The Boston Celtics, who saw their 64–41 third-quarter lead cut to 84–80, held on to beat the New York Knicks 101–89 Sunday on afternoon at Madison Square Garden in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference first round playoffs.
The win completes Boston’s four-game sweep and extends New York’s playoff losing streak to 10 games, dating back to the 2001 postseason where they lost to the Toronto Raptors. Boston will await the winner of the Miami–Philadelphia series. Miami had a chance to sweep their series also on Sunday but lost to the 76ers 86–82 despite 31 points from LeBron James.
The Garden was quiet by the end of the first half when the game seemed over as the Knicks bricked themselves into a 55–38 halftime deficit, shooting a miserable 23.4 percent (11–47 field goal shooting).
Carmelo Anthony was the only semi-bright spot at the midway point with 19 first-half points off of 5-for-13 shooting. Meanwhile, Amar’e Stoudemire played a lot of the opening half and looked mostly recovered from a back injury, yet missed all but one of his 10 attempts from the floor. He was still active though with seven rebounds.
Second Half Surge
The Garden came alive soon after halftime, as the Knicks started playing with more energy. The Celtics, who hit their first eight shots after the break, led by 23 points with 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter when the Knicks started making their run.
The Knicks effort was spearheaded by 3-pointers from Bill Walker and Shawne Williams, sandwiched around a Stoudemire free throw to quickly cut the lead to 64–48 and put the Easter Sunday crowd on their feet.
Williams finished with six points (2-for-9 shooting) in 37 minutes of action, while Walker scored five.
The run was temporarily put on hold as Kevin Garnett hit back-to-back-to-back shots to put the Celtics up 70–48. The 34-year old former-MVP had 20 second half points and finished with a team-high 26, giving the offensively balanced Celtics a different leading scorer in each of their four postseason games.
With his team in need of another big spark while still without the services of injured starting guard Chauncey Billups, Mike D'Antoni inserted veteran point guard Anthony Carter with 5:37 left in the third quarter.
Carter, who played well in his limited stint Friday night, came in right where he left off and made an immediate impact. His back-to-back defensive rebounds and assists to a seemingly cherry-picking Carmelo Anthony, for two easy dunks, cut the lead to 74–60 and forced Doc Rivers to call a timeout.
“Everybody understood what was at stake. Give a team some confidence, even in a 3-0 series to win a game, you never know what can happen,” Paul Pierce said after the game.
By the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Knicks had cut the lead to 82–72 and anything seemed possible.
Just 90 seconds later, after a Carter assisted layup to Stoudemire and a Carmelo turnaround jumper, the lead was cut to single digits 82–76 for the first time since the first half. Minutes later, following scores by both teams, Carter's long jumper made it 84–80 and forced another regrouping timeout by Doc Rivers.
By this point though (7:33 remaining) the Knicks hadn't substituted since the 5:37 mark of the previous quarter and fatigue would soon prove to be a factor.
Following baskets by Pierce and Rajon Rondo the Celtics quickly upped their lead to 88–80 before Carter would make one last push with a pair of long jumpers sandwiched around a Ray Allen 3-pointer to make it 91–85 with 5:29 remaining.
“They made a great run and the crowd really got behind them, but in the fourth quarter we just really settled down in the last six or seven minutes, executed the offense and were able to put the game out of reach,” Pierce said.
Pierce finished with 13 points off of a sub-par 5-for-18 shooting night while Allen had 14 points off a very ordinary 5-for-13 performance as the two sharpshooters rode their defense to a win.
Rondo continued his superb series, finishing with 21 points and 12 assists. “We haven’t swept a team in a long time, so it’s good feeling,” Rondo said after the game.
Meanwhile, the Carter jumper would be the last field goal for the worn-out Knicks until 'Melo's meaningless 3-pointer nearly five minutes later cut a 13-point deficit to 10 at 99–89 with 49 seconds remaining.
Anthony finished with a team-high 32 points (10-for-24 shooting) and pulled down 9 rebounds, while Stoudemire contributed 19 points and led the team with 12 boards.
Carter made the most of his 23 minutes, as he paced the team with four assists. He also scored 11 points, and was the only Knick to shoot better than 50 percent (5-for-7) from the floor as New York was an abysmal 30-for-88 shooting (34.1 percent) for the game.
The Celtics meanwhile, hit 49 percent of their shots and out-rebounded their longtime rivals 53–42, despite being without Shaquille O'Neal.
The still-injured O'Neal missed the game again and didn't play at all in the series. The 39-year old former MVP hasn't played since April 3, which was his first action since Feb. 1, as the Celtics are surely hoping the Miami–Philadelphia series will go the full length for his healing benefit.
On the flip side, with their season done the Knicks are faced with many decisions starting with whether to bring back Donnie Walsh. The veteran executive has acquired two major stars to build his team around, but is personally not signed for next season.
One decision that the Knicks don’t have to face is what the core of their starting layup will be. The Stoudemire–Anthony duo was short lived this season but they’ve got all summer and next year to perfect their play.
“Tonight was one of those games that we have to leave it all out on the court. Wasn’t no need to take anything home with us, and we did that. So I’m pretty sure that we gained a lot of respect from a lot of people right now, but this is the first step of something great,” Anthony said after Sunday’s game.