If this was the start of a genuine Knicks’ championship run, it started with defense. Turning up the heat in the second half, Mike Woodson’s Knicks suffocated the Celtics in the final two periods, picking off passes and holding them to 25 points in the second half and just 8 in the fourth quarter.
It amounted to an 85-78 victory at the delirious Garden as the Knicks took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series that resumes Tuesday.
Carmelo Anthony, after a cold stretch, hit enough big shots in the fourth quarter to finish with 36 points as the Knicks rallied from a 70-67 deficit after three.
Jason Kidd (3 steals) and Kenyon Martin played terrific defense as the Celtics committed 21 turnovers. Martin added 10 points and played with ferocity off the bench.
The Celtics shot 7 of 27 in the second half as it was one interception after another. Hounded by Raymond Felton, Paul Pierce (21 points) attempted a wayward pass that Anthony intercepted. Melo drove all the way in for a layup and 81-76 lead with 2:31 left.
Melo hit the game-sealing 20-foot jumper from the right wing with 1:21 left to give the Knicks an 83-76 bulge. Anthony shot 13 of 29 from the field. J.R. Smith added 15 points. The pitiful Boston bench was held to 4 points.
The Knicks survived despite two of their starters – center Tyson Chandler and Chris Copeland – going scoreless. Boston’s Jeff Green had a monster 20-point first half but petered out and finished with 26.
The Knicks closed to 70-67 after three quarters. The Celtics shot just 25 percent in the third quarter. The Knicks played with more energy than Boston early in the fourth, getting loose balls and offensive rebounds, with Kidd sparking it.
Smith made a huge play – a driving bucket over Kevin Garnett, drawing his fifth foul. He missed the free throw but the Knicks got up 78-74 with 5:44 left. Kidd made a big interception, leading to a Felton fastbreak. He got fouled on a layup, hit 1 of 2 for a 79-74 lead.
Green scored 20 points in the first half as the Celtics took a 53-49 halftime lead. Melo got off to a blazing 4 of 4 start in the opening 3:14 but cooled off considerably and made one bonehead defensive maneuver. He finished with 19 points but no assists.
The Knicks defense was lax overall in the half, twice letting point guard Avery Bradley cut to the basket for passes and layups during their second-quarter downfall.
Melo finished 6 of 15 in the half, missing 9 of his final 11 shots. After Melo missed a driving layup, he complained and was late getting back on defense as Green sank a buzzerbeating 3-pointer to give the Celtics a 29-26 lead after one.