the right corner with 2:38 left.
The New York offense, which looked good much of the night, fell into watching forward Carmelo Anthony make his own offense down the stretch -- and again it failed. Anthony, guarded by forward Jeff Green, went 1-for-8 as a 13-point fourth quarter dropped the Knicks to 6-16.
The first-place Celtics, who weren't supposed to be this competitive in this rebuilding season, are 7-4 in their last 11 games to improve to 11-14.
Forward/center Jared Sullinger led the Celtics with 19 points, but 17 came in the first half and he didn't play down the stretch. Guard Courtney Lee came off the bench with a season-high 18 points (6-for-8 from the floor, 3-for-3 from 3-point range), Bradley had 13 points and forward Brandon Bass 10 points and eight rebounds. Backup center Vitor Faverani scored five points in what turned out to be a 22-7 finish.
Guard Jordan Crawford (0-for-8 from the floor) and Green, who combined for 39 points last Sunday, totaled just 10 in the rematch. But Green hit two big shots and played strong defense down the stretch.
"That's the only way I could be in the game at that point," Green said of his defense. "Offensively I played like poop. So I had to find a way to allow Coach to put me on the floor."
Anthony, 9-for-24 from the floor overall, led New York with 26 points, forward Andrea Bargnani had 22 and forward Amar'e Stoudemire, who is starting to look more like his old self, came off the bench with a season-high 18 points (in a season-high 30 minutes).
The rest of the Knicks' bench had just four points, while the Celtics, whose bench was outscored 34-4 by the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night, had 38 points. It was led by Lee, who started his night by banking home a 3-pointer as the shot clock ran out -- and then giving it the Michael Jordan palms up in the air in wonder.
Veteran forward Kenyon Martin, who didn't play last Sunday because of a shoulder injury but played Wednesday night, had eight points and seven rebounds Friday. However, he left in the fourth quarter with an abdominal strain.
"Sometimes, when it, the old saying goes, when it rains it pours," Martin said. "But we just gotta keep our heads up."
Last Sunday in New York, the Celtics jumped to an 18-1 lead that became 38-11 after the first quarter. In this game, New York led late in the first quarter before the Celtics went on a 21-2 run to establish control. Control that they would lose before getting back.
NOTES: Knicks G J.R. Smith, normally a shooting machine, was 0-for-1 from the floor in over 26 minutes. "I don't know what that's about," coach Mike Woodson said of the non-shooting by a shooter, who in turn said he wanted to distribute the ball. ... New York G Pablo Prigioni, who had played 362 minutes coming in, was awarded (and made) his first two free throws of the season in the first quarter. ... Celtics rookie C/F Kelly Olynyk returned after missing 10 games with a right ankle sprain, playing 14:20 with four points, four rebounds and a resounding block. ...Celtics F Kris Humphries missed his second straight game with a knee injury. ... Knicks G Iman Shumpert, who missed a game with a bruised knee, was back, but was 1-for-8 from the floor. ... PG Raymond Felton is expected to miss three weeks with a hamstring injury, putting Prigioni in the starting lineup. ... The Knicks host the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night and the Celtics are off until they face the Minnesota Timberwolves at home on Monday night.