NEW YORK – Carmelo Anthony started fast, struggled through the middle and finished with a flurry.
And the New York Knicks, after knocking the Boston Celtics from the top of the Atlantic Division, took the first step toward knocking them out of the playoffs.
Anthony scored 36 points, leading the Knicks to an 85-78 victory Saturday in their playoff opener.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to know that we got our first win of the series here on our home court, took care of that business,” Anthony said. “It was real important for us to come out and get this first win.”
The NBA’s scoring leader had 10 quick points and endured a tough shooting night from there before scoring eight points in the fourth quarter, helping New York take a 1-0 lead in a series for the first time since the 2001 first round against Toronto.
“Boston knows (Anthony) and they know he’s not going anywhere, but they’re going to make it as tough as possible for him to score,” Knicks Coach Mike Woodson said. “And he got off to a good start and then he had that slow middle, and then when he had to pick it up down the stretch, he made the plays that we needed him to make. And I mean, that’s what the great ones do. They figure it out and Melo’s done that all season for our ballclub.”
Anthony shot only 13 of 29 from the field but made consecutive baskets late in the final period, when the Knicks held Boston to three baskets and eight points.
Game 2 is Tuesday night before the Celtics host Game 3 on Friday in what will be their first home game since the bombings.
Jeff Green scored 26 points and Paul Pierce added 21 for the Celtics, who badly missed injured point guard Rajon Rondo, committing 21 turnovers that led to 20 points. The Knicks got their hands on the ball at will in the fourth quarter, when Boston shot 3 of 11.
“We had some bad turnovers,” Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said. “If we had those turnovers in any game we probably should lose the game and we did. We were making post passes from the other side of the floor. I mean, those are just not good passes.”
Kevin Garnett had eight points and nine rebounds but shot only 4 of 12 from the field. Reserve Jason Terry, another veteran on a young Celtics team, missed all five shots.
The Celtics led after three quarters and tied it for the final time at 72-72 on Garnett’s basket with 8:13 remaining. Anthony then made consecutive jumpers and after the Celtics got back within three later in the period, made a layup and a long jumper that gave New York an 83-76 advantage with 1:21 left.
Green made two free throws and the Celtics double-teamed Anthony, but he fired a pass to a wide-open Kenyon Martin under the basket to put it away with 40 seconds left.
“We panicked a little bit. We don’t have to do that,” Celts guard Avery Bradley said. “We have to keep our composure and play the right way. We didn’t.”
The Knicks ended the Celtics’ five-year reign as Atlantic Division champions by going 54-28, winning their first division title since 1994 with their most victories since going 57-25 in 1996-97. The next step would be playoff success for New York, which hasn’t won a postseason series since 2000.
The Celtics wore a special patch recognizing the difficult week in Boston following the bombings that killed three people at the Boston Marathon. Rivers said many players were calling home to check on their families Friday, when the Boston area was in lockdown while authorities searched for the suspect. That even affected the Celtics, as Rondo, out for the season with a knee injury, was unable to join the team Friday in New York because he couldn’t get out.
The Boston Fire Dept. Color Guard and FDNY color guard carried the flags onto the court before the national anthem, and Anthony and Pierce addressed the crowd before the game, with a few fans booing Pierce before many others yelled “Shhh!” so he could speak.
“Boston will rise and run again,” Pierce said.