NEW YORK – This being preseason, Coach Doc Rivers planned to give his starters plenty of rest. Paul Pierce had other ideas.

Pierce lobbied to stay in the game, then made the tie-breaking jumper with 8 seconds left as the Boston Celtics beat the New York Knicks 104-101 Wednesday night.

Playing on his 33rd birthday, Pierce knocked down his jumper from just inside the 3-point arc to ensure there would be no overtime that would wreck his party plans.

“I got an 11 o’clock reservation I had to make,” Pierce said. “I didn’t want to stay any longer than I had to, you know what I’m saying? It’s my birthday.”

The Celtics overcame a big first home game at Madison Square Garden for Amare Stoudemire, who scored 30 points in three quarters. But he was on the bench along with the rest of the Knicks starters down the stretch, when the Celtics pulled it out.

“I didn’t plan on extending them and then they wanted to stay in there, they were having fun. Paul said he wanted to win, it was his birthday,” said Rivers.

Down eight midway through the fourth, the Celtics rallied to tie it at 101 on two free throws by former Knicks guard Nate Robinson with 1:09 left. The teams turned it over on the next three possessions before Pierce’s jumper.

Ray Allen scored 24 points and Pierce had 20 for the Celtics, who brought back their starters after they sat out a loss in Philadelphia on Tuesday. Stoudemire powered his way to 16 in the third quarter, when the Celtics had nobody to guard him after Kevin Garnett was ejected in the first half.

But with Allen, Pierce and Rajon Rondo on the floor at the end, Boston was too good for New York’s reserves.

“I’m sure a veteran team like that don’t go real hard in practice, so they have to have minutes to be in game shape. I’m sure that’s why he did it,” Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni said.


WIZARDS: Gilbert Arenas’ latest escapade took place Tuesday, when Coach Flip Saunders announced before a preseason game against the Atlanta Hawks that Arenas would miss the contest with a sore left knee. But Arenas revealed after the Wizards’ 107-92 victory that he pretended to have a bum knee to give teammate Nick Young a chance to start. He told reporters Wednesday that he was trying to do Young a favor.

“I lied to Coach and told him my knee was sore so he’d start Nick,” Arenas said.

Arenas was fined an undisclosed amount by the Wizards.


HORNETS: The Hornets signed 7-foot center D.J. Mbenga. Mbenga was a free agent after playing 49 games for the Los Angeles Lakers last season. He averaged 2.1 points and 1.8 rebounds.


HEAT: Miami held out LeBron James against the New Orleans Hornets, saying his right hamstring remained tight from an exhibition game a night earlier.