Charles Barkley, dressed all in black, sat on the Houston bench and watched his ex-teammates fall behind by 25 points. Then he enjoyed the comeback that needed a finishing touch.

But he couldn't provide it.

In their first game since a knee injury ended Barkley's career two days earlier, the Rockets tied the score with 4 minutes 42 seconds left but lost to the Celtics, 100-96, last night in Boston.

"They could have quit. That made me feel good," he said.

At a halftime ceremony, Barkley received two framed gifts--a piece of the Celtics' parquet floor and a photo of him and former Celtic Larry Bird jockeying for position under the basket. Barkley also received several standing ovations.

The Celtics tied an NBA record with 11 steals in the first period as they charged to a 32-16 lead. It was 52-27, then 62-45 at halftime. The comeback intensified in the third quarter when Boston made 4 of 17 shots.

* KNICKS 85, 76ERS 78: Patrick Ewing returned without his touch, although he played well enough to help New York beat visiting Philadelphia.

Ewing, playing his first game since June 1 after recovering from a partially torn Achilles' tendon, shot 0 for 8 from the field and 7 for 8 from the line. He scored fewer than 10 points for only the 34th time in 978 career games.

"I was a little rusty with my moves, but I thought I was trying to do other things," Ewing said. "You can walk on a treadmill and ride a bike, but nothing takes the place of banging, bumping, shooting--just playing ball."

Latrell Sprewell scored 31 points to lead the Knicks.

* HEAT 107, KINGS 97: Alonzo Mourning had 37 points, 11 rebounds and 8 blocked shots as Miami gave Sacramento its first home loss of the season after seven victories. The Kings' Jason Williams had 12 assists, but made only 1 of 11 shots and was held to three points before being ejected late in the game.

* PACERS 136, CAVALIERS 88: Rik Smits scored 16 of his 25 points in a near-perfect first quarter, and Jalen Rose added 23 as host Indiana won its fifth straight.

* WARRIORS 107, HAWKS 99: In Atlanta, Mookie Blaylock had 19 assists and seven steals against his former team, and Golden State snapped an 11-game losing streak.

* JAZZ 101, SUPERSONICS 83: John Stockton had 15 points, 10 assists and 6 steals to help host Utah beat Seattle for its fourth straight win.

* BULLS 71, NETS 69: Dickey Simpkins got in the way of Stephon Marbury's layup in the final seconds as Chicago held off visiting New Jersey to end a 10-game losing streak.

* HORNETS 106, NUGGETS 99: In Charlotte, Anthony Mason had 21 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists as the Hornets beat Denver for the eighth straight time.

* PISTONS 107, CLIPPERS 83: Host Detroit got 27 points and 12 rebounds from Grant Hill in handing Los Angeles its eighth straight loss.

* BUCKS 107, RAPTORS 91: In Toronto, Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson each scored 22 points for Milwaukee.