Knicks help push Celtics into inevitable fall from Atlantic perch

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks and Celtics always seem to play in close-fought battles, but Boston just couldn't measure up on Tuesday. Paul Flannery writes about the first season of Kevin Garnett era resulting in a team other than the C's winning the Atlantic.

BOSTON -- It was a showdown that turned into a rather boring blowout, an anomaly for the Knicks and Celtics. The one-sided contest was fitting in a sense. For five years the Atlantic Division has belonged to the C's, who are more concerned with holding off Milwaukee for the No. 7 seed these days. This wasn't so much of a changing of the guard as the reaching of an inevitable conclusion.

The Knicks still have work to do, and their schedule will get much tougher in the coming weeks. But for the first time since Kevin Garnett came to Boston someone else will win the Atlantic.

Without Garnett or Tyson Chandler patrolling the paint, three guards and two forwards constituted a big lineup, which also helped make it a gunner's paradise. J.R. Smith was awesome, Jordan Crawford was great for a quarter and Carmelo Anthony took 30 shots as the Knicks won 100-85, completing their first sweep in Boston since Ricky Davis was dreaming of getting buckets. (God, Ricky Davis would have loved this game).

"It feels like they didn't have any shot blockers," said Smith, who scored 32 mostly efficient points. "So take it to the basket, draw fouls, find some teammates that get open and play from there."

And that's pretty much how it all went down. The Knicks went to the basket and when they didn't make shots they got offensive rebounds, finishing with a staggering 21 more attempts than the C's, who reciprocated by turning it over 20 times.

"Listen, if you're not going to rebound and then you turn the ball over, you're just saying you're going to lose the game," said Doc Rivers. "That's what that was tonight."

It would be impossible to draw any grand, sweeping conclusions from this one, but for the Knicks there is never a bad time to win in Boston. "We want to beat them," Anthony said. "Let's just be quite frank about them. We always want to beat Boston."

They have now won five straight. A pessimist would point out that four of those were against teams with losing records and the fifth was against a depleted Celtics team on fumes, but they all count the same in the standings. They have re-established control of the division while missing several key frontcourt players.

"There was negotiations. They chose not to do it. It was out of my control. I'm a Knick now, so they lost." -Kenyon Martin on the Celtics

Playing a large role in that run has been Kenyon Martin, who could have gone to the Celtics, but wound up in New York after the two sides couldn't come to a deal. "It's their fault," Martin said. "They lost. There was talks. There was negotiations. They chose not to do it. It was out of my control. I'm a Knick now, so they lost."

The Knicks have held it together admirably through all their injuries, which is essentially the opposite of what's happened to the Celtics. Avery Bradley is a mess offensively. During their five-game losing streak he's taken 42 shots and made 15 of them with nine assists and 11 turnovers. It's almost as if they miss their All-Star point guard. Who knew?

Chris Wilcox isn't rebounding, or providing much of anything off the bench as the cries for Shavlik Randolph or D.J. White or anybody grow louder. Seriously. That's where the Celtics are right now. Without Garnett, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass divvied up the "center" minutes while surrounded by perimeter players.

Garnett's absence looms large. He has an ankle inflammation that will keep him out for two weeks but have him back in time for the playoffs. Still, it's worth pointing out that Garnett's latest injury is on top of a thigh injury that kept him out of a handful of games earlier. The Celtics are cooked without KG, but Rivers knows he has to keep them together anyway.

"Kevin's not playing," Rivers said. "I don't worry about it. I really don't. And I don't with our guys. We didn't play well tonight. I'm not going to go back and say, ‘Oh my gosh, we've got two more weeks of this.' That's not how you work in this league. That's not how you should work in this league. Somebody else has to play better. A lot of guys. It's not going to be one guy. But overall we were pretty bad tonight. Kevin had nothing to do with that. We were pretty bad."

In the grand tradition of bad performances, the Celtics locker room was quiet and mostly empty. Players rushed out to catch a plane to Cleveland and those that remained offered little insight, save for Paul Pierce, who didn't want to hear about injuries or excuses. "I mean we have no choice," he said. "We have to find a way to figure it out."

Across the hall, the Knicks were loose and confident. They also didn't want to hear about injuries, but it's easier to brush them off when you're piling up wins.

"We're just making progress as a team, as an organization," Anthony said. "We have something to look forward to on a year-to-year basis, being out there on the top of that division and trying to make our way and make a statement."

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