By Jason Keidel
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In an odd weekend when all the chalk came out cold, the Knicks ran the Celtics out of the gym for 24 minutes. Unfortunately, they play 48.

The Spurs and Lakers were shocked at home, looking old while losing to younger teams, and the Celtics’ lineup is littered with geriatrics. Those graybeards, however, have endless playoff experience, which was the defining difference in a game the Knicks had in the bag.

The Knicks flexed on defense and displayed atypical grit, trading blows with Boston in a sloppy but fierce contest. The game came down to one play and one player, the last bucket coming off the five fingers of a Hall of Famer.

The Celtics have Ray Allen and the Knicks don’t.

Ray Allen, who unloaded his infinite quiver to deliver yet again, is that anomalous basketball sniper who can toss bricks all game yet bank the kill shot every time when the game is on the line.

There’s an eternal debate, in all sports, over the meaning of experience. Boston played the first half as though they’d never performed in the playoffs, while the two teams switched places in the second half, making an argument for the virtues of maturity.

Amar’e Stoudemire (28 points, 11 rebounds) was volcanic, soaring over Boston’s defense with violent dunks and acrobatic layups. His equally talented teammate, the heralded Carmelo Anthony, wasn’t nearly as effective, going 5-18 from the field with 5 turnovers.

The Carmeloholics will cry foul because no foul was called on ‘Melo’s last shot, a three-pointer that would have won the game. As Walt Frazier said during the postgame show on MSG, that call won’t be made on the road.

Rather than look at the refs, look in the mirror. When you lead by 12 at the half and for most of the game, you need to close. Losing Game 1 by two points won’t cost the Knicks the series; losing Game 2 will.

The Knicks, and their fans, won’t gain morale in moral victories. They’ve gone a decade without a win in the playoffs because mediocrity was the mandate. Donnie Walsh has been a wizard in remolding this moribund franchise in a relatively short time. But for the transformation to be complete, they must do more than compete.

The Knicks proved they can play with the Celtics. Now it’s time to prove they can beat the Celtics. Winners know the difference.

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