Kevin Garnett went to the bench for good with 5:47 left in the third quarter, having scored only 8 points. No, he wasn't hurt, nor did he foul out. In fact, the unselfish Celtics couldn't have asked for anything better than this.
Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen went to the bench early last night because the Celtics went up by as many as 52 points against the Knicks while embarrassing them, 104-59, in front of a sellout crowd at TD Banknorth Garden and a national television audience. The rout and the rest were welcome because the Celtics left immediately afterward for a game in Miami tonight.
"Seriously, I can't even remember having that type of a rest," said Garnett, a 13th-year veteran. "It's good because we have back-to-back games. Paul said before the game that if we could come in here and jump on these guys early, we know our schedule, we know we have a back-to-back. That's important at this time.
"We came into this game more than motivated, very energetic. We did just that."
If not for a 37-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer by Nate Robinson, the Knicks would have set a team scoring low, not to mention a record low for a Celtics opponent. As it was, the Knicks, who have been around since 1946, were 1 point shy of matching the franchise worst, set against Utah Dec. 15, 2000. New York (4-10) also suffered its third-worst margin of defeat ever.
"I definitely didn't see this type of game coming," said Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, whose job reportedly has been in jeopardy for a while.
Boston (12-2) improved to 8-0 at home this season. The Celtics' best home start was 12-0 in the 1984-85 season.
"In the past, we haven't given [the fans] a whole lot to cheer for," coach Doc Rivers said. "So now they are. They're here. They have great energy. You feel it and the players feel it. It's good."
Most of the fans stuck around for most of the fourth quarter. Why? Probably to see just how badly the Knicks would lose.
The Celtics' greatest margin of victory was 51 points in a 153-102 win over the Philadelphia Warriors March 7, 1962. New York's worst loss was by 62 points, 162-100, at Syracuse Dec. 25, 1960.
A Renaldo Balkman dunk brought the Knicks within 100-54 with 1:58 left in the fourth quarter. Two free throws by Robinson sliced Boston's lead to 102-56 with 56.7 seconds left. And before scoring lows could be set, Robinson nailed his long-distance farewell shot.
"That was embarrassing," Knicks guard Jamal Crawford said. "No way around it. No excuses."
Boston owned a comfortable 54-31 lead at halftime. New York shot 31.7 percent before the intermission, missing 28 of 41 shots. The Knicks set a season low for first-half scoring and matched the nadir for a Boston opponent set by Toronto Nov. 14. Boston's supporting cast scored half the points. Pierce had a team-high 12.
"We were up big at halftime," said Pierce, who had a game-high 21 points, matching Allen. "It wasn't about the score. It was about us getting better."
One of the Celtics' big concerns this season has been protecting large leads. They didn't take this one for granted, opening the third quarter with an 11-0 run that ended with a Pierce 3-pointer at 8:39, leaving the Knicks down, 65-31. New York scored its first points of the second half on a Balkman lay-in with 7:48 left in the third, by which time the Celtics led, 65-33.
"We did a great job once we had them down of continuing to step on them and continue to go," Garnett said. "It was one of those games where our team needed this game. We always talk about finishing teams [after] being up big. Paul preaches it, of how 'We have to finish teams. We have to finish teams.' Today was a prime example of that.
"Our defense was continuously up to par. We were talking. I can tell [by] the way we were communicating out there that it would be one of those types of games."
Garnett exited with 11 rebounds in 23 minutes. Allen and Pierce soon joined him.
"We didn't compete," Thomas said. "We just weren't competitive. Boston came out with a playoff-type intensity, a national television game, and we didn't respond to that type of energy, and it's disappointing. We're not ready for prime time yet.
"That's for sure."