By A.Sherrod Blakely
NEW YORK Late in Monday night's game, Kevin Garnett forced a jump ball with Amar'e Stoudemire.
The two jumped and it was no contest -- Garnett won the tip, easily.
Earlier in the game, Delonte West out-hustled the Knicks and was fouled near halfcourt, resulting in a clear path foul against New York.
Rajon Rondo hustling down loose balls, Glen Davis grabbing offensive rebounds . . . the Celtics defeated the Knicks 96-86 for a lot of reasons.
Their ability to make all the necessary hustle plays was among the most important.
"That's who we are," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
But there are times when the C's, for whatever reason, tend to forget or get away from what they do best which on many nights, which is to simply out-work and out-hustle teams.
"We did a pretty good job of that in the second half," Delonte West told CSNNE.com. "It was good enough to win tonight, but we can't just play Celtics basketball for one half and expect to win."
For the second straight game, the Celtics struggled in the first half before surging in the second for a victory.
While pleased with the victory, players understand they can't rely on winning games this way.
Part of the problem on Monday was the second unit's inability to limit the Knicks primary scorer that quarter, Carmelo Anthony.
Rivers says he was to blame in large part for the second unit's struggles against New York.
"I screwed that up," Rivers said. "Delonte has been running point guard for the last week. And then I put Carlos Arroyo in at point and move Delonte to 2 shooting guard. That was all me. I screwed that up completely."
Rivers' gaffe only highlights what continues to be an issue for the Celtics -- integrating the new guys into the regular playing mix.
It's not all that surprising that in the second quarter, easily the worst played by the C's on Monday, it was primarily their second unit guys who struggled.
"This is a new team than the team we had at the start of the season, so we have to get back to putting together four quarters as a unit," said Ray Allen. "Whoever's coming off the bench, understanding exactly what we're doing."
One of Monday night's biggest difference-makers for the Celtics was Rajon Rondo.
The right pinkie finger injury that has bothered him for the past couple of weeks, was not an issue against the Knicks.
Rondo had 13 points and 12 assists, his first double-double since a 15-point, 16-assist effort against Phoenix on March 2.
Despite his recent struggles, his teammates never lost confidence that Rondo was simply going through one of those stretches that all great players endure at some point.
"You have to understand, no one's perfect in this league," Garnett said. "We're all going to have some bad games. Lord knows I know. Rondo just had some difficult games. This is not an easy game to perfect. Every night, hit or miss. Tonight he was really good."
Quotes to note:
"I haven't used the word soft in, maybe four years, but at halftime, that word came out a lot." - Rivers.
"Everything you do over the course of a game, it adds up." - Celtics forward Paul Pierce.
"We got on the floor and got grimy. We made it a dirty game." - Garnett
"They get into you and they make it tough to find a good shot. That's why they're competing for a World Championship and that's what they do." - Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni.