For one half, the Celtics  lived down to everyone’s worst expectations for the season. They looked old on defense and disorganized on offense without Paul Pierce  in the lineup. They stayed in the game against the Knicks because Rajon Rondo  was the best player on the floor, but in the second half they suddenly looked like the Celtics of old again, and that was a good thing. Their defense was tight, their halfcourt movement was back and Rondo was brilliant.
The Knicks did not go away. In a wildly entertaining game that saw both teams trading baskets down the stretch, the Knicks prevailed, 106-104.
WHAT WENT WRONG
— Without Pierce in the lineup, the Celtics halfcourt offense looked sluggish and out of sync. Despite all their new additions, the Celtics simply don’t have many players who can create their own offense. His absence was acutely felt in the final minute when the Celtics couldn’t score.
— Pierce’s replacement, Sasha Pavlovic , had a completely non-existent game. He didn’t attempt a shot in 15 minutes of play and recorded just one assist and one rebound. Marquis Daniels  also struggled offensively, but he had a much-stronger floor game.
— Carmelo Anthony scored 37 points, again without Pierce on the floor. Anthony was unstoppable at times and Daniels was called for a reach-in foul with 16.4 seconds left that gave the Knicks the two free throws that were the difference.
— Brandon Bass  picked up two fouls in the first quarter and Jermaine O’Neal  was called for three fouls in the six minutes in the first half, which led to Kevin Garnett  playing 21 minutes. So much for the 5-5-5 plan. Garnett played 37 minutes, about seven more than coach Doc Rivers  has in his usual budget and KG’s last-second jumper was short.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
— Rondo was aggressive right from the start. He attacked the basket, drew fouls and in a major revelation he also made his free throws. Rondo was the lone bright spot offensively among the starters and he carried the Celtics throughout the game. If this is the Rondo the Celtics will see all season then it’s way too early to start writing their obituaries. The problem for Rondo is the physical toll he’ll take throughout the season.
— Brandon Bass may never be more popular than he is right now. Despite getting into early foul trouble, Bass scored 20 points and had 11 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass. Bass was the only Celtics’ reserve to get into an offensive rhythm and his production was essential.
— The Celtics recaptured the defensive mojo in the third quarter, erasing a 10-point halftime deficit and outscoring the Knicks, 35-17. New York was just 7-for-19 from the floor after shooting almost 50 percent in the first half. Jermaine O’Neal in particular anchored the Celtics defense.
— Ray Allen  shook off a terrible first half that included a first quarter without a shot attempt to score 15 second-half points. Allen was a complete non-factor in the first half, but the offensive spacing of old returned in the second half and Allen took advantage.