They couldn’t catch Boston last season but had opened a 4 ½-game lead over Brooklyn and were seven games up on the third-place Celtics entering Monday’s play.
‘‘Our goal is bigger and so are the Knicks’, I'm sure, but maybe that’s part of their goal and that’s their first step,’’ Rivers said of the division title. ‘‘But our goal is always bigger than that.’’
They've only recently begun to play like that could attain it.
Rondo had his second triple-double of the season Saturday to rally the Celtics to an 89-81 victory in Atlanta, but his actions during the game kept him from the arena Monday. Bradley, recently back from shoulder surgery, helped the Celtics overcome his absence with 13 points. Jeff Green had 16 off the bench.
Anthony and Pierce both picked up two fouls in the first 4 ½ minutes, Pierce getting a technical as well on his way to the bench. The early fouls, and some extra intensity, kept either team from getting in much of a flow, though New York did build a 10-point lead that Boston wiped out on its way to a 22-21 lead after a period in which they combined to make 13 of 35 shots.
The Knicks had the lead back to nine in the second, but Pierce scored 15 points in the period as Boston got within 56-53 at the break.
Boston scored seven straight late in the third quarter to open a six-point lead, held the Knicks to 6-of-17 shooting in the period and led 76-72 headed to the fourth, when the fireworks started.
NOTES: Anthony was chosen Eastern Conference player of the week after averaging a league-best 36 points in three games. ... Knicks G Iman Shumpert, out since tearing his ACL in last year’s playoffs, had his knee tested Monday as he moves closer to returning. He could take part in full practices this week. ... The Celtics open a five-game homestand Wednesday against Phoenix.