On Friday night, the Boston Celtics got their first home game of the series with a 2-0 series deficit staring them in the face. They hoped that the home-court advantage they'd enjoyed in the regular season (27-13 record) would translate to a playoff victory, but that hope was in vain.
The New York Knicks opened up an early lead that held up all game long, emerging with a 90-76 victory at TD Garden. The Knicks hit 7-of-14 from downtown in the first half on their way to a 47-31 lead and they were not challenged in the second half.
Boston's offensive woes continued as they shot 35 percent from the field through two quarters. Their scoring troubles migrated from the second half of games to the first half. Boston played better in the second half, but they could only keep pace with the Knicks who jogged through the finish line.
New York invaded Boston's passing lanes, snagging 14 steals, including five from Pablo Prigioni and three from Iman Shumpert. The Knicks won the turnover battle 17 to 11. Jason Kidd even added two blocks.
The second half was almost entirely inconsequential, as the only excitement came with just over seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Jason Terry was guarding J.R. Smith on the wing just off the baseline. Terry swiped for the ball and the refs let them play, until Smith swung around with an elbow directly into Terry's jaw. Smith immediately stalked away from Terry, who got up and ran after J.R. with a bloodlust.
Fortunately, Terry was restrained by a bear hug from Doc Rivers. Smith received a flagrant-2 for his Thai boxing move, and we will likely find out tomorrow if he'll receive just a fine from the league office, or a suspension as well. The retaliation for the non-call on Terry's reach-in was especially unwise considering New York led by 19 at the time.
Now the Celtics will be seeking to extend the series in Game 4. But New York has built a seemingly insurmountable lead considering the state of Boston's offense. Carmelo Anthony totaled 12 points by the break while no other player reached double digits. He finished with a game-high 26 points, but had just one rebound and no assists.
The key player of the night was Raymond Felton. His all-around performance keyed the Knicks offense and kept them in the driver's seat throughout the second half. Felton scored 15 points along with 10 assists, two steals and a block on the evening.
New York's ball movement was stupendous for most of the game, totaling 22 team assists, while Boston managed only 14 of their own. And the Celtics appear unlikely to solve their litany of woes against the Knicks.
In the first half, Boston got caught playing too high on the pick-and-roll, exposing easy opportunities in the paint. They also tried double-teaming Anthony, which opened up Smith and Felton for drives to the rim, as noted by Knicks blogger Seth Rosenthal.
There are more looks like that J.R. drive to be found if Melo swings the ball out of more baseline doubles.— Seth Rosenthal (@seth_rosenthal) April 27, 2013
New York imposed their will on offense at times, but it didn't matter in light of the Celtics' atrocious offense.
Matt Moore of CBSSports.com tweeted the obligatory shot chart for Boston at the half, and it had Celtics fans seeing red.
I know we've worn out this schtick, but here's the Celtics shot chart. twitter.com/HPbasketball/s…— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 27, 2013
Greg Payne of ESPNBoston.com resorted to hyperbole to describe Boston's ineptitude on the offensive end.
Even more frustrating than the Celtics' offense? Those pistachios you just have no chance of opening: twitter.com/GregPayne_ESPN…— Greg Payne (@GregPayne_ESPN) April 27, 2013
Yes, their offensive vacuum is a hard nut to crack indeed. And Doc Rivers is unlikely to find the solution in time to avoid a rapid exit from the first round.
The only concern for the Knicks as they go for the sweep in Game 4 is whether or not they will have J.R. Smith at their disposal following his ejection. MSG's Alan Hahn opined on exactly that.
League will review that elbow swing by JR for sure. Does it cost him Game 4?— Alan Hahn (@alanhahn) April 27, 2013
Even if Smith is suspended for the elbow, his absence likely would not impact the result of the series. But if it allows the sluggish Celtics to steal a game at home, it could prolong the series and add to the wear-and-tear on the Knicks roster.
The Knicks have a stranglehold on the series leading 3-0. Barring fantastic scoring games from Paul Pierce and Jeff Green in Game 4, Boston has no hope of avoiding a shameful sweep on their home court. The duo totaled 38 points on Friday, but they'll need more like 58 to surpass New York's output.
Kevin Garnett is clearly not himself on the offensive end, though he did rack up 17 rebounds in Game 3. Jason Terry finished Friday with a team-low minus-12 rating, but he will be motivated to avenge his aching jaw bone.
Nevertheless, the Celtics showed nothing in Game 3 to suggest that they've made the necessary adjustments to get past New York. Anthony and the Knicks have all but punched their tickets to the second round, with the only thing in doubt being whether or not they'll get to use their brooms.