It took seven years for the playoffs to return to the ’s most storied arena. It will take longer still before the Knicks celebrate another postseason victory. The dream was deferred Friday, set aside and trampled upon by the smarter, savvier .
Rajon Rondo snatched it away with his clever passing, Ray Allen with his snappy 3-point stroke and Paul Pierce with his bravado.
The cheers turned to boos, and the Celtics rolled to a 113-96 rout, taking a commanding 3-0 lead in the series — a deficit no N.B.A. team has overcome.
“We’re in a steep hole right now,” Anthony said.
Now the immediate priority is to avoid a sweep, a goal made tougher by Stoudemire’s ailing back and Chauncey Billups’s injured knee. Stoudemire played stiff Friday, scoring 7 points in 33 minutes. Billups did not play and might not return in this series, however long it lasts.
Even at full strength, the Knicks would be overmatched by the sheer firepower of the Celtics, who rediscovered their offensive rhythm after two sluggish games.
Allen scored 32 points and was brilliant from the arc, hitting eight 3-pointers, a Knicks playoff opponent record. Pierce added six more 3-pointers and went 14 for 19 from the field, scoring 38 points. Rondo simply picked the Knicks apart, collecting 20 assists. He also had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
For the first time in this series, the Celtics looked like the championship-contending team they are supposed to be. They led from start to finish, by as many as 23 points, snuffed out every Knicks rally and thoroughly frustrated Anthony, the Knicks’ last healthy star.
Boston always had the talent in its favor, even with the Knicks at full strength. Now it has become a landslide.
Asked if the Knicks could beat the Celtics without Stoudemire at his best, Coach said: “Probably not. But he’ll be his best. He’ll be ready Sunday.”
In Game 2, Anthony nearly saved the Knicks with a ferocious 42-point effort. In Game 3, faced with a perpetual crowd of defenders, he made just 4 of 16 shots and finished with 15 points.
“They loaded up, they shifted the court, they sent two or three guys at a time,” Anthony said. “And that makes it tough.”
The Celtics made half of their field goals, and 14 of 24 attempts from the 3-point arc. The Knicks — hobbled, depleted and overmatched in every way — never made a serious run in the second half.
Despite a 19-point deficit, D’Antoni sent Stoudemire back into the game with 8 minutes 44 seconds left. The Knicks pulled within 14 points on two 3-pointers by Roger Mason Jr. But Allen and Pierce came back with 3-pointers, and Rondo squeezed in another layup, and the lead went to 22.
Stoudemire checked out with 3:45 left and walked straight through the tunnel to the locker room.
“I felt good enough to play, but I wasn’t 100 percent,” Stoudemire said. “I just wanted to show some courage out there for the fans of New York; they deserve it, and my teammates also.”
Stoudemire worked for three days to get back on the court after pulling a back muscle in Game 2. His treatment will resume Saturday, but Stoudemire said he would not be fully recovered by Game 4.
If the Knicks are to salvage the series, it will be up to Anthony and the Knicks’ shaky supporting cast.
Shawne Williams scored 17 points to lead the bench unit, which actually outscored the Knicks’ starters. Jared Jeffries had 12 points and 5 rebounds, but he missed numerous point-blank attempts. Toney Douglas, who replaced Billups, had 15 points but only 3 assists, and he eventually handed over the playmaking duties to Anthony.
As a team, the Knicks had 18 assists and 18 turnovers — five by Anthony — while shooting 43.4 percent. They have yet to break the 100-point barrier in this series.
“We played very stagnant,” Stoudemire said. “We definitely didn’t have the ball moving like we should have.”
Landry Fields, the Knicks’ rookie shooting guard, continued his dismal playoff debut. He missed four of five shots had three turnovers. D’Antoni admitted he might have to pull him from the lineup.
“That’s a good question and we’ll ponder that question,” he said.
It had been seven years since the Garden hosted a Knicks playoff game, and 10 since the building enjoyed a playoff victory — a 92-85 win against Toronto on April 22, 2001. The 2004 appearance ended in a sweep by , a fate that may be repeated on Sunday.
A decade’s worth of anxiety and anticipation burst from the crowd as tip-off neared.
A highlight film of Knicks playoff moments played on the scoreboard, transitioning from black and white to color, and from Willis Reed and to Stoudemire and Anthony.
Even the Celtics were cognizant of the moment.
“I usually don’t talk about where we’re playing,” Coach said. “But I did a little bit. My concern was this was not entertainment coming in here today. This was a competition. I thought we came with that mentality.”
A roar engulfed Stoudemire when he was introduced, followed by a spontaneous chorus of “Lets go, Knicks!” The enthusiasm quickly dimmed.
The Celtics opened a 22-5 lead — the biggest margin by either team in the series — over the first eight minutes. Boston effectively put the game away with a 19-6 run early in the third quarter.
Allen kept getting loose at the arc. Rondo, practically ignored by a Knicks defense that dared him to shoot, kept using the open lanes to make pinpoint passes.
Now the Knicks are down to perhaps their final game of the season, their final chance to extend the dream a little further into spring.
“You just rely on their character, and they have great resilience and character,” D’Antoni said. “They fought all year, bringing a new team together and everything. I don’t have a doubt we’ll be back Sunday and play as hard as we can against a really good team.”