Battle Opener: Knicks Outlast Celtics in Double-Overtime Season Opening Classic

John McCoy/Icon Sportswire

It was like a great performance that called for an encore at the Garden.

Both teams put on quite a show but it was the Knicks who survived in a scintillating 138-134, double overtime win over the Boston Celtics at a raucous Madison Square Garden Wednesday night.

It was like ol’ times on 33rd street.

There were the usual “A-list” celebrities and the Garden was packed for the first time since the pandemic limited the arena’s capacity at games last season.

Julius Randle picked up where he left off last season as he scored a team high 35 points but there were many heroes in this one.

One of the newcomers, Evan Fournier, made some huge shots down the stretch and in the overtime periods and became the first Knick to score 30 points in his team debut as he tied his career high with 32.

Obi Toppin played his best game as a Knick and provided a spark in the second half while R.J. Barrett turned it on with what has become a trademark, strong second half.

The Knicks had to overcome a career high, 46 points from Celtics guard Jaylen Brown, who was Reggie Miller like after coming back from having tested positive for Covid only 12 days ago.

The game went to overtime because the Knicks were careless down the stretch. After the Knicks blew an 11-point lead with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter, they still had a four point lead with nine seconds left.

Kemba Walker had mixed reviews (10 points, 8 rebounds in 36 minutes) in his Knicks’ debut. The Bronx born Walker had a sequence he’d like to forget, late in the fourth quarter, when he committed two costly turnovers in a ten second span that allowed the Celtics to come back to tie the game and force overtime.

Brown canned a long, jaw dropping three pointer to cut the lead to one with 6.1 seconds left. After Randle hit two free throws for a 116-113 lead, Celtics guard Marcus Smart took advantage of a Knicks’ defensive breakdown and was open for the game tying three at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.

The first overtime was “dueling threes” as there was a deliverance of defense. “It was crazy,” Fournier said.

Seemed like everyone was open, especially Fournier, who hit three-threes for 9 of the Knicks’ 12 points in the first OT. Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who had a rough night, (7 for 30 shooting) thanks in part to Barrett’s defense on him, missed a 15-foot jumper that would’ve won it at the end of the first overtime.

With a little over a minute left in the second overtime, Tatum’s three point play gave Boston a 134-133 lead. Derrick Rose, who replaced Walker to start the second overtime, fed Fournier for a clutch three pointer that put the Knicks up two, 136-134 with less than a minute remaining.

After Tatum missed a lay up, Rose made a short shot to make it a four point lead with 22 seconds remaining. Brown, Dennis Schroder and Tatum all missed three point attempts as Randle grabbed the final rebound. “At the end of the day, we found a way to win a game,” Randle said after he logged 46 minutes.

Coach Tom Thibodeau was pleased his team showed some resiliency in pulling this one out. “Guys stepped up at the end, made plays. They’re a load to deal with. You know [Jaylen] Brown got going early, [Jayson] Tatum, they put a lot of pressure on you. Overall, some real good things,” he said.

Coming into the season, the Knicks were focused on taking more three point shots and that showed as they launched 45 and made 17 from beyond the arc. Fournier was 6 of 13 from three point range.

There was some concern about Fournier because he did not shoot well in the pre season but his coach was not worried.“I never worried about him making shots. He’s proven throughout his career that that’s what he is,” he said.

Toppin lit up the score sheet with career highs in minutes (28) and points (14). Early in the fourth quarter, Toppin combined with Rose for an athletic play that ignited the wildly energetic crowd at MSG. Rose threw an alley oop pass and Toppin beat two Celtics to the ball for a spectacular dunk that brought down the roof and gave the Knicks a 100-92 lead.

Mitchell Robinson was a surprise starter and he made his presence felt with 11 points and 17 rebounds. Thibodeau sees big things from his 7-foot center. “We’re seeing just the tip of the iceberg with Mitch,” Thibodeau said. “I think Mitch is going to be really, really good for us.”

The first half was choppy as the Knicks could not find any rhythm on offense and trailed, 58-54 at halftime. In the third, the Knicks tightened up defensively and held Brown to four points, while Boston shot 9 of 25 in the quarter.

Barrett found his game and scored 14 points in the third quarter. “The second half he was a monster,” said Thibodeau. “The thing that I like was he kept his composure. He wasn’t rattled, he just kept playing, kept working the game and then the game got going his way.”

During a post game interview on MSG Network, Barrett said the team helped him keep his head up. “Everybody on the staff, on the bench, all the players they had my back. I think that was big for me, all the guys on the bench talking to me, getting me going. Once I got going, they were feeding me.”

This one has to go down as one of the most exciting season openers in Knicks’ franchise history.

The 2021-2022 Knicks entered the season with renewed optimism. A win like this will not dampen that feeling one bit.

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