NEW YORK The Boston Celtics have never played the New York Knicks for the first time after having played this many regular season games.
Well the Celtics delivered a performance that was well worth the wait, full of physical, gritty, buzzer-beating play.
This was another down-to-the-wire battle, which would favor the Knicks who have won more games (5) by three points or less than any team except Portland which also has five such wins.
But the Celtics (17-17) were not interested in adding to that list as they showed the kind of clutch composure at both ends of the floor in the final minutes to pull out a 102-96 victory even with their floor leader Rajon Rondo (suspension) out.
It was as gutsy a victory as we have seen from the Green Team this season, as they fought off one big shot after another.
Even as league MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony (20 points, 6-for-26 shooting) started to heat up, the Celtics refused to let him take over the game and carry the Knicks to victory.
It was Paul Pierce (23 points, 10-for-18 shooting) making shot-clock beating baskets. Avery Bradley (13 points, five assists) finding lay-ups on cuts to the basket and locking his man up defensively. Kevin Garnett (19 points, nine rebounds) on the boards and Brandon Bass defending the paint were both key as well.
And then you had Courtney Lee's defense, Jared Sullinger's (10 points, five rebounds) steady play and Jeff Green's (16 points) scoring off the bench ... the list of contributors to this victory is indeed a lengthy one.
In the end, it added up to the kind of victory that the Celtics (17-17) have not been able to deliver enough of this season.
And while it's still too soon to say that the Celtics have turned the corner, Monday's win - their third straight - is indeed another step in the right direction as they continue to try and get on track after a season that was heading nowhere fast.
Even if the C's had Rondo, who was suspended for Monday's game after bumping official Rodney Mott in Atlanta on Saturday and failing to cooperate with the investigation afterward, the Celtics would have had their hands full with the New York Knicks.
But to take him out of the equation, an already difficult opponent became even more daunting.
Boston didn't shoot the ball particularly well to start the game which factored in the Celtics falling behind by as many as 10 points in the first.
But the defense tightened up which sparked a 14-3 Celtics run to close out the quarter which was capped off by a 3-pointer by Courtney Lee that put the C's ahead, 22-21, to end the first.
Boston once again found itself back playing catch-up in the second quarter as New York's Carmelo Anthony began to heat up.
After just one point in the first, Melo had nine points in the second which equalled New York's largest lead in the quarter.
But with Rondo out, it afforded a number of Celtics players to see their roles significantly increase.
Among them was Leandro Barbosa who provided an instant spark for the Celtics both as a scorer with six points and three assists in the first half.
However, the Celtics struggled like most teams this season in limiting New York's 3-point shooting.
The Knicks, leaders in 3s taken (29) and made (11) this season, drilled 10 in the first half which ended with the Celtics trailing 56-53 following a driving lay-up by Avery Bradley - his first basket of the game.
Boston continued to fight an uphill battle in the third quarter, a fight that became even tougher when Pierce picked up his fourth personal foul
with 8:55 to play in the third.
But that's when the Celtics defensive tandem of Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley helped trigger a 21-12 run in the third quarter that put the C's in firm control.
And as the game got tighter, tempers began to flare. And naturally it involved two of the game's biggest stars - Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony.
The two had words on several occasions in the second half, even after official Tony Brothers whistled both players for double technical foul.