NEW YORK -- It was too easy. With 10:19 remaining in the third quarter of this afternoon's game, the Celtics had a 23-point lead on the Knicks and a 3-0 lead in the series. They looked poised to cruise to their first playoff sweep in the Big Three era.
Although the Knicks looked dead, poor execution and missed defensive assignments by the Celtics allowed New York to get back into the game. At the end of the third quarter the Knicks trailed by just 10 points. With 7:33 left, they trailed by four. For the first time in two games in New York, Madison Square Garden was very much alive.
"We got away from what we call our formula," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We have one going into every game. We went to too much [isolation], too much post where they could see us and trap us. And that allowed them to trap."
The Knicks would get as close as 84-80, but improved execution and a series-high 26 points from Kevin Garnett helped the Celtics escape a potential trap game and defeat the Knicks 101-89 Sunday afternoon at MSG, completing a four-game sweep in the best-of-seven first round series. It's the first time the Celtics have swept a playoff series since 1992. Boston now awaits the winner of the Philadelphia-Miami series, which the Heat leads, 3-1.
"This is what we expected coming in," said Celics point guard Rajon Rondo. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy...it's a good feeling to be able to get some rest."
While the Celtics briefly rested on offense in the third and fourth quarters, the defense was there from the start. The Celtics held the Knicks to 29.6 percent shooting in the first quarter. Anthony had 15 points but did not have help. His usual running mate, Amar'e Stoudemire, started the game despite back spasms but missed all six shots he took in the first. He got on the board in the second quarter but finished the half 1 for 10.
While Stoudemire didn't show up in the first half, the Celtics bench did. Glen Davis (12 points in the half) seemed comfortable with his jump shot for the first time all series, while Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic also showed up in the scoring column. The bench also played with a renewed energy on defense, with Green and Davis playing effectively on Anthony and Stoudemire, respectively. Delonte West also added an edge to Boston's bench play. At the 7:12 mark in the second quarter he gave a hard foul to Knicks guard Landry Fields in transition. The foul was deemed clean, but West's actions after the play were not, and he received a technical foul for standing over Fields. Stoudemire came over to intervene and shoved West in the back, drawing a technical of his own. The play seemed to actually fire up the Celtics, who listened to Anthony say on Saturday that it would be New York dishing out punishment in Game 4.
The halftime statistics were downright oppressive for the Knicks. They made 11 of 47 shots for 23-percent shooting. Besides Stoudemire's 1 of 10, the Knicks were 2 of 11 from the 3-point arc. Carmelo Anthony led the team in scoring with 19 points but was 5 of 13. The Knicks trailed 55-38 despite Paul Pierce also posting a 1-for-10 half and despite the Celtics making just one 3-point field goal.
"i think we felt like we should have competed a lot more," said Knicks forward Jared Jeffries. We didn't shoot the ball well so it made it difficult to have consistent games."
Then the Knicks made their third-quarter run. New York got the lead down to 10 points with 2:44 left in the period. Down 10 to start the fourth, New York got several key jump shots from journeyman guard Anthony Williams and trailed 84-80 with 7:35 remaining. During the run, the Celtics were held scoreless from the field for over seven minutes.
But Garnett was on a mission in the second half, scoring 20 of his 26 points after the break. His jumper with 4:12 remaining put the Celtics back up by 10 and quieted down Knicks fans who were so desperate to have something to cheer about.
"We just went back to doing what we were doing all of Game 3 and most of tonight," Rivers said of his team's execution down the stretch. "And that was multiple options, let Rondo make the right decision."
Anthony led the Knicks with 22 points, while Stoudemire recovered from his poor first half and finished with 19. The season is over for the Knicks.
"The sky is the limit," said Anthony. "We have only been together for two months."
Rajon Rondo had 21 points and 12 assists for Boston.
With the sweep, the Celtics will get some time to rest this week before their next series, likely against the Miami Heat. The Heat lost to Philadelphia this afternoon but still lead that series 3-1. A potential Heat-Celtics series would likely start sometime next weekend.
Final: Celtics 101-89 That's your ballgame. Celtics hang on for the win in Game 4 and sweep the Knicks, 4-0.
2:03 4th quarter, Celtics 97-86: Great offense by the Celtics, leading to another jumper by Garnett. He has 24 points. Celtics finding themselves and executing down the stretch.
3:18 4th quarter, Celtics 95-85: Jumper by KG and the lead is back up to 10. Do the Knicks have one more run left in them?
5:07 4th quarter, Celtics 91-85: Paul Pierce takes a charge on Shawne Williams and negates a layup in transition. Huge swing there. Celtics need to settle down and execute their offense.
7:33 4th quarter, Celtics 84-80: The Celtics haven't scored from the field in the last six minutes as a 23-point lead is cut to four points.
End 3d quarter, Celtics 82-72: Anthony's finally getting some help. Stoudemire has 14. This one's not over.
4:50 3d quarter, Celtics 74-60: Carmelo Anthony leaks out for dunks on two straight possessions. Doc Rivers calls timeout to chew into his team. The Celtics have played great defense, but they can't have lapses like these against someone like Anthony.
6:56 3d quarter, Celtics 70-50: Kevin Garnett's got eight quick points in the second half here. He's looked unstoppable in the post the last two games.
9:40 3d quarter, Celtics 64-44: Great hustle play by Paul Pierce, sneaking up on Anthony and stealing the ball before being pursued to the other end of the court and drawing a foul. Pierce isn't shooting well, but he hasn't stopped hustling.
Halftime, Celtics 55-38: The Celtics aren't allowing the Knicks to be competitive in this game. Boston's defense is suffocating.
So many stats jump off the sheet. The Knicks are shooting 23 percent. Amar'e Stoudemire has one field goal. He's 1 of 10. Paul Pierce is also 1 of 10, and the Celtics have only made one 3-point field goal.
And yet the Celtics are up 17.
2:15 2d quarter, Celtics 50-33: Paul Pierce is 1 for 8 from the field, but the rest of the Celtics are 20 of 34. Wow.
5:58 2d quarter, Celtics 42-28: The fire hasn't been lit yet. West and the Celtics are building the lead without the starters. We'll see what happens at the end of the quarter when Rondo et al come back in.
7:12 2d quarter, Celtics 37-27: Delonte West just gave a very hard foul to Landry Fields in transition, then stood over him. West gets called for a technical, and Amar'e Stoudemire gets called for a technical foul when he intervenes. Fans here are livid. Might be on their side on this one. No place for what Delonte just did right there, trying to punk Fields. And the last thing the Celtics want to do is a light a fire under the Knicks.
7:41 2d quarter, Celtics 37-27: The bench is stretching the lead. This has to make Doc Rivers very, very happy.
9:02 2d quarter, Celtics 33-27: Amar'e Stoudemire hits a pair of free throws. He's got 3 points and is still 0-for-the-field.
End 1st quarter, Celtics 29-23: The bench is scoring! The bench is scoring! Glen Davis and Nenad Krstic combined for six points in the first quarter. More importantly, the Celtics didn't cough up the lead.
Carmelo's having a beastly game so far. He's got 15 points, including a beautiful fake to draw the foul before putting a shot off the glass for two. He's all the Knicks have right now though.
2:20 1st quarter, Celtics 23-18: This isn't the offensive show the Celtics put on in Game 3, but Boston's defense is just as good.The Knicks are just 7 of 24.
5:32 1st quarter, Celtics 15-13: It looks like another game where Carmelo Anthony is going to have to do it himself. He's got 7 points, while Amar'e Stoudemire is 0 for 4 from the field.
7:21 1st quarter, Celtics 11-10: There's the first hard foul of the game. Stoudemire takes down Rondo and earns a flagrant-1 foul. Both teams said yesterday they expcted hard fouls and intense play. We're seeing it.
8:07 1st quarter, Knicks 10-8: Ronny Turiaf gets the basket plus one on O'Neal. Knicks have come out with more energy in Game 4.
11:48 1st quarter, Tied at 0: Tough start for Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire as he's called for a charge. Great job by Jermaine O'Neal to stand in there.
Pregame: Fans are filing into their seats and we're just about ready to go.
Let's get it.