All you could say after this one was, thank God for the All-Star break. Both teams played like they were already there.
In a full moon's worth of activity, the Celtics' 27-point, third-quarter lead was whittled to 7, and two players went down with injuries, but they managed to revive themselves in time to go into the break with a 111-103 victory over the Knicks. It was their fifth straight win, and they are an NBA-best 41-9, and utterly thrilled to have to wait until Tuesday for win No. 42.
"We need a break," coach Doc Rivers said. "I think a lot of teams need a break. But we need a break desperately."
Don't look for win No. 41 to be featured on the Greatest Hits DVD of 2007-08. Brian Scalabrine and Glen Davis were hurt, the former with a strained right groin and the latter with what the team said was a strained left quadriceps. But Davis left the building on crutches and was in pain.
The officials whistled 50 fouls, good for 66 free throws, with Jamal Crawford getting fouled three times while attempting 3-pointers.
There was a jump ball called off a missed free throw lane violation, an ejection for Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, who gave Rivers a hug before leaving, and the surrendering of 103 points by the Celtics, only the eighth time all season they've allowed triple figures. (It won't be a restful night for Tom Thibodeau.)
Oh, and did we mention that Ray Allen found out at halftime that he was going to the All-Star Game?
"It was a difficult game at times," said Allen, who had 21 points. "There were guys playing out of position, different lineups, different situations, and then you had the All-Star break hanging over everything. At some point, human nature is going to kick in and you're going to play like you're already on break. You have to fight that."
The Celtics pretty much had their way with the Knicks over the middle two quarters, especially the second, where they outscored them by 16, shooting 73.3 percent and taking a 13-point lead at intermission. The lead swelled to the aforementioned 27 midway through the third quarter and it looked to one and all that this could be a lot like the Nov. 29 massacre, which the Celtics won by a mere 45 points.
In all three meetings against the Knicks this season, the Celtics have had leads of at least 20 points and have made New York look like a defensive disaster, darting for uncontested layups and knocking down wide-open jumpers. That was the case for 2 1/2 quarters last night as well.
But the Knicks showed some heretofore absent resiliency and got the deficit back to 13 at quarter's end, led by Crawford (26 points) and David Lee (18). Then, in the fourth, Thomas picked up two technicals within 78 seconds, the second coming while he and Rivers were both at halfcourt with 10:17 to play.
Rivers didn't know what to do. "I was stuck," he said. "It was a first for me. I didn't want to embarrass Isiah. I didn't want to embarrass Mark [Lindsay, the referee]. But Isiah didn't say enough to get ejected, I can tell you that."
The two hugged and Thomas left to a predictable chorus of boos. It was his second ejection of the season.
The Knicks had trimmed the deficit to 11 when Thomas was tossed and soon moved it into single figures. A Lee free throw with 6:58 to play brought the Knicks within 97-90. Then, on the second free throw, a miss, referee Dick Bavetta called a lane violation, resulting in a jump ball. Leon Powe (18 points, eight rebounds) got the tip, and the Celtics pretty much settled things by scoring 8 straight points, the first 4 from Paul Pierce (24 points, 7 assists, 6 turnovers, 5 rebounds) and the last 4 from Rajon Rondo (18 points, 5 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocked shots).
That run gave the Celtics a 15-point lead with 3:56 to play and then Rivers hoped that no one else would get hurt or foul out.
Three Celtics ended up playing 40 or more minutes - Pierce, Allen, and James Posey. Powe played a season-high 38 minutes. As Rivers put it, "We were a Leon away from a lot of trouble. Really, I mean, we told him, 'Don't foul, don't move. We need you to stay on the floor.' " Powe complied; he played all of the second half.
"We'll take the win," Rivers said. "I was not happy - I thought we kind of let our guard down, clearly, in the second half, where we could've put the game away in that one little stretch and we didn't.
"So, we won the game. I'm extremely happy about that. Again, with all the injuries and guys playing different spots, I don't know if you can ask much more."
Peter May can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.