Knicks Beat Celtics at Garden, 118-110

By the end of the evening, the smiles were plastered across Madison Square Garden, spreading like a happy contagion.

Stoudemire will be back soon, he assured. In the meantime, his teammates kept up their April assault on the N.B.A., rolling to over the that ranked among their most important this season.

It was a win built on selfless playmaking, on ’s first triple-double as a Knick and on a hailstorm of 3-pointers from Steve Novak and J. R. Smith.

It lifted the Knicks into sole possession of seventh place in the Eastern Conference, at 32-29. It kept them — albeit marginally — in the hunt for the Atlantic Division lead, held by Boston (36-26). And it served as a fantastic confidence boost with the playoffs on the horizon.

The victory was just the Knicks’ third this season over one of the East’s elite teams.

“It’s huge,” said Tyson Chandler, “because we know Boston has been rolling. Boston’s playing incredible of late.”

The Knicks opened a 21-point lead in the first half, held a double-digit edge for most of the second half and repelled the Celtics down the stretch after Boston cut the deficit to 6.

Anthony finished with 35 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, for the second triple-double of his career. Novak set career highs with 25 points and eight 3-pointers, which fell one shy of the franchise record. Smith had a season-high 25 points and hit seven 3-pointers, all in the first half, which tied a franchise record.

The Knicks finished with 19 3-pointers, the second most in franchise history. They hit 14 in the first half, tying an N.B.A. record.

The Celtics blamed themselves.

“We talked about maybe overreacting to Carmelo,” said Paul Pierce, who led Boston with a season-high 43 points. “We started trapping him and it allowed them to swing the ball to open shooters, and it ignited the other guys and gave them a lot of confidence.”

The victory pushed the Knicks one game ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers (31-30), who lost earlier to Indiana. The Knicks effectively have a two-game lead because they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

As an added bonus, Stoudemire should be back in the lineup within days. He hinted strongly that he will play Friday night in Cleveland, after taking four weeks to recover from a bulging disk in his back.

“I’ll be back soon,” Stoudemire said coyly before the game. “I definitely have to get some games under my belt before the playoffs. So there’s a little hint.”

Coach Mike Woodson called Friday a “possibility,” with Sunday (in Atlanta) the fallback option if Stoudemire needs more time. Stoudemire will miss his 13th straight game Wednesday night, when the Knicks make their final trip to New Jersey to play the Nets.

The Knicks could certainly use another All-Star in the lineup when the playoffs arrive later this month. But they hardly seemed to need any help Tuesday, with Anthony alternating between scorer and playmaker.

“He’s playing like we all thought he could play,” Woodson said, “and it’s beautiful to watch him play because he’s doing a lot of things on both ends of the floor. He’s making guys around him better and we’re winning. That’s what the good players do.”

Ray Allen was a late scratch for the Celtics and missed his fifth straight game because of a sprained ankle. Boston took another blow in the third quarter, when Rajon Rondo took a hard fall in the paint, apparently injuring his lower back. He stayed down for several minutes, but finished the game.

The Knicks’ next challenge is reincorporating Stoudemire after a one-month absence, during which Anthony took over the power forward role and played his best games of the season. Despite Anthony’s surge and the Knicks’ success, Woodson reiterated that Stoudemire will reclaim his starting job, pushing Anthony back to small forward.

Although Anthony and Stoudemire have often played awkwardly as a tandem, Woodson said he wants them on the court together.

“As the head coach, guys, I’ve got to see if this thing is going to work,” he said, adding: “I got to make it work. And I’m going to bring Amar’e back, when he decides to come back, and he’s going to start and we’re going to make it work.”

REBOUNDS

Carmelo Anthony’s only other triple-double came on Feb. 5, 2007, with the Denver Nuggets, when he had 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a loss to Phoenix. … Baron Davis aggravated his strained left hamstring in the third quarter and played just 18 minutes. He also was battling an illness that left him nauseous all day and required intravenous fluids before the game. Davis said he would play Wednesday night. … Deron Williams, the Nets’ star point guard, will miss Wednesday’s game against the Knicks because of a calf strain, according to Coach Avery Johnson. … Amar’e Stoudemire shaved his scruffy beard and put his hair in corn rows — a style he has not worn since he was 17. Stoudemire said there was nothing symbolic in the makeover. “I’m just growing my hair out,” he explained. “And its just the fastest way to grow, when it’s in a cornrow setting.” As for the clean shave, he said, the beard “would be a little bit much with the cornrows. It was offsetting. My swag wasn’t impeccable.”

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Knicks Are Back Where They Started

“We showed something today,” said then, declaring the “a new beginning for us.”

It sort of looked that way at the time. The Knicks had just acquired Tyson Chandler, adding defensive heft to their offensive prowess. The Celtics were stale and aging, and their franchise star, Paul Pierce, was already hurt. Visions of an Atlantic Division title danced in the Knicks’ heads.

That was 113 days and a dozen crises ago.

The Knicks have since been through injuries, losing streaks, internal dissension, a coaching change and one delirious bout of Linsanity. At 31-29, they are clinging to one of the last two .

The Celtics — who will make their final visit to the Garden on Tuesday — have overcome the doubts and the creaky limbs and reclaimed their place as one of the East’s elite teams. At 36-25, they are close to wrapping up a fifth straight division title.

The lesson is that opening day impressions rarely mean much in April — and even less in a compressed season that gave teams little time to adjust, heal or evolve.

The Knicks were a newly reconstructed team in December and have generally played like one all season, with injuries to three starters — Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin — creating added stress. They began without a point guard, then found a surprisingly good one (Lin), only to lose him to a knee injury.

The Celtics had concerns at center and throughout the bench, but their championship core — Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo — remained intact.

On talent and chemistry alone, the Celtics were still worthy of contender status. With their patchy roster and the awkward Anthony-Stoudemire pairing, the Knicks were not.

As the season comes to a close, both teams are about where they should be, given the circumstances.

“It’s been a roller-coaster season for us, as far as injuries, changes, guys coming in and out, coaching changes,” Anthony said Sunday. “But that’s neither here or there. We’re at where we at right now.”

Both teams are surging. The Celtics are 21-8 since Feb. 22, when they bottomed out with a five-game losing streak. The Knicks are 13-5 since a six-game losing streak that led to Coach Mike D’Antoni’s resignation.

Garnett, the Celtics’ second-oldest player at 35, is having a personal renaissance. He was just named Eastern Conference player of the week, after averaging 20 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 1 block last week.

Anthony, who chafed under D’Antoni, is also having a late-season revival, averaging 30.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.6 steals over the last 10 games.

Boston swept the Knicks in the playoffs last spring and will present their last true test before the playoffs.

The Knicks have struggled all season against the East’s elite, going 2-8 against the three division leaders, Miami (0-3), Chicago (1-3) and Boston (1-2). Both victories came at home. One came nearly four months ago (against Boston). The other came last week, when the Bulls missed four free throws in the final 34.1 seconds of regulation.

The Knicks played respectably in their three recent games against the Bulls and the Heat, and came away emboldened by their efforts. “We stepped up to the challenge,” said Anthony, who suggested the Knicks could “build off that momentum.”

Yet the Knicks won only one of those three games and failed to make a convincing case that they can beat the Bulls or the Heat in a first-round series.

If anything, the Knicks are proving daily that they are too dependent on Anthony’s scoring and vulnerable to even the slightest shooting slump.

by making two timely 3-pointers, one in regulation and one in overtime. on Sunday, but he missed four of his last five shots with the outcome still in doubt.

Without Lin’s playmaking and Stoudemire’s midrange game, the Knicks’ only other proven scorer is J. R. Smith, who is notoriously erratic (and shooting 41.2 percent over the last 10 games). The more Anthony and Smith shoot, the more the supporting cast — Landry Fields, Steve Novak and Iman Shumpert — fades.

Stoudemire could return this weekend, either Friday in Cleveland or Sunday in Atlanta. His presence should ease Anthony’s scoring burden and take some pressure off Chandler, who will play Tuesday despite a sore knee.

Still, without Lin, the Knicks have no one to distribute the ball and keep everyone else in rhythm. His replacement, Baron Davis, shows only rare flashes of his old self.

So when tip-off comes Tuesday night, the Knicks will be without their star power forward and without a reliable point guard, just as they were in that playoff sweep last spring. After a year of tumult, the Knicks are essentially right back where they were, running in place.

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