Heat Beat Knicks 93-85, Clinch Southeast Division

Chris Bosh finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds for the Heat, who pulled away in the fourth quarter of a possible playoff preview. Miami is second in the Eastern Conference and New York came into the game tied for seventh, although they fell back behind Philadelphia after the loss.

Carmelo Anthony scored 42 points for the Knicks, but had only two baskets in the fourth quarter, perhaps tired after playing 43 minutes. New York had its nine-game home winning streak snapped.

Anthony had the Knicks hoping he could pull out another game against a power team after scoring a season-high 43 last Sunday in overtime against Chicago. His tip-in gave New York a two-point lead with 9 ½ minutes left, but by the time he had his other field goal on a 3-pointer with 1:28 remaining, Miami had opened an 11-point cushion.

JR Smith scored 16 points for the Knicks, who lost all three games against the Heat.

Wade moved easily and shot 10 of 18 after missing the last game to rest his ankle. Miami has won two in a row after back-to-back losses last week against Boston and Chicago.

Miami held a few nine-point leads in the third, but the Knicks cut it to three by period’s end, then got a tying 3-pointer from Steve Novak to open the fourth and Landry Fields followed with a basket to put New York ahead in the opening minute.

It was close for the next six minutes before Wade and James hit jumpers after Joel Anthony tipped in a miss, a flurry of six straight points that gave Miami an 87-80 lead. The Knicks, relying on jumpers most of the game, simply couldn’t hit any, and lacked much inside presence when Tyson Chandler appeared slowed by knee pain after landing awkwardly in the third quarter.

The Heat were scheduled to play their season opener here in the original 82-game schedule that was scrapped because of the lockout. They also would have opened here in a revised 72-game season that never developed when owners and players couldn’t agree to a new deal in time.

Instead, they ended up being the last Eastern Conference team to visit Madison Square Garden, an arena that has undergone renovations since their last trip here.

They could become plenty familiar with the place in the coming weeks if the teams renew what was a fierce playoff rivalry in the late 1990s.

It had a playoff look Sunday, with orange shirts being worn by fans all around the court — though not by Jay-Z and Beyonce sitting courtside.

Only the Heat looked playoff ready at the start. The Knicks missed their first three free throws and Miami led by as much as 11 in the first quarter before settling for a 29-22 advantage that would have been much bigger if not for Anthony’s 14 points.

Miami stalled in the second quarter, Wade slamming the ball to the floor in frustration after one basket as the Knicks rallied behind Anthony and their reserves to lead before three before the Heat took a 46-44 edge into halftime.

The Heat had a brief scare in the third when James went down after twisting his ankle when he backpedaled into some fans after hitting a corner jumper. He stayed down for a moment but remained in the game after a timeout.

Notes: Wade played in his 594th game with the Heat, breaking Alonzo Mourning’s record. … The Heat have a short trip before playing again Monday, heading across the Hudson River to face the New Jersey Nets. … Both Miami inactives were former Knicks centers: Ronny Turiaf and Eddy Curry. Coach Erik Spoelstra said the Heat wanted to give more time to rest a sore hamstring. … Jared Jeffries played in the second half after needing three stitches to close a cut on his chin.

Knicks Fall, but Not Without a Fight

Amar’e Stoudemire, sore back and all, fought to the final seconds, leading a Knicks charge that was inspiring and ultimately futile. The absorbed their best shot, watched their 23-point lead fall to 4, then steamrolled to the finish for and .

Stoudemire was valiant, playing 44 minutes and the entire second half despite a pulled muscle in his back that nearly forced him to miss the Knicks’ last stand. was assertive, scoring 32 points.

Yet in the final, decisive moments, the Celtics were — as ever — better, deeper, steadier and more efficient, outscoring the Knicks, 17-9, over the final 7 minutes 13 seconds.

As the final seconds ticked away, an orange wave crested over the Garden, 19,763 fans standing and applauding in a final show of appreciation. The Knicks’ playoff run had ended abruptly, but not without a fight — or hope for the future.

“I’m pretty sure that we gained a lot of respect from a lot of people right now,” Anthony said. “This is the first step of something great.”

The Celtics await the winner of the Miami-Philadelphia series, which leads, 3-1.

The Knicks are still waiting for their first playoff win since 2001, and their first series victory since 2000. But even a sweep could not diminish the optimism of a transformative season that began with Stoudemire’s signing last summer and swelled with Anthony’s arrival at midseason.

In the immediate aftermath, it was easy to identify their shortcomings, with the Celtics providing the perfect contrast. Boston had the better spread of talent, the experience of deep playoff runs and an championship. The Knicks were overhauled last summer, overhauled again in late February, and are missing several key pieces, most notably at shooting guard and center. Counting the playoffs, they went 14-18 after acquiring Anthony, a reflection of their transitional state.

Yet they have, in the words of Paul Pierce, “a great foundation with Amar’e and Carmelo” and, as Coach noted, “one of the best coaches in the game” in .

“They earned our respect,” said Pierce, who had a quiet day (13 points), but scored the layup that started the Celtics’ final run.

The conclusion was not surprising, given the 3-0 deficit in the series, and the battered state of the Knicks.

Chauncey Billups, their valued floor leader, missed the final three games because of a knee injury. Toney Douglas played the series with a bad right (shooting) shoulder, and Ronny Turiaf with a bad left knee.

On Saturday, Stoudemire . But his back felt significantly better Sunday morning, and he strutted buoyantly into the locker room.

“Not 100 percent, but feel good enough to play,” he said.

Stoudemire wore an elastic belt for back support and needed continual maintenance. His jumper failed him often, but he never considered sitting down.

“The only way I would sit this one out is if I couldn’t walk,” he had said.

Walking and running, Stoudemire could do. Defending and dunking proved more difficult, but he kept moving and attacking and finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, despite going 5 for 20 from the field.

Stoudemire’s relentlessness spread through the lineup. The Knicks trailed by 23 in the third quarter but started a furious rally with a makeshift lineup of Stoudemire, Anthony, Shawne Williams, Roger Mason Jr. and Anthony Carter. That group nearly brought them all the way back, cutting the deficit to 4 points with 7:33 to play.

“I liked the heart,” D’Antoni said. “I liked the heart the whole series. These guys played as hard as they could. That’s all you can ask for.”

The Knicks’ health was an unavoidable topic, but most of them focused on the more glaring differences between these teams. The Celtics have three likely Hall of Famers and have been playing together for four seasons. The Knicks were still making introductions two months ago.

Ray Allen carried the Celtics with a fantastic shooting performance in Game 3, then passed the load to Rajon Rondo (21 points, 12 assists) and (26 points, 10 rebounds) in Game 4. Boston’s bench also came alive, with Glen Davis (14 points) leading the charge.

“We just have to grow from experience,” Stoudemire said. “Camaraderie has to grow, and we have to learn each other a little bit. The off-season is very important.

This was the seventh first-round exit of Anthony’s career, and the second time he was swept. For D’Antoni and Stoudemire, it was their first sweep. Their futures here are probably secure, although D’Antoni is heading into the final year of his four-year contract.

, the team president who saved the franchise from the wreckage of the era and rebuilt the roster, remains in uncomfortable limbo. His contract expires June 30. , the Garden chairman, has until Saturday to pick up an option for next season. Or he could offer Walsh an extension before July 1.

The afternoon was appropriately tense, in the stands and on the court.

Anthony earned a flagrant foul for leveling Rondo on a drive in the first quarter. Stoudemire received a technical foul for shoving Delonte West, after West gave a hard foul to Landry Fields and stood over him. Garnett and Douglas squared off briefly in the third quarter, while Rivers barked at Garnett not to “get distracted.”

The Knicks will never know how the series might have unfolded with a sturdy Stoudemire and a healthy Billups. That, perhaps, will haunt them more than any missed jump shot or ill-timed pass.

“That’s what hurts my heart, man,” Billups said. “To really feel like, if we was 100 percent healthy, this series would look a lot different right now. And you don’t know. Nobody knows. But I just got a gut feeling that it’d be a lot different.”

Celtics Beat Knicks in Game 82

The and the played a game Wednesday night, because the schedule requires 82, but it resembled an October exhibition much more than a playoff preview.

Both teams exercised caution over playing time. The Celtics rested their entire starting five — Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and . The Knicks held out and Chauncey Billups.

At the final buzzer, the , 112-102.

The cheers and taunts were muted, as if the fans, too, were waiting for something worth screaming about. It will come Sunday, when these teams take the court for Game 1 of the playoffs. Game 2 will be played Tuesday, also in Boston, before the series shifts to Madison Square Garden next Friday, for the Knicks’ first home playoff game in seven years.

“Now we know what it takes; it’s the real season now in the postseason,” said Amar’e Stoudemire, who spearheaded the return to the playoffs.

Stoudemire was the only star who played, mostly because he needed the work after sitting for nearly a week because of a sprained ankle. He showed predictable rust, going 6 for 15 from the field and finishing with 14 points in 20 minutes.

Stoudemire was eager to get back on the court, even for a meaningless game, even without his All-Star teammates next to him.

“I felt great,” he said. “Definitely wanted to get some cardio going, get back into a rhythm.”

Stoudemire showed no lingering effects from the ankle sprain and, more importantly, he avoided further injury. He played all of the first quarter and the first 8 minutes 27 seconds of the third. He clearly needed the tuneup. He missed four of his first five attempts, including a dunk that banged off the front of the rim.

“I thought weak-side was coming,” Stoudemire said with a grin. “So I tried to sidestep the invisible guy. And went up and missed it.”

The decision to play was largely Stoudemire’s, but Coach agreed with it, knowing that Stoudemire needed the work. Still, he said, “I was holding my breath the whole time.”

Landry Fields added 16 points for the Knicks, who finished 42-40, their best record in 10 years. Otherwise, it was a night to compare Italian suits and backup point guards. The suits looked better than the point guards.

There was one brief moment of tension as Bill Walker and Sasha Pavlovic jawed in the third quarter, after a flagrant foul-1 by Walker. Pavlovic got a technical foul. The only other concern for the Knicks was Shelden Williams, who sprained his left ankle.

The victory — led by Avery Bradley (20 points), Glen Davis (17 points), Jeff Green (14 points) and Pavlovic (19 points) — was a testament to the Celtics’ superior depth.

When these teams meet again, the Knicks will be back to full strength and the Celtics should be close. Delonte West, who has been nursing a sprained ankle, is expected to be ready. The Celtics are less sure about , who has a strained right calf and has been slowed all season by a series of injuries to his right leg.

If both are available, it will tip the scales even further in favor of the Celtics, who boast better depth at every position, particularly in the frontcourt. The combination of the O’Neals, Nenad Krstic and Davis will pose a huge challenge for the size-starved Knicks.

D’Antoni said he would continue to rotate three centers — Ronny Turiaf, Jared Jeffries and Williams — with Turiaf as the nominal starter. None of the three have distinguished themselves over the last month, causing D’Antoni to change starters every few games.

Turiaf and Fields started next to Stoudemire on Wednesday, along with Toney Douglas and Walker. That nondescript lineup hardly elicited a response from fans during pregame introductions, although they did mildly boo Stoudemire.

Both teams are still adjusting to midseason trades, although the Knicks’ changes — trading four rotation players for Anthony and Billups — were much more profound. The Celtics are trying to incorporate Green and adjust to life without center Kendrick Perkins, while wondering when Rondo will get his groove back. The core of the team that won the title in 2008 and went to the finals in 2010 remains, however.

“They’re still the same Celtics, man,” Stoudemire said. “They’re very, very smart offensively. They do a great job defensively out there of really, really loading up on guys.”

With the victory, Boston (56-26) swept the season series, 4-0. Only one of the three games means much: the Celtics’ 96-86 win on March 21. That was the only time these teams met with their current lineups. It was a competitive game until the Celtics blew out the Knicks with a 33-17 fourth quarter.

“We’ve always had intense games with them, it’s been great,” D’Antoni said, “but it’s nothing like the playoffs.”