Knicks will try to complete sweep of Celtics on Sunday

J.R. Smith of the Knicks celebrates after hitting

J.R. Smith of the Knicks celebrates after hitting a three point shot to end the first quarter against the Boston Celtics during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden. (April 23, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

BOSTON -- The days of looking up at the Celtics are over for the Knicks. They're looking at shutting down the season of one of their biggest rivals Sunday.

After the year the Atlantic Division champion Knicks had, they were favored to beat Boston in this first-round series, but not as easily as they have in the first three games. The Knicks have dominated the team that won the previous five division titles and will go for the sweep in Game 4 Sunday afternoon.

"We feel like we set ourselves up, put ourselves in position right now to have the opportunity to close this series out,'' Carmelo Anthony said at a Boston hotel Saturday afternoon. "That's our mind-set. That's what we're going in to try and do.''

The Knicks will be shorthanded in this elimination game, though. The NBA suspended J.R. Smith one game without pay "for throwing an elbow and striking the chin of Boston Celtics guard Jason Terry'' late in Friday night's 90-76 win. But the Knicks have been able to win without key players all season.

If they win Sunday, the Knicks could have about a week off before they start their second-round series against Indiana or Atlanta. Even more significant: With their next win against the Celtics, the Knicks will reach the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2000.

It would be a big achievement for Anthony and this franchise, and even sweeter if it's a sweep. Anthony's teams have gotten past the first round only once in his previous nine NBA seasons, and he was on the Knicks team that Boston swept in 2011.

No NBA team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit and won a series, and the Knicks don't plan to be the first to allow that to happen -- or even give the appearance that it might happen.

The way the Celtics have struggled to score, they might be lucky to force a fifth game, which would be played Wednesday at the Garden.

"This is the most difficult thing that you'll face, trying to close a team out,'' Tyson Chandler said.

That's true in many cases, but the Celtics look like a beaten team, and a shell of the one that had been a perennial power since 2007-08.

When this season started, the Knicks were considered old. But in this series, they have made Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett appear ready to start having "Early Bird'' dinners.

Raymond Felton has controlled much of the last two games against point guard-less Boston, with Pablo Prigioni and Jason Kidd adding valuable playmaking, defense and leadership.

The Knicks have proven they have too much talent and depth for Doc Rivers' team. They have limited the Celtics to 75 points per game in the series, have outscored them by 37, are plus-57 in bench points and have committed 16 fewer turnovers. In one stretch of four consecutive quarters, they allowed 54 points.

"We're feeding off of each other,'' Anthony said. "The momentum we have is growing and growing. We feed off each other on the defensive end, on the offensive end. When things go down, we pick each other up. That's something we've kind of been doing throughout the course of the season.''

The Knicks didn't practice Saturday. Mike Woodson had them meet in a hotel ballroom to watch tape, correct some things from Friday night's win and prepare for the game that could propel the Knicks into the second round for the first time in 13 years.

"It's great, not only for our players and for our ownership group, but it's great for our fans,'' Woodson said. "They've had some tough years, but they should be enjoying this because this is what playoff basketball, to me, is about.

"We still have a big game to go before we can actually get it done and then really talk about a first-round playoff win.''

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