New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) leans on defending Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green (8) as he controls the ball in the second half of Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, in New York on Saturday, April 20. The Knicks won 85-78. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
NEW YORK – The scene Saturday afternoon outside the Madison Square Garden was electric. And it was no different inside, what with the drum corps, the Knicks City Dancers and the fireworks that punctuated the pomp and pageantry.
But when the dust finally settled, it was Carmelo Anthony's 36-point explosion that mattered the most as the No. 2-seeded New York Knicks vanquished their bitter rivals and the No.7 ranked Boston Celtics, 95-87.
Coming off the heels of winning the regular season scoring title as well as player of the month honors for April, the 6-foot-8 Anthony, a six-time All-Star, went to work early and rattled eight straight points that gave the Knicks a 12-6 head start.
But the battle-tested Celtics never panicked and coolly weathered the storm by putting their offense on the shoulders of Jeff Green and Paul Pierce, who combined for 16 first quarter points as Boston captured a precarious 29-26 advantage entering the second period.
A combination of Green consistently scoring and Anthony painfully struggling allowed the Celtics to sustain the momentum and grab a slim 53-49 edge going into the locker room. And that narrow margin set the stage for a climactic finish.
The second half was fought with kind of edge-of-your seat excitement reserve for the postseason as the Knicks and Celtics scratched and clawed to 11 lead changes and 11 ties.
But when the Knicks cranked their physical defense up a notch in the fourth quarter, the Celtics were doomed. With a combo of Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton at guards, Anthony and J.R. Smith on the wings, and Kenyon Martin menacing the middle, the Knicks held Boston to 3-of-11 field goals and forced eight turnovers in the final 12 minutes of play.
From left, New York Knicks' Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton, Carmelo Anthony and Solomon Jones react. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
While the Celtics offense sputtered, New York's attack turned decisively more lethal with eight of 21 shots made. And when Anthony swished a deep corner 2 with 1:21 left, the Celtics were running out of time and fight, 83-76.
“We talked about it, ninety percent of the league is quicker, faster but man, he just beats you with his brains,” Boston Celtic Coach Doc Rivers said in the post-game interview when asked about Jason Kidd’s heady plays.
“When you are healthy and you think quick, you are quicker," Rivers added.
New York head coach Mike Woodson, who steered the Knicks to their first Atlantic Division title since 1994, was all praises for his ace and captain.
"Anthony had a good start, slowed down in the middle quarters but delivered when it mattered the most,” said Woodson.
J.R. Smith missed a handful of shots, 12-for-19, but still managed 15 points while Felton directed the offense with quiet efficiency, 13 points and six dimes. Center Tyson Chandler was held scoreless in 20 minutes but wily veteran Kenyon Martin picked up the slack with an impressive 10 points and nine boards.
Boston was led by Jeff Green’s 26 points. Paul Pierce registered 21 and Avery Bradley added 15. But Kevin Garnett, hounded by five fouls, went just four for 12 for eight points.
After scoring a total of 53 points in the opening half, Boston could muster just 25 the rest of the way. The Celtics coughed up 20 turnovers and made only 27 of 65 field goals, including 5-for-20 behind the 3-point arc.
The poorest offensive rebounding team in the NBA, the Celtics were out-worked in the offensive boards, 10-4, allowing New York to hoist more second chance points.
The Knicks hope to take a commanding 2-0 lead Tuesday night when the best-of-7 series resumes at the Madison Square Garden.