It turned out the Knicks were actually going to win the game; it just wasn’t the way everyone might have imagined.
After a wild final nine seconds of settlement, which included the Celtics hitting two 3-pointers in the last five ticks of the clock to tie the score, plus a pair of frantic overtime, New York emerged with a 138-134 victory, snatching a gaining jaws of what would have been an excruciating season opener loss.
“The good thing at the end of the day is we got the win,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Getting it, however, took a lot more work for New York than it initially looked.
The trouble began after other former Celtic starting in the Knicks’ backcourt, Evan Fournier, broke free for a layup to push New York’s lead to 114-110 with nine seconds left, sending the Partisan fans inside the MSG in a celebratory frenzy in anticipation of a victory.
But then Jaylen Brown, who finished with 46 points, buried a 28-foot 3-point pointer to bring the Celtics back to one point. After Julius Randle hit a pair of free throws to push the Knicks’ lead back to 116-113 with 4.9 seconds left – and with Boston having no time-outs – the plan was for the Knicks to foul.
“We had a room where we wanted to catch Jayson [Tatum] moving on the run, ”Ime Udoka, coach of his first regular season game for Boston, said after the Celtics’ plan.
However, the strategy went awry, after Tatum grabbed the incoming pass, slipped and fell. Instead of catching it, the Knicks froze, allowing Tatum to stand up and shoot a pass to a wide-open Dennis Schroder in midfield. As everyone rushed to catch up, Schroder dribbled into the frontcourt, pulled Walker towards him and swung a pass to Marcus Smart, who buried the 3-point pointer as the bell rang, leaving the building in shocked silence and sending the game to overtime.
“I just tried to pick it up and slipped,” Tatum said. “And then I saw [Fournier] came over and doubled down, threw it at Dennis, and he found a wide open Smart. He knocked it over and gave us a chance. “
From there, the teams spent the next 10 minutes of action looking like exhausted heavyweight fighters trying to get through the final rounds of a championship fight. After each scoring 12 points in the opening two minutes of first overtime, they combined to miss the 10 shots they took while remaining goalless for the rest. This included a villainous miss from Tatum after holding the ball for one last shot.
Tatum finished 7 for 30 in the field and 2 for 15 in a 3-point range.
“Sometimes you have to make fun of yourself,” Tatum said of his ugly shooting performance, shaking his head. “I guess I’m good for one of those seasons.
“I hope it’s the last. Take it out. We have 81 more. “
Second overtime then turned into a real chore, with each team only scoring once in the first three minutes. But after Tatum pushed Boston into the lead with a shrewd practice and a finger roll and-1, the Knicks responded with a 3-point Fournier and a Derrick Rose float on back-to-back possessions in the final minute, providing in New York the final margin of victory.
“It was crazy,” said Fournier, who finished with 32 points, with a smile. “The atmosphere, the fans, the game itself – it was fun going to OT, but I wish we had killed that game in the first 48 minutes.
“But it was really an aerial fight, especially towards the end. I’m sure you could see we were both tired. “
The savagery of the ending overshadowed the original reason Wednesday night’s game was important: It was Walker’s debut as a Knick. The Bronx native with certified New York City legendary basketball experience – between his time at Harlem’s Rice High School and his exploits at the University of Connecticut in that arena – said he couldn’t believe that he heard his name being called during the pre-game. presentations.
“So many things were going through my mind,” said Walker, who posted an “X” for his hometown, the Bronx, as he stepped out onto the field to a loud standing ovation. “I really couldn’t believe it. Really just playing for the home team.
“I am truly a Bronx kid, born and raised in this city. Putting on that jersey for the first time, for the real regular season, and being announced, man… that was such an amazing feeling. “
Walker’s performance itself was a mixed bag. He finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, three assists and four turnovers, including two horrific back-to-back possessions in the final 30 seconds of settlement that got Boston to start coming back into the game. He played 35 minutes and ended up being replaced by Rose for second overtime.
“I was disappointed,” Walker said when asked what he thought of his late game. “I was a little disappointed with myself. It was a bit of a mental error on my part. It happens.
“I’ve done a lot of crazy, not smart things in my career. It was certainly one of them. But it does happen. You have to find a way to stay together. You have to find a way out high, and that’s what we did. “
Walker, who was traded to the Celtics this offseason, said he spent time with his former teammates after the game. He said it wasn’t strange playing against them in his first game as a Knick.
“Maybe if I was somewhere else it would have been weird,” Walker said. “But being that I’m with the home team, no, that wasn’t weird. I just felt like everyone was supporting me, you know? My teammates, the city, the fans, everyone. This was not the case. weird. I have a lot of love for these guys. You could see it before the game. I have a great relationship, man.
“I just came out of the locker room with these guys, talking to these guys. These are my brothers. These are my brothers. Over the past two years, we have become very close. So for me, being part of a different team is not going to change anything. “
The feelings were mutual on the other side.
“That’s my boy, man,” said Brown, whose 46 points were most scored by a Celtics player in a season opener, overtaking Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Bob Cousy. (35 each). “I can’t say enough good things about Kemba Walker. He’s just one of those guys you like to be with, man.
“Kemba was great for me and my stay in Boston. He was warm, he accepted, he allowed me to be myself. Some guys get envious or things like that. Not Kemba Walker, man. So, I am very grateful for the time I spent and the things I learned. It was great to share the word with him. I’m glad he’s in his hometown. I said hello to his family – his mom was at the game – so that was great. ”