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 also 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.

Boston Coach Doc Rivers said he rarely talks to his team about the crowd, but he made an exception Friday, knowing the stage. He said, “My main concern is this was not entertainment coming in here. This was a competition and I thought we came with that mentality.”

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.

“You can’t give them that big an opening that they can smell blood,” Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni said.

Carmelo Anthony had 15 points and 11 rebounds but shot 4 for 16 for the Knicks, who were 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.

“It’s tough knowing that Amare’s not 100 percent, Chauncey’s not 100 percent and we’re just trying to find our way on the fly right now,” Anthony said. “That’s a tough situation, but I think that would be making excuses if I sit here and say that they beat us because we’re not at full strength. We’ve still got guys that have to go out there and play, and that is going out there and playing, so I don’t want to use that as an excuse.”

Stoudemire was just 2 of 8 for seven points, admitting he was trying to avoid contract on drives to the basket. He said he wasn’t 100 percent and knows he won’t be Sunday, either.

“I felt good enough to play but I wasn’t 100 percent,” he said. “I just wanted to show some courage out there for the fans of New York. They deserved it, and my teammates, also.”

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 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.

Rivers compared his point guard, who previously shared the Celtics’ playoff record of 19 assists with Hall of Famer Bob Cousy, to a catcher calling a perfect game. But Rondo gave credit to the screeners who were freeing up so much space for Allen and Pierce.

“I would say our bigs are getting Ray and Paul open,” Rondo said. “Ray and Paul made them pay.”

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 Miami has over Philadelphia, 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.

“For us, you know you’re in a hostile environment and we’ve been here before in this situation,” Allen said.

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL is “closer” to returning, although Rivers isn’t sure when that will be. O’Neal traveled with the Celtics to New York for Game 3 but didn’t play. He could be available for Game 4 on Sunday.

“Listen, he’s just feeling better and he’s closer. I don’t know what he needs to show me,” Rivers said after the Celtics’ morning shootaround. “He’s not ready to play yet, but he’s getting closer. The fact that he’s getting closer, you bring him on the road.”

 


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