BOSTON (AP) — When the New York Knicks finally returned to the playoffs two years ago, the Boston Celtics let them hang around for only four games.
Now Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks are on the verge of beating Boston, and they want to do it just as quickly.
Anthony scored 26 points and the Knicks moved to the brink of their first playoff series victory in 13 years, routing the Celtics 90-76 on Friday night in Game 3 of the first-round series.
“It feels good to be sitting in this seat, this situation, to be sitting in the driver’s seat right now,” Anthony said. “So it’s just a matter of us just doing what we’ve got to do Sunday. We want to close the deal, we want to seal the deal.”
Quickly taking the crowd out of it in the first NBA game here since the Boston Marathon bombings, the Knicks built a 16-point halftime lead and now can take out the Celtics.
“That first quarter on the road, you’ve got to make sure you take that first punch and we did that,” Knicks veteran Jason Kidd said.
Raymond Felton added 15 points and 10 assists for the Knicks, who haven’t advanced in the playoffs since reaching the 2000 Eastern Conference finals. Game 4 is here Sunday afternoon.
“Guys are hungry,” Anthony said. “We really want this, we feel like it’s right there in the palm of our hands.”
They’ll have to hope they have J.R. Smith, who inexplicably threw an elbow right into Jason Terry’s face with 7:06 left and was thrown out of the game with a flagrant foul 2, an automatic ejection. The league office will review the play and can fine or suspend Smith.
Pablo Prigioni gave the Knicks a boost with three early 3-pointers as the Knicks positioned themselves to avenge their first-round sweep at the hands of the Celtics in 2011. Boston hasn’t been by swept since 2004, by Indiana.
The Knicks were also swept that year, by the Nets, as part of their NBA-record, 13-game postseason losing streak.
Jeff Green scored 21 points for the Celtics, who will try to become the first NBA team to win a series after trailing 3-0. They own the most titles in league history, but their present outlook is extremely bleak.
“I didn’t think we showed up not to play well,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought overall our effort was there, I thought we did lose our spirit early on.”
Fans cheered the responders who helped after the marathon but booed the Celtics, who managed only 31 points in the first two quarters, getting their bad half out of the way early this time. They had been held to 25 and 23 points after halftime while dropping the two games in New York.
Smith finished with 15 points for the Knicks, who are loaded with veterans who’ve had playoff success the franchise hadn’t in recent years and weren’t fazed by the pregame atmosphere. Once the game started, they simply outplayed the Celtics, as they have while going 6-1 against them dating the regular season.
“We came in here believing that we could win this basketball game and we did it,” Anthony said. “It was a total team effort.”
Everything went perfectly for the Knicks until Smith, while holding the ball on offense with a huge lead, decided to throw his elbow right into Terry’s face. Terry charged after him but was stopped by Rivers, while Knicks coach Mike Woodson appeared to be lecturing Smith before the Sixth Man of the Year was sent off.
“He’ll learn from it. I don’t think he was trying to hurt the kid, I thought he was trying to clear space, but hey, they saw it differently,” Woodson said. “I’m going to stay in his ear and make sure he learns from it.”
There was a moment of silence before the game for the victims, and that was the last time it was quiet for a while. First responders and other personnel were greeted with loud cheers as they were brought onto the floor during timeouts, and a tribute to the city’s strength played on the overhead video board during a first-quarter stoppage.
But the Knicks’ dominance wore down even the most spirited supporters, just the way LeBron James did in his 45-point performance in Game 6 of last year’s Eastern Conference finals in the last playoff game here.
Rivers said he was aware of some of his team’s shortcomings, with the absence of Rajon Rondo leaving the Celtics without a point guard. But Rivers — himself a former point guard — couldn’t have imagined his team would be this unable to get into an offense, finishing with 18 turnovers that led to 26 Knicks points.
He started Terry for forward Brandon Bass, trying to find a way to get another ball handler on the floor. But it couldn’t fix the Celtics’ shooting and didn’t really help much with the ball handling, as Terry had his dribble taken right away from him on one third-quarter possession when Boston briefly looked ready to get back into it.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett missed layups on the same possession to start the game, and it was clear right from there this wasn’t the Celtics’ night — or their series.
“Right now at this point, just take it one game at a time,” Green said. “They haven’t won it yet.”
Garnett had 12 points and 17 rebounds, while Pierce missed six of his first seven shots and finished with 17 points.
The Celtics were within three early in the second quarter before Prigioni and Smith hit 3-pointers in an 8-0 run that made it 34-23. The Celtics had held Anthony in check until then, but he got hot late in the half while they remained ice cold.
Back-to-back jumpers had the defense keying on his jumper, so he spun toward the basket to catch an alley-oop, and Felton followed with a 3-pointer to make it 47-29 with 58 seconds left in the half. Green made a layup for the final basket of the half, then the Celtics walked off to boos.
Boston cut it to 49-38 and Terry was dribbling up the floor on a fast break when Prigioni stepped in and swiped the ball away from him. The Knicks missed a shot, but Prigioni grabbed the rebound to set up a 3-pointer by Anthony. Felton followed with another basket to make it 54-38, and Boston’s momentum was gone for good.
The Knicks later led by as many as 21.
Boston has been held to 78, 71 and 76 points in the series.
NOTES: The Knicks’ last sweep of a best-of-seven series was when they beat Atlanta in the 1999 East semis. They swept Toronto in a best-of-five series in the first round the following year. … Rivers, on being fined $25,000 by the NBA on Thursday for his criticisms of the officiating in Game 2. “Usually the way it works, once NBA security calls, they’re not calling to tell you they love you,” he said. “Listen, like I said to them, I didn’t get fined for being wrong. I got fined for saying it.”
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