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Letdown for the Celtics

NEW YORK -- When asked his opinion of the Knicks before last night's game, Jim O'Brien talked in coachspeak. Or so it seemed. He mentioned how New York had struggled with "some hard luck with some close basketball games." He commented that in many cases the Knicks were playing "good enough to win against good basketball teams." There was a 1-point loss to Indiana, a 5-point loss to the Nets. The Celtics coach believed the Knicks were one confidence-building win from getting on "good footing." And they desperately wanted that win after four straight losses.

The Knicks (3-7) were due for a win like the one they earned last night at Madison Square Garden, coming back from a 17-point deficit to claim an 89-86 victory over the Celtics. New York snapped an eight-game skid against Boston. Listening to O'Brien, it was almost as if Boston (5-5) saw it coming. The Celtics certainly couldn't miss signs in the second half that strongly hinted it was the Knicks' night.

It certainly wasn't Paul Pierce's night, as the Boston captain attempted a 3-pointer with 7 seconds remaining that could have given his team back the lead it held for most of the game. The Boston bench watched anxiously as the ball went in and out. Then Pierce (17 points on 6-for-20 shooting) fouled to put Michael Doleac on the line with 5.4 seconds left, allowing one of New York's second-half saviors to seal the game. Pierce attempted a desperation 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left, but it fell short.

"That's a tough loss to swallow," said Pierce. "I told [my teammates] this is a team that could easily be a .500 team. They've lost a lot of close ballgames. They're not going to lay down. They're going to get in and fight in the third quarter. We let them jump all over us [in the second half], get offensive rebounds, get second and third opportunities, and it cost us the game. We didn't come out with the same hunger in the second half that we had in the first half."

The Celtics shot 29 percent (10 for 34) in the second half. Boston was outrebounded, 36-16, as New York grabbed 15 offensive rebounds. As a result, the Knicks scored 12 second-chance points. New York shot just 39 percent from the field, but Howard Eisley and others moved the ball well enough to record 14 assists. More than half those assists came during the 25-10 run the Knicks staged during the third. The Celtics posted just five assists in the second half, after racking up 17 in the first half.

"The way we played in the second half is the way we're going to need to play all the time," said New York's Allan Houston. "We have to realize that we need to get in the habit of doing that. We took care of the ball better and our defense was solid. We made the right plays at the end of the game."

Entering halftime behind, 54-38, the Knicks were booed off the court by the 17,128 fans. But it took a little less than eight minutes for the Knicks to play themselves back into the game. They opened the third with the 25-10 run that featured a barrage of 3-pointers from Keith Van Horn (3), Houston (1), and Eisley (1). Van Horn collected 13 of his 21 points in the third quarter.

The Celtics failed to contain dribble penetration, while the Knicks moved the ball to find open players on the perimeter. With 4 minutes 10 seconds left in the third, Van Horn capped the spurt with a 3-ponter that brought New York within a point, 64-63. Boston built its advantage back to 9, but New York again came back.

Michael Doleac hit a 10-footer with 7:05 remaining in the fourth to produce the first tie (76-76) of the second half. Then, Van Horn found Houston for a 16-footer with 3:45 left that gave the Knicks their first lead since the opening minutes of the game. The Celtics took the lead for the last time on a pair of Pierce free throws. With 2:13 to go, a costly turnover by Pierce (traveling) led to a 14-footer by Doleac that pushed New York ahead for good. After misses by both sides, Pierce did have a shot to play the hero, but his quick 3-pointer didn't fall. With Pierce having an off night on offense, Vin Baker (20 points, 8 rebounds) led the Celtics in scoring for the fourth time this season.

The ending was doubly disappointing considering how the Celtics dominated the first half. Although they shot only 43 percent, they moved the ball well enough, defended well enough, and rebounded well enough (28-17 advantage) to finish the first quarter with a 10-0 run and a 28-18 lead. Boston stretched its advantage to 17 late in the second on a pair of Eric Williams free throws that capped an 8-2 spurt.

"It was a tale of two halves," said Williams (17 points). "We came in the first half and played very aggressive. It's not to say we didn't come out aggressive in the second half. They just came out a little bit more aggressive. That team played like they were desperate for a win. We knew they needed this win. They really played in the second half like they wanted to win the game and they went out there and proved it."

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  W L Pct. GB
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Boston 7 9 .438 1.0
New Jersey 7 9 .438 1.0
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Washington 6 10 .375 2.0
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