To Tyson Chandler, the story of the Knicks' scrappy, season-opening win over the Celtics was written all over his face.

"It's not going to come easy with them," the new Knicks center said after the 106-104 Christmas victory yesterday at Madison Square Garden. "You can see my face. My lip is busted in four different places, my nose. It was a great game. That's what you want. You don't mind [the physicality], at least I don't."

The 7-foot-1 Chandler was the Knicks' major offseason addition, a bruising center imported to anchor a defense with a history of being soft in the middle under coach Mike D'Antoni, and it was an uneven debut for the revamped defense against a Celtics team playing without leading scorer Paul Pierce.

Led by slicing-and-dicing point guard Rajon Rondo, the Celtics torched the Knicks for 35 points in the third quarter to turn a 10-point halftime deficit into an eight-point lead. But with Chandler as the backbone the Knicks put the clamps on when it counted in the fourth quarter, limiting their division rivals to 17 points on 35-percent (7-for-20) shooting in the period and making two clutch stops in the final minute to secure a come-from-behind victory.

"We made some mistakes out there and we let them cut into our lead, but I love the way we responded," said Chandler, who finished with six of the Knicks' 11 blocks, including two in a row during a turning-point possession midway through the fourth quarter. "We didn't hang our heads, we kept fighting and grinding. ... We keyed in on them defensively. We started to build a wall."