This one may have been more rewarding for Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
"I wouldn't want to go through it again, but that's exactly what our team needed," the first-year NBA coach said on Friday night after Boston blew a 17-point lead and then came back to beat the Knicks 90-86. "We needed to have a lead, lose it, be backed up against the wall and figure out a way to win."
Avery Bradley scored seven of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, hitting a 3-pointer with 2:38 to play to give the Celtics the lead for good. Jared Sullinger had 19 points and six rebounds, all but one basket in the first half when the Celtics opened a 17-point lead, and Courtney Lee scored 18 points to help Boston snap a two-game losing streak and hold onto first place in the woeful Atlantic Division.
Carmelo Anthony scored 26 points and Andrea Bargnani had 22 for the Knicks. But Anthony missed a jumper that could have tied it after Bradley gave Boston the lead, and then he was blocked by Jeff Green with a minute to play.
"Carmelo got going like Carmelo can get going, and it didn't really matter who was guarding him," Stevens said. "But Jeff went to a different level in the last eight minutes. And that was encouraging to see, because I really thought he did a great job."
Kenyon Martin had eight points and seven rebounds before leaving struggling to the bench in pain with about 9 minutes left with an abdominal injury. He did not return.
Other than Amar'e Stoudemire, who scored 18, the Knicks bench totaled four points as they lost for the third time in four games and their 12th in their last 15.
"Our bench guys, they've got to feel good about coming into the game and playing and producing," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "Our bench is just as important as the guys who start the game. They've got to understand that and be ready when they come in."
The victory came five days after the Celtics led the Knicks by as many as 45 points in New York in a 114-73 victory that was the biggest blowout in the NBA this season. This one seemed headed the same way when Boston went on a 21-2 run at the end of the first quarter and start of the second to open a 17-point lead, but the Knicks chipped it down to six at the half and then tied it at 59 with 7:15 left in the third on Iman Shumpert's 3-pointer.
The Knicks had an 11-point lead before Boston scored 10 in a row, getting 3-pointers from Vitor Faverani and Bradley to make it a one-point game. New York led 84-81 when Brandon Bass, who had 10 points and eight rebounds, made a basket and then Jordan Crawford hit Bradley for a 3-pointer that put Boston ahead with 2:38 to play.
After trading misses, Crawford found Faverani underneath to make it 88-84, and Green blocked Anthony with 1 minute to play. Bargnani hit a jumper from the foul line to make it a two-point game, but Green drove to the basket on J.R. Smith and made a right-handed layup from the left side of the basket as Stoudemire unsuccessfully flailed at the ball.
Green missed the free throw, but Anthony missed an off-balance 3-pointer at the other end with 4 seconds left and Bradley grabbed the rebound.
"You have to realize you're away, on the road and these teams aren't going to give up," Smith said. "This team is No. 1 in our division for a reason."
Boston first-round draft pick Kelly Olynyk returned after missing 10 games with an ankle injury. He had four points and four rebounds in 14 minutes, and also one highlight blocked shot... NY PG Raymond Felton missed his second straight game with a strained left hamstring that is expected to keep him out two to three weeks. Shumpert, who is nursing a bruised left knee, played 23 minutes and scored three points.