Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce

Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce Credit: Getty Images

The Knicks’ offseason started prematurely yesterday.

Well before coach Mike D’Antoni’s group lost 101-89 yesterday to the Celtics, who swept the Knicks from the playoffs in four games, D’Antoni was casting about for a winning combination of players to surround superstars Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire — a process that will continue in the months ahead.

Stoudemire, playing with a bad back, and Anthony combined for 51 points on 15-for-44 shooting. But their rally back from 22 down in the third quarter to 84-80 with 7:36 remaining came alongside a third-string point guard, Anthony Carter, and Roger Mason Jr., who didn’t play in Game 1.

Prized rookie forward Landry Fields, who survived the wholesale Feb. 23 trade that brought Anthony from Denver, played just 14 minutes, and none in the second half.

“It was tough to sit there and watch, but Coach made a great decision,” Fields said. “I wasn’t really cutting it in the first half, or even throughout this whole series, so he went with the guys he thought he was most confident in. So I’m backing that decision, but still, it’s all about winning.”

Boston’s Paul Pierce drew a key offensive foul on Shawne Williams with 5:07 remaining on a play that could have cut the deficit to 3.

After a timeout, the Knicks’ exhausting rally faded quickly.

“We didn’t go out just letting them walk all over us,” said Carter, whose 11 points and chippy defense helped compensate for the absence of Chauncey Billups, whose knee injury prevented him from playing after Game 1. “We gave the fans something to look forward to next year.”

Those fans who hadn’t filed out of the arena applauded the Knicks as time expired, bidding farewell to a team that brought playoff basketball to the Garden for the first time since 2004 — but extended the team’s postseason skid to 10 games.

The third-seeded Celtics’ first-round sweep ushered in an uncertain Knicks offseason — one that will surely shake up the Knicks’ patchwork roster, and perhaps the men who will determine it.

While D’Antoni and team president Donnie Walsh, who acquired Anthony and Billups, have said they want to stay on, their contracts may not be renewed by owner James Dolan.
“It’s going to take some time, and obviously some pieces will be coming and going,” D’Antoni said.

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