NEW YORK - Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks know it will never be easy against the Celtics.

Not beating them in one game, and certainly not beating them for a division title.

But pulling out the kind of nail-biter that's long gone Boston's way in this rivalry only reinforced the Knicks' belief that they can do it - and even the Celtics see a difference.

Anthony scored 37 points, including a pair of free throws with the game tied and 16 seconds left, and New York survived a seesaw season opener Sunday to edge the Celtics, 106-104.

"Most importantly for us, as a new team, we showed something," Anthony said. "We came together as a team. Even when we got down, there wasn't no frowns. Nobody was down. Mentally, everybody was still up about it, and we willed our way to this win."

Amar'e Stoudemire added 21 points and Toney Douglas had 19 for the Knicks, who led by 17 in the first half, trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter, then pulled out a thrilling Christmas victory in the delayed opener to the 2011-12 season.

Rajon Rondo had 31 points and 13 assists, nearly leading the Celtics back without an injured Paul Pierce. But Kevin Garnett missed a jumper just before the buzzer, the kind of shot Boston always seems to make against the Knicks.

"They seem to have a little swag and confidence behind them," Garnett said. "It's good for the city. It's good for the Knicks. I'm going to see how consistent they are with that, but for the most part Carmelo played really well."

Brandon Bass had 20 points and 11 rebounds in his Celtics debut, and Ray Allen added 20 points.

Garnett finished with 15 points. He and Allen had a sleepy Christmas start, with Rondo keeping the Celtics in the game until they got going in the second half.

"I thought we were as soft as you could be in the first quarter and then I thought we joined in to the 2011-12 season, and from that point on I was pretty happy with the way we played," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought we competed well."

But it wasn't enough against the Knicks, who withstood a costly knee injury to first-round pick Iman Shumpert to beat the team that swept them out of the first round of last season's playoffs.

Pierce has a bruised right heel but hopes he can return Tuesday when the Celtics visit the Miami Heat.

Even without him, the Celtics fought back to tie it at 69 on Rondo's layup midway through the third quarter. They surged ahead by eight going into the final period after Bass scored the final six points, then extended it to 89-79 on Bass' jumper to open the fourth.