By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The bitter New York-Boston sports rivalry, dating back nearly 100 years, observed a momentary truce before the start of Saturday's NBA playoffs opener between the New York Knicks and the visiting Boston Celtics.
The teams came together in solidarity over the Boston Marathon bombing attacks and their aftermath as players addressed the Madison Square Garden crowd before tip-off.
"On behalf of the New York Knicks organization, we just want to let Boston know that we send our prayers to them throughout this unfortunate tragedy," the Knicks' Carmelo Anthony said. "We, as New Yorkers, understand what you guys are going through..."
Some fans of the second seed Knicks were still moved to jeer the sight of the seventh-seeded Celtics on the Broadway hardcourt, before thousands of fans shushed them into silence.
Wearing a T-shirt that read "boston stands as one", the Celtics' Paul Pierce expressed gratitude for the show of support and vowed, "Boston will rise and run again."
After the warm exchange and cheers of support from the sell-out crowd, the Celtics took the floor for their final warm-ups and full-throated boos rained down from the rafters.
It was back to business as usual between New York and Boston. In this installment, the home team prevailed 85-78 in a tight struggle decided in the fourth quarter.
The professional sports rivalry between the East Coast cities was launched in 1920 when the New York Yankees broke open their checkbook to snatch away baseball's foremost slugger, Babe Ruth.
Ruth led the Yankees to the first of a record 27 World Series titles, while Boston, which had won five Fall Classic crowns up to 1918, went 86 years before winning again in 2004, humiliating New York along the way by becoming the first team to overcome an 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven series.
On the gridiron, Boston's team began a dynastic run with three Super Bowls in four years, ending in 2005. They have returned to the NFL's Big Show twice since then and both times fell to underdog New York Giants teams.
Of all the professional sports, Boston truly reigned on the hardcourt, the Celtics amassing 17 NBA titles to top the list.
The Celtics have not won at the same rate they had during their glory days of Bill Russell and John Havlicek, and later Larry Bird, but they have still dominated the East Coast rivalry, winning the previous five Atlantic Division titles and claiming the NBA crown last in 2008.
The Knicks, meanwhile, have been a study in futility that is hoping to turn the corner. This year they won their first division title in 19 years, are looking to win their first playoff series in 13 years and their first NBA title in 40 years.
Before the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers was not sure about the affects the Boston ordeal might have on his players.
"Yesterday was a strange day," Rivers said about the practice his team had in New York while Boston was under a lockdown during the manhunt for the bombing suspects.
"You hear guys on the phone, literally everyone, calling home yelling 'Stay in the house'. I even told my staff, 'We're going to make a lot of mistakes in practice today. There's no way their focus is where it should be and you felt that going into practice.'
"And honestly, we were right. Practice bearded out that way. Thank gosh it's over, in that regard. It was good to see everyone in the city happy, hugging and rejoicing and I'm sure our players had a chance to exhale," added Rivers.
"I think emotionally it could go either way."
It turned out to be a see-saw battle that included 11 lead changes and 11 ties before the Knicks turned up the defensive pressure in a fourth quarter that held a worn-out Boston team to a meager eight points.
"We took care of business," said Anthony, the NBA scoring champion who scored a game-high 36 points. "It was real important to come out and get this first win and we did that."
Rivers said his team came out flat in the second half. "The biggest part of the game was the beginning of the third quarter. I think we just put so much emotion into the game. I just thought we were flat. I think we'll be better."
Boston was led by Jeff Green's 26 points, only six of them in the second half. Green said the team missed the boisterous support of their fans.
"Our fans is what gives us that extra boost of energy when the fourth quarter comes around," he said about the lack of voices urging them on.
"It's been a tough week for our city, and I'm sure a lot of people wanted to come down but couldn't because of the circumstances. We miss them, but it's the playoffs."
(Reporting by Larry Fine,; Editing by Gene Cherry)