Knicks threes too much for Pierce, Celtics
NEW YORK - In a wild game Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, the most absurd thing was that the Celtics actually had an opportunity to steal a victory over the couldn’t-miss Knicks in the final minutes.
Paul Pierce became the Celtics’ first 40-plus-point scorer in six years with 43, and he carried Boston past the embarrassment of allowing 72 points in the first half to the verge of making the New York faithful uncomfortable.
But suddenly the Knicks’ 3-point shooting erupted again, and Steve Novak turned into Reggie Miller with a critical pair of treys down the stretch.
New York hit 19 3-pointers in all, the most the Celtics ever have allowed, as it humiliated Boston’s perimeter defense in a 118-110 victory. A Celtics victory would have clinched the Atlantic Division.
Novak and J.R. Smith combined for 50 points off the bench on 15-for-20 shooting on 3-pointers as the Knicks shot 56.8 percent overall after hovering over the 60-percent mark most of the night.
The Knicks were 19 for 32 from the 3-point line, including an NBA-record-tying 14 in that 72-point first half. Previously, the most 3-pointers the Celtics had allowed was 18 at Seattle Feb. 22, 2004.
The Celtics realized Carmelo Anthony had been the key to New York’s recent resurgence under interim coach Mike Woodson and doubled down on Anthony when he received the ball in the post. That merely allowed Anthony to begin a chain of passes that would reach an open 3-pointer shooter, and it happened again and again. Anthony had a 35-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist triple-double.
“We panicked, we trapped too early,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “It happens. We talked about it at halftime. I thought we were better at it [in the third] and then we did it again in the fourth quarter out of nowhere. I told our guys it was a really good lesson for us, don’t overreact to one great player, and I thought we did that.’’
The Celtics got as close as 112-106 after Pierce scored his 42d and 43d points on free throws with 3:07 left, but Novak countered with a 3-pointer off an offensive rebound, and then hit another off a pick to seal the game. Tyson Chandler added 20 points for New York, but the Knicks won this game from 23 feet, 9 inches away from the basket.
Pierce had the Celtics’ first 40-plus-point game since he tallied 50 in a double overtime victory Feb. 15, 2006 against the Cavaliers. He made 11 of 19 shots and 17 of 18 of his free throws after missing Sunday’s game at Charlotte to rest a sore left big toe.
“I guess that’s what a couple of days off in New York will do,’’ Pierce said. “I had a chance to rest for a few days, felt pretty good, got into a groove, but it wasn’t enough. I’d rather have a win and not play well.’’
After the Celtics allowed the Knicks to hold an impromptu 3-point shootout in the first half, they clamped down defensively from the perimeter in the third, allowing only an Anthony long-range shot in the quarter. The problem was the Celtics could do little with the Knicks’ pick-and-roll offense as Chandler continuously went to the basket unimpeded for dunks or layups. He had 12 points in the third.
In one sequence, Greg Stiemsma went to defend Mike Bibby, not a shooter, by going around a Chandler pick, allowing the center an easy trip down the lane for a dunk.
“We didn’t have a smart defensive game,’’ Rivers said. “And they made every shot, give them credit. But they had good shots. That’s where I was disappointed.’’
The Celtics als couldn’t stop the Knicks’ dribble penetration. But Pierce single-handedly kept them within striking distance, canning an array of midrange jumpers or 3-pointers, and he practically lived at the free-throw line. His jumper cut the deficit to 83-73 with 4:25 left in the third. But the Knicks scored the next 5 points, and then Chandler added two thundering dunks off pick-and-rolls to increase the lead to 96-84 to end the third.
Boston survived a scare when Rajon Rondo landed awkwardly on his tailbone with eight minutes left in the game leaping for an offensive rebound, and he walked gingerly off the court with the aid of head trainer Ed Lacerte. He returned after the injury timeout and with 13 extended his streak of consecutive games with double-digit assists to 23.
Rondo said he wants to play Wednesday against the Magic but Rivers said that was to be determined when the team returned to Boston.
“It just took me a while to get up,’’ Rondo said. “It took me a lot of bending, but I could feel everything in my body.’’
Smith and Novak combined for 34 points and 11 3-pointers in the first half, and even the little-used Bibby drained a long ball for a 51-35 lead. Each time the Celtics tried to mount a rally, the Knicks would simply counter with another 3-pointer. Smith hit his third of the second quarter to extend the lead to 54-35 with 5:21 left.
After Kevin Garnett responded with 5 straight Celtics points, Novak canned another 3-ball in front of the Knicks’ bench and was fouled by Avery Bradley, completing a 4-point play for a 60-40 lead. The Celtics began hitting baskets but it meant little. Bradley hit his fourth 3-pointer of the half and Smith countered with his seventh for a 21-point lead.
“We were catching the ball like it was shooting practice and letting it go,’’ Smith said. “We did a good job of finding the open man. If we keep moving the ball, and I start making shots, we are going to be tough to beat.’’