BOSTON — In his first postseason withthe New York Knicks two years ago Carmelo Anthony tried futilely, to single-handedly overcome the absence of fallen teammates and a superior Boston Celtics team through the power of his shooting hand. Instead, the Knicks were swept and Anthony had to hear his first round of harsh criticism for failing to deliver a postseason victory to a franchise that sacrificed so much to pry him from Denver.
Those days are distant memory for Anthony, the Knicks and the Celtics. With a more well-rounded game and a supporting cast that has proven capable of withstanding extended absences of key pieces, Anthony has been given an opportunity to exact revenge this season against the weakened and aging Celtics — and he is playing as if he is determined to send them out in similarly humiliating fashion.
Undeterred by a desperate opponent and a fired-up crowd in the first NBA game at TD Garden since the Boston Marathon bombings, Anthony scored a game-high 26 points Friday night to lead the Knicks to a 90-76 victory and a commanding three-games-to-none edge in their first-round NBA playoff series.
“It feels good to be sitting in this situation, to be sitting in the driver’s seat right now,” Anthony said.
Anthony is one victory from reaching the second round for the only the second time in 10 postseason appearances — and the first in three with the Knicks. With assistance from sixth man of the year J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton, who each scored 15 points, the Knicks are positioned to win a playoff series for the first time in 13 years.
“To be honest with you, to accomplish that would be spectacular, it would be a dream come true,” Anthony said. “I’ve never swept anybody. But we know Game 4 is win or go home for those guys – I’ve been on that side of the pole plenty of times and I know that feeling.”
New York will have a chance on Sunday to knock out Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and the Celtics in the first round for the first time since they joined forces in the summer of 2007. The Knicks once again exploited their advantages in youth, athleticism and desire, while the Celtics continued to be disjointed and off-target on offense. Boston has yet to score 80 points this series, and totaled 54 points over a 48-minute stretch spanning the second half of Game 2 and the first half of Game 3.
Former Georgetown star Jeff Green led the Celtics on Friday with 21 points and Pierce had 17.
“I didn’t expect this coming in,” Pierce said. “I am surprised we are down 0-3 right now.”
The disintegration of the Celtics as a championship contender began in the offseason, when Ray Allen bolted for Miami, the team that eliminated them from the 2012 Eastern Conference finals. The challenge to remain relevant became greater when all-star point guard Rajon Rondo was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. And the greatness and competitiveness of cornerstones Pierce and Garnett are suddenly no longer enough to overcome the effects of advancing age, considerable mileage and injuries.