By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK – No fantastic finish needed for the Boston Celtics this time.
They simply spoiled Madison Square Garden’s postseason homecoming party right from the start.
Paul Pierce scored 38 points, Ray Allen added 32, and Rajon Rondo had a Celtics’ playoff-record 20 assists as Boston beat the New York Knicks 113-96 on Friday night to take a 3-0 in their first-round playoff series.
Rondo had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Celtics, who pulled out two close games in Boston but never trailed in this one, dominating the first playoff game at Madison Square Garden in seven years. They will go for the sweep Sunday afternoon, and no NBA team has ever lost a series after winning the first three games.
After winning the two games in Boston despite trailing in the final half-minute of both, the Celtics scored the first nine points of this one and never really let it get much closer.
Carmelo Anthony had 15 points and 11 rebounds but shot 4 for 16 for the Knicks, who were hosting a playoff game for the first time in seven years. But the Celtics left the fans little to cheer about, and the Knicks were even booed as they walked off the court trailing by 23 points after three quarters.
Exactly 10 years to the day since their last home playoff victory, the Knicks were outclassed in the same way they have been so many times in their forgettable decade since.
With Chauncey Billups sidelined again with a knee injury, Amare Stoudemire limited by his back spasms and Anthony unable to duplicate his 42-point performance from Game 2, the Knicks lacked the firepower to match the defending Eastern Conference champions.
Stoudemire was just 2 for 8 for seven points.
Allen, who made the go-ahead 3-pointer in the Celtics’ 87-85 victory in Game 1, was 8 for 11 behind the arc and is a sizzling 15 for 20 in the series. Pierce was 6 of 8 from 3-point range as Rondo continuously set up his two All-Star wing players for open shots.
A sellout crowd filled with celebrities and fans starving to see postseason success could do nothing but admire the execution of the Celtics in an impressive performance after believing they played poorly in the first two games. They matched the 3-0 lead of Miami, moving closer to an expected second-round showdown.
Many fans wore orange shirts or waved orange towels. But the Celtics, who came within one win of an NBA title last season despite having home-court advantage in only one round, shook off the sounds as easily as they swatted away the Knicks.
“If you really want to bother us, tell no one to come. Then that’ll freak us out,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said before the game.
Instead, many of the fans just left early.
Stoudemire, who missed the second half of Tuesday’s game, won the opening tip but struggled early. He way overshot the basket on his first attempt, missed badly on his next one and was 0 for 3 in the opening period.
He warmed up for the second half with a large pad attached to his back, but by then it wouldn’t even had mattered if he played well.
The Celtics quickly scored the first nine points of the game before struggling Landry Fields got the Knicks on the board with a jumper more than 3 minutes in. Pierce later nailed a 3-pointer to start a 10-0 run that made it 22-5 and Boston turned away every New York rally.
NOTES: Shaquille O’Neal sat on Boston’s bench, showing he’s closer to returning from a right calf injury by making the trip to New York. Rivers said O’Neal is working hard but doesn’t know if he’ll be available for Game 4. … Pierce tied Tom Heinsohn for 13th place on Boston’s career list with his 104th playoff game. He will tie K.C. Jones for 12th on Sunday and could move into the top 10 during this postseason.
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