1. Acrimony Dimmed, Melo Finds Winning Range
BOSTON -- It seems it can be hard to work up much venom when you're missing so much of your mojo.
Thursday's New York Knicks-Boston Celtics match swelled in intrigue after the unusual but delicious events two weeks ago at Madison Square Garden. There was physical play, some apparently original and mind-messing trash talk from Kevin Garnett that sent Carmelo Anthony into a bizarre passive-aggressive rage, and juicy gossip about said trash talk that set Facebook and Twitter ablaze.
But what was this? A staid, almost mellow Beantown crowd that appeared to treat Anthony with more respect than angst. An almost eerie lack of on-court chatter, at least according to a couple of Knicks players. And, gasp, Anthony actually helping Garnett up off the floor after he fell down.
"There's no grudges between myself and KG," Anthony said. "He fell, and I helped him up."
No one knew exactly what to expect, but an outbreak of politeness and a tepid home crowd were not on the menu. Other than a few benign shoves between Garnett and Tyson Chandler in the midst of the fourth quarter and a handful of rogue heckles referencing Garnett's supposed infamous insult, there was nothing extraordinary.
"I was expecting it to be a hostile environment," Anthony said. "It was kind of quiet."
Said Amar'e Stoudemire: "I was thinking the crowd was going to be a little more rude."
This could be either the city of Boston rejecting hundreds of years of reputation or -- and this is much more likely -- a fan base and a Celtics team that had bigger worries than meting out retribution for a guy who stood half-menacingly in a loading dock surrounded by a dozen security guards as Anthony did back on Jan. 7.
The Celtics ended up with their fifth consecutive loss when the Knicks scored their best win in three weeks to take an 89-86 victory. It snapped New York's 11-game losing streak in Boston -- dating to 2006, prior to the arrivals of Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo -- and injected some life into a Knicks team that is suddenly feeling good about its prospects again.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers went off the reservation earlier this week after a loss in Detroit, threatening to hand out one-way tickets out of town if a few of his players didn't get their acts together. It was so emotional that team president Danny Ainge had to walk back Rivers' comments the next day, starting out with the word "realistically" and then pretty much denying everything Rivers had said in a combination of anger and frustration.
Since then the Celtics have lost two more, one earlier this week in Cleveland, where Kyrie Irving ate them up for 40 points, and Thursday. Boston played with a lot more aggression, from Paul Pierce, who learned before the game that he was rejected for an All-Star berth by the East's coaches, to Rondo, who put on his typical national television display and put up a triple-double.
For a team that has struggled with intensity and effort at times this season, the Celtics truly played like a team that was more desperate than vengeful. And they still kicked it away, quite literally, by turning the ball over twice in the last minute to help the Knicks hold on.
"If I saw that effort every night," Rivers said, "I'd be very happy."
The Knicks, too, had bigger things on their minds than trying to rehash old business. After losing four of their previous six, they'd lost all the cushion on rivals behind them in the standings. They also hadn't really played well consistently since Raymond Felton went down with a finger injury last month.
Then the Knicks saw the officiating crew with veterans Joey Crawford and Dick Bavetta, and knew they might not want to push their luck anyway. The NBA says it doesn't alter assignments for regular-season games, so call this twist a happy accident.
"Before we even stepped on the court, we knew the [officiating] crew we had out there so we knew what kind of game it was going to be," Anthony said.
When it was over, Stoudemire had played his best all-around game since returning from knee surgery with 15 points and nine rebounds. Iman Shumpert, coming off his own knee injury, had a strong, positive influence. J.R. Smith hit what turned out to be the game winner with 1:11 left and effectively forced Pierce into a late turnover. Anthony scored 28 points on 28 shots but showed trust late in the game when the Celtics brought double-teams.
And Felton announced he'd be back Saturday when the Knicks play in Philadelphia. Suddenly, the Knicks are about to be the healthiest they've been since the start of the season and have a quality win on which to build.
"We're fighting to stay at the top of our division," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "We had to see what we were made of, and our guys answered the bell."
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Carmelo Anthony. Not his most efficient outing by any stretch (28 points on 11-for-28 shooting from the field), but he came up with big shots throughout, kept his cool and led the Knicks out of town with a much-needed W.
X factor: Iman Shumpert. He was quiet on the scoring front after 10 first-half points but came up with a couple of huge defensive plays down the stretch to help keep the C's at bay. "Rook" might shed his nickname yet.
That was ... an exorcism. After 13 straight losses (including 11 in the regular season), the Knicks finally got a Beantown W. It was ugly, but it was huge for New York's confidence -- particularly if these two meet in the spring.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Who else but DeMar DeRozan? He scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter (7-for-8 shooting in the period) and hit the buzzer-beating game winner to give the Raptors the win over the Magic.
X factor: Even though he didn't play in the final period as coach Jacque Vaughn opted to go with a small lineup, Nikola Vucevic deserves an honorable mention for his performance (19 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks).
Defining moment: With the score tied at 95 apiece with 4.3 seconds left, DeRozan nailed a difficult fadeaway jumper over Glen Davis and Arron Afflalo from the left corner in front of Orlando's bench to win the game for Toronto.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Goran Dragic. Whether he was in the pick-and-roll against a mismatched big or losing Eric Bledsoe off the ball, Dragic took full advantage of the Chris Paul-less Clippers by dropping a game-high 24 points with eight dimes.
Well that was ... stagnant. The Clippers' offense normally features cutters and smart ball movement, but instead there was an awful lot of standing and watching.
X factor: Blake Griffin's ankle. Hobbled by a sprained ankle, Griffin took a backseat and scored only 12 points. Jamal Crawford was good, but a distributor and facilitator he is not.
3. Thursday's Best
DeMar DeRozan, Raptors: His rain-making fadeaway jumper at the buzzer delivered a 97-95 road victory over the Magic. DeRozan scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, missing just one of his eight shots in the final 12 minutes.
4. Thursday's Worst
Snubbing of Golden State star: Leaving Warriors off the All-Star team was just common sense for the past decade-plus. But not now. Stephen Curry has led his team to a 26-15 mark with some great shooting. And these guys think he should be there, too.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"I just think the basketball gods are against us right now. They've turned their backs on us. We need to get back in their good graces."
-- Magic guard J.J. Redick, whose team fell to 14-28 with a home loss to Toronto.
8. It's Our Garden Tonight
9. Stat Check
David Lee was named to the Western Conference All-Star squad Thursday, snapping a streak of 15 consecutive seasons in which no Golden State player achieved All-Star status. Latrell Sprewell was the last Warriors player to be named to an NBA All-Star team (1996-97). The 15-season gap without an All-Star representative was the longest for any franchise in NBA history.See more from Elias
10. Dunk Of The Night