What a difference a few hours makes.
If the Celtics were in awe of their surroundings during Game 3 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series in New York City, they certainly didn't show it. They were in the most famous arena in the world, playing before a fan base that hadn't seen a playoff game in seven years, and they could have let the moment overcome them. But instead, they took the moment and utterly destroyed it.
"I usually don't talk about where we're playing, but tonight I did a little bit," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after the Celtics' blowout win, 113-96 at the Garden. "My concern was that this was not entertainment coming in here today. This was a competition. I thought we came with that mentality. That's the thing this place can do — you come in here to put on a show, and then you get your tail kicked. I thought we came in here to compete and just play team basketball. Everyone did that."
It was a showy atmosphere in the building, with 19,763 belligerent New Yorkers waving orange towels and every celebrity from Spike Lee to Woody Allen to Mayor Mike Bloomberg watching courtside. There was a packed house on hand to see the revival of basketball in New York, and they showed up ready to boo the Celtics out of the building.
The C's relished it. Paul Pierce defied the crowd early with 14 first-quarter points, icing the cake with a four-point play thanks to a loose-ball foul from a steaming Carmelo Anthony. Then the second quarter was Ray Allen's show — the veteran shooting guard dropped 13 points including three 3s. The Celtics weren't in awe of the Garden. They were wrecking the place.
"It was pretty much what I expected, what I remembered," Allen said. "My first couple years in the league, I'd come up to the Garden and watch playoff games. The building has always been intense, especially in playoff games, and I think it was no different tonight. Everybody was in there waving the orange towels, and for us, you know you're in a hostile environment. It was exciting. It was a great atmosphere."
The C's had a 52-44 halftime lead and knowing them, easily could have gotten complacent. But Rajon Rondo ensured that they didn't, stressing simplicity with the basketball and a greater focus on limiting turnovers. Rather than let the Knicks back into the game, they buried them.
"I think we put together a full four quarters," Rondo said. "In the first couple games, I think they outplayed us the first three quarters, but we just executed better down the stretch. But tonight, as soon as we started taking care of the ball in the second half, we could play our game."
The Celtics played their game in the first two games back in Boston, but it was a different type of game. It was the lazy, inconsistent game that left them competing down to the wire against a lesser Knicks team.
Now that the more motivated Celtics have emerged, this series may well be over. The C's are up 3-0, and they've got a chance Sunday to hammer the final nail into the Knicks' coffin.
The Knicks woke up Friday ready to celebrate a hoops renaissance in their building. Now they're just looking to stay alive.
"You just rely on their character," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "They have great resilience and character, and they've fought all year amid bringing a new team together. I don't have a doubt we'll be back here on Sunday and play as hard as we can."
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