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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Knicks stayed in their zone to beat Celtics

Knicks point guard Pablo Prigioni looks to get

Knicks point guard Pablo Prigioni looks to get around Boston Celtics' Avery Bradley during the second quarter. (April 26, 2013) Credit: AP

BOSTON - The Celtics had not played at home since April 10, an eon ago in these parts.

So when the time came at last, there was plenty of catching up to do before and during Friday night's game as the team honored the city and those who performed heroically after the Boston Marathon bombings.

Nothing wrong with that, obviously. But the Knicks knew the charged atmosphere would pose a challenge as they tried to stick to the task at hand and not get distracted by the emotions that swirled around them.

"I'll be zoning that out, blocking that out, really just focusing on trying to win the basketball game," Carmelo Anthony had said earlier in the day.

So he and his teammates did. So well, in fact, that by the time the Celtics left the court at halftime with a 16-point deficit, many in the crowd were booing them, a shocking turn of events under the civic-minded circumstances.

An hour or so later, the Knicks were leaving the court for the evening with a 90-76 victory, a 3-0 lead in the first-round playoff series and a broken opponent.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he thought the team "did lose our spirit early on," by which he meant very early on, when his two biggest stars, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, missed layups on the same possession in the opening minute.

It started a pattern of bad Celtics misses, even worse turnovers and key plays by the Knicks that repeatedly dampened the spirits of a crowd that wanted to be part of something big.

After the morning shoot-around, Knicks coach Mike Woodson said he would be interested in seeing how his team would react amid the sea of "Boston Strong" T-shirts and strong Boston sentiments.

So how did he think it went in the end? "I like the makeup of our team," he said. "I've said that all year."

Anthony credited guards Pablo Prigioni, who had four of his five steals in the first half, and Raymond Felton with taking the job of taking out the crowd. Felton had 15 points and 10 assists as he continued to torment the Celtics.

As part of the pregame video-board crowd-pumping, the Celtics flashed a quote from J.R. Smith saying of TD Garden, "If you're the away team, it's a nightmare."

Smith did not seem scared, getting 15 points, four rebounds and three assists before being asked to leave by the officials when he elbowed Jason Terry in the face in an attempt, he later said, to clear space for himself.

Now the Knicks are on the verge of winning a postseason series for the first time since 2000, perhaps with a four-game sweep that no one saw coming. "It would be a dream come true," Anthony said. "I've never swept anybody."

The Celtics have shown no signs they can stop him from living his dream, so the only relevant question now is how quickly the Knicks and Pacers can wrap things up so they can start the conference semifinals.

Felton said he hopes the Pacers and Hawks will need seven games in their first-round series, which likely is wishful thinking. But regardless, a victory in Game 4 would give the Knicks a welcome break. (They will not practice Saturday.)

Of course, the Celtics' awful performance did nothing to diminish the heartfelt tributes to marathon first responders and other civic heroes who shone in the Garden spotlight.

But just as Anthony had hoped, the Knicks remembered they were here to play basketball no matter what was going on around them, and they played it much better than the other guys did.

New York Sports