NEW YORK - Usually, when a team makes fourteen threes in the first half, there isn't much hope for a comeback. Then again, most teams aren't as resilient as the Boston Celtics.
Boston surrendered 72 first-half points and trailed by 19 at the half, but pulled within six in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, that was as close as they would get, as the Knicks proved to be too much and walked away with a 118-110 win Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
"They beat us," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, whose team fell to 36-26 with four games left. "I thought they played well, no excuses from us. I thought we overreacted early and started trapping so early in the game, we never do that. I didn't like it, and we did it."
Paul Pierce's performance kept the Celtics within striking distance, as he had a season-high 43 points on 11-of-19 shooting (he also made 17-of-18 free throws) in 43 minutes.
"I guess that's what a couple days off in New York will do," said Pierce, who hadn't topped the 40-point plateau since 2006. "I had a chance to rest for a few days. It felt good and I got into a little groove, but it wasn't enough. I would rather have a win and not play well."
All four Celtics starters reached double-digits in points, with Kevin Garnett scoring 20, Avery Bradley totaling 17 points, Brandon Bass scoring 15 and Rajon Rondo totaling 13 points. Rondo had 13 assists, extending his double-digit assists streak to 23 games.
Carmelo Anthony carried the Knicks, totaling 35 (19 in the first half) 12 rebounds and 10 assists. J.R. Smith had 21 points off the bench on 7-of-9 shooting from three-point range and finished with 25 points. Tyson Chandler had 20 points and Steve Novak added 25 points. New York shot 57.5 percent from the field and finished 19-of-32 from long range.
"We talked about maybe overreacting to Carmelo (Anthony)," said Pierce. "We allowed them to swing the ball to open shooters. It ignited the other guys and gave them a lot of confidence. Sometimes we have nights like that. They shot the ball and made some threes. We didn't defend the three at all tonight and we dug ourselves out of a huge hole."
The first half was a thing of beauty for New York. The Knicks led 32-26 after the first quarter and went on an absolute tear from three-point range, sinking 11-of-15 treys to finish the half 14-of-21 from long distance. Thirty three of the Knicks' forty points in the quarter came from beyond the arc. New York's reserves outscored Boston's bench 39-0 in the opening half.
"It was great," Novak said about the Knicks' first half, in which he scored 13. "I got it going. Hitting those shots, it was super contagious. They were falling."
"It is a great feeling especially at home," Anthony said about his team's first-half play. "Get the fans going, get our confidence going, especially coming off a loss."
Boston made up some ground in the third quarter, pulling within 10 points (81-71) before finishing the quarter down 96-84. The third-quarter run was sparked by 17 points from Pierce, who had 26 points and four fouls heading into the final quarter.
The comeback effort continued late into the fourth, as Pierce scored 14 in the period and had the Celts within six, 112-106, with nearly three minutes remaining. Novak put to rest any hopes of a full comeback by hitting back-to-back threes, making it a 118-108 game.
"We panicked," Rivers said about his team's defense. "We trapped too early. We were doing things that we shouldn't have done. It happens. We talked about it at halftime. I thought we were better at it, and then we did it again in the fourth quarter out of nowhere ... I told the guys this was a good lesson for us, don't overreact to a great player. And I thought we did that."