NEW YORK - With fired-up Knicks fans periodically chanting "Boston sucks," Jerian Grant said he felt a playoff-like atmosphere against the rival Celtics on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
But Carmelo Anthony wasn't available for most of the second half due to a sprained ankle that left him questionable for Wednesday's game at Brooklyn, and prized rookie Kristaps Porzingis fouled out with under three minutes remaining after having a monster night with 26 points, six rebounds, two blocks, two assists and two steals.
That left their other rookie, Grant, and Arron Afflalo (24 points) to carry the load down the stretch.
In what was clearly his best game since coming out of Notre Dame, Grant displayed tremendous confidence down the stretch and finished with career-bests of 16 points and eight assists with no turnovers as the Knicks fended off Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics, 120-114. Grant notched 10 points and dished six assists in the fourth quarter.
The Knicks (20-20) took over ninth place in the Eastern Conference thanks in large part to the gutsy play down the stretch of Grant, who scored six of their final eight points -- hitting a nifty bank shot off the window and making four key free throws in the final 31.4 seconds.
"I was really just playing, I wasn't really thinking about too much," he said. "The coaches had already gave me confidence to leave me in in the fourth and the team was really just telling me to get the ball and control the game, so that's what I did."
Porzingis seemed especially pleased for his fellow rookie, with whom he sits on the team plane.
"He was really clutch at the end and he was waiting for that moment," Porzingis said. "He was ready for it. I'm extremely happy for him. He was fearless out there and that's what I love."
In the bunched-up Eastern Conference, in which 11 teams are within six games of one another behind the league-leading Cavaliers, every win helps.
"It's huge, against a team that's fighting for the playoffs," Grant said. "Obviously, a team that's in our division, so to get a win like that it definitely means a lot."
Grant hadn't scored more than eight points in his last five games and entered averaging just 4.7 points and 2.2 assists on the season. At times, he became buried on coach Derek Fisher's bench.
"His facial expressions don't really change," Fisher said. "He has the same kind of attitude and the same daily disposition. So you don't know when he's frustrated or good with it, you just don't know. The one thing that you do know is that every morning two hours before practice, he's on the court working out improving and putting his time in and doing what he needs to do to get better. That's the only way you can go out in the game and perform."
Asked how he approached things while not playing much, Grant, a four-year player at Notre Dame, gave a thoughtful and mature answer.
"You work hard to be able to go out there and be able to do things that they want you to do," he said. "Taking a lot of jump shots, really working on the triangle, just putting in more work. I've been in the gym and it showed a little bit tonight."
The 7-foot-3 Porzingis has justifiably gotten much of the attention as the Knicks' star rookie, but Grant was also a first-round pick. And if he can somehow harness this performance and use it as a springboard going forward, it could really help the Knicks' backcourt situation.
"For sure, I definitely hope so," Grant said. "To be able to get the minutes I got tonight and be able to perform, hopefully that gives the coaches and my teammates confidence that I can do it again."
His next chance will come Wednesday night against the struggling Nets, and it will be interesting to see if Fisher goes to his rookie point guard again down the stretch or in key minutes.
"We're going to go in there guns blazing," Grant said, "and hopefully playing really well."