The Knicks have seemingly exorcised their personal Beantown demons, as they knocked off the Celtics, 108-89, Sunday night.
The win not only essentially ended the Celtics’ five-year stranglehold on the Atlantic Division, as the Knicks (46-26) now lead third-place Boston (38-35) by five games, but it also gave New York the edge in the season series, 3-1, which is the first time since the 2003-04 season.
Carmelo Antony managed to finally outshine red-hot teammate J.R. Smith, as he notched a team-high 24 points. Anthony also added 10 rebounds and two steals to help the Knicks win their season-high eighth straight victory. Smith was once again efficient as he tallied 15 points and a team-high 12 rebounds.
The Knicks also beat the Celtics on the glass for the second time in as many matchups, as they earned a 41-37 advantage. Defensively they did enough to curtail a Celtics attack that was missing Kevin Garnett (foot). Jeff Green had 27 points, while Paul Pierce added 24 points, but they were the only two Celtics to look comfortable.
Kenyon Martin, who sat out the fourth quarter for precautionary reasons with a strained left abdominal muscle, said the key was the way the Knicks were playing defense and not allowing the Celtics’ supporting cast to get hot.
“[We were] talking, being active, and limiting them to just one possession,” said Martin. “We were just competing, contesting shots, and keeping them off the glass.”
Just as impressive as their rebounding and defense was the fact the Knicks had a robust shooting percentage from behind the arc. They shot a collective 14-of-27 for 51.9 percent. The Knicks’ marksmanship was on full display from the opening tip, as they knocked down 11-of-16 from behind the arc in the first half, including a halfcourt 3-pointer at the buzzer by Raymond Felton. Five of the seven Knicks players who knocked down 3-pointers had at least two.
Felton had a wry smile afterward when discussing his halfcourt heave and said he’s been getting good looks like that all the time, thanks to the presence of Smith and Anthony.
“When you have guys like J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony that command double-teams, you’re bound to get easy shots,” said Felton. “Our defense has been great and our offensive spacing has been great. Everyone is playing together as a team. … I feel like we’re playing on the same level as [the top teams] and have our own hot streak.”
New York has been hot from behind the arc almost all season, as they’ve lived and died by the three all season. Their league-leading 28.7 attempts per game from behind the arc is a testament to that philosophy.
But while critics will note that no team in league history has ever won a title by using the 3-point shot as its primary weapon, should the Knicks continue this torrid stretch into the postseason, they may dispel that thinking.
The Knicks had 15 assists on 21 made field goals in the first half, and finished with an astonishing 23 assists on their 35 made field goals. The bench also did its share by outscoring the Celtics reserves, 50-32.
Head coach Mike Woodson said he likes how the team is playing as cohesive as they’ve done since the torrid 18-5 start to the season.
“It’s important,” Woodson said when asked how crucial it was for the Knicks to regain their mojo heading down the stretch. “Every game is important in terms of us staying in front of our division and staying at that No. 2 spot [in the Eastern Conference]. We’re back to playing like the way we started the season. The ball is moving and it doesn’t matter who’s shooting the ball. Everyone is only concerned about winning. … We knew this was going to be a tough month. But we played it hard like we wanted to get some things accomplished, like staying in front of the division.”
The Knicks finished 12-6 in March.
» Woodson said he’s not sure about Chandler’s availability for Tuesday’s important tilt in Miami, but he’ll have a better idea during Monday’s practice.
“We’ll do individual stuff with him. Maybe have him do some one-on-one with Chris [Copeland]. He’s played a lot of basketball this year, from last season’s playoffs, to the Olympics and now this season, so I don’t need to see much from him to know when he’s ready. If he tells me he’s ready to play, I have no problem putting him in there again.”
» Copeland is still learning the ropes as a 29-year-old rookie, especially on defense. Woodson said he knows Copeland can put the ball in the hole, as he scored 22 points against the Celtics, but if he wants to see more playing time, he’ll need to ratchet up his defensive intensity.
“The thing about Chris, we know he can score the ball. We just need to get him up to speed with our defensive principles. He’s getting better but he has a long way to go. He still needs his reps and is still new to the league.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.