NEW YORK (AP) — No fantastic finish needed for the Boston Celtics this time.
They simply spoiled Madison Square Garden’s postseason homecoming party right from the start.
Paul Pierce scored 38 points, Ray Allen added 32, and Rajon Rondo had a Celtics’ playoff-record 20 assists as Boston beat the New York Knicks 113-96 on Friday night to take a 3-0 in their first-round playoff series.
Rondo had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Celtics, who pulled out two close games in Boston but never trailed in this one, dominating the first playoff game at Madison Square Garden in seven years. They will go for the sweep Sunday afternoon, and no NBA team has ever lost a series after winning the first three games.
Boston coach Doc Rivers said he rarely talks to his team about the crowd environment, but the former Knicks player made an exception Friday knowing the stage.
“My main concern is this was not entertainment coming in here today. This was a competition and I thought we came with that mentality,” Rivers said.
After winning the two games in Boston despite trailing in the final half-minute of both, the Celtics scored the first nine points of this one and never really let it get much closer.
“You come out and you hit them first. You don’t give the crowd a reason to get involved. That was big, when we came out with that run to start the game. We were comfortable from there on out,” Pierce said.
Carmelo Anthony had 15 points and 11 rebounds but shot 4 for 16 for the Knicks, who were booed as they walked off the court trailing by 23 points after three quarters.
“You can’t give them that big an opening that they can smell blood,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said.
Exactly 10 years to the day since their last home playoff victory, the Knicks were outclassed in the same way they have been so many times in their forgettable decade since.
With Chauncey Billups sidelined again with a knee injury, Amare Stoudemire limited by his back spasms and Anthony unable to duplicate his 42-point performance from Game 2, the Knicks lacked the firepower to match the defending Eastern Conference champions.
“It’s tough knowing that Amare’s not 100 percent, Chauncey’s not 100 percent and we’re just trying to find our way on the fly right now,” Anthony said. “That’s a tough situation but I think that would be making excuses if I sit here and say that they beat us because we’re not at full strength. We’ve still got guys that have to go out there and play and that is going out there and playing, so I don’t want to use that as an excuse.”
Stoudemire was just 2 for 8 for seven points, admitting he was trying to avoid contract on drives to the basket. He said he wasn’t 100 percent and knows he won’t be Sunday, either.
“I felt good enough to play but I wasn’t 100 percent,” he said. “I just wanted to show some courage out there for the fans of New York. They deserved it and my teammates, also.”
Allen, who made the go-ahead 3-pointer in the Celtics’ 87-85 victory in Game 1, was 8 for 11 behind the arc and is a sizzling 15 for 20 in the series. Pierce was 6 of 8 from 3-point range as Rondo continuously set up his two All-Star wing players for open shots.
Rivers compared his point guard, who shared the Celtics’ record with Hall of Famer Bob Cousy, to a catcher calling a perfect game. But Rondo, whose sixth postseason triple-double is four behind Larry Bird’s team record, gave credit to the screeners who were freeing up so much space for Allen and Pierce.
“I would say our bigs are getting Ray and Paul open,” Rondo said. “Ray and Paul made them pay.”
A sellout crowd filled with celebrities and fans starving to see postseason success could do nothing but admire the execution of the Celtics in an impressive performance after believing they played poorly in the first two games. They matched the 3-0 lead Miami has over Philadelphia, moving closer to an expected second-round showdown.
Many fans wore orange shirts or waved orange towels. But the Celtics, who came within one win of an NBA title last season despite having home-court advantage in only one round, shook off the sounds as easily as they swatted away the Knicks.
“For us, you know you’re in a hostile environment and we’ve been here before in this situation,” Allen said.
Stoudemire, who missed the second half of Tuesday’s game, won the opening tip but struggled early. He way overshot the basket on his first attempt, missed badly on his next one and was 0 for 3 in the opening period.
He warmed up for the second half with a large pad attached to his back, but by then it wouldn’t even had mattered if he played well.
The Celtics quickly scored the first nine points of the game before struggling Landry Fields got the Knicks on the board with a jumper more than 3 minutes in. Pierce later nailed a 3-pointer to start a 10-0 run that made it 22-5 and Boston turned away every New York rally.
Boston finished 14 of 24 (58 percent) from beyond the arc and outrebounded the Knicks 43-33.
NOTES: Shaquille O’Neal sat on Boston’s bench, showing he’s closer to returning from a right calf injury by making the trip to New York. Rivers said O’Neal is working hard but doesn’t know if he’ll be available for Game 4. … Pierce tied Tom Heinsohn for 13th place on Boston’s career list with his 104th playoff game. He will tie K.C. Jones for 12th on Sunday and could move into the top 10 during this postseason.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)