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Boston — The New York Knicks are winning no matter who they play. Somehow, beating Boston feels special.
“Let’s just be quite frank about them,” Carmelo Anthony said after the Knicks cruised to a 100-85 win over the Celtics on Tuesday night. “We always want to beat Boston. New York in anything wants to beat Boston and when we do it’s a great feeling.”
J.R. Smith came off the bench to score 32 points, Anthony added 29 and the Knicks extended their winning streak to five games while handing the Celtics their fifth straight loss.
The win moved the Knicks into second place in the Eastern Conference, percentage points ahead of the Indiana Pacers. The Celtics, who could face the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, remained in seventh and dropped to 0-2 at home against New York despite being 24-9 there against the rest of the NBA.
“It’s tough for a lot of teams to come here and win (but) we’re playing for something,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “They’re playing for something, too, and they’re a little beat up, like we are. And I just thought tonight our defense set the tone early and it was a nice flow for 48 minutes.”
Neither team led by more than four points in the early going and the score was tied 35-35 early in the second quarter. The Knicks then scored the next 14, led 58-44 at halftime and stayed comfortably ahead the rest of the way, leading by as many as 17 points.
The Celtics, playing their second straight game without Kevin Garnett, were led by Jeff Green with 19 points and Paul Pierce with 16. But they committed 20 turnovers, while the Knicks, who average the fewest turnovers in the NBA, had just eight.
“We’ve got to get back to playing with more energy, forcing a lot of turnovers like we were three or four weeks ago,” Pierce said, “turning the ball over less if we’re going to give ourselves a chance.”
Garnett is expected to miss about two weeks with inflammation in his left ankle. Starting guard Courtney Lee also sat out his second game in a row with a sprained left ankle. Starters Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger already are sidelined for the season.
“Kevin’s not playing. I don’t worry about it,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “Overall, we were pretty bad tonight. Kevin had nothing to do with that.”
Smith disagrees, especially after driving to the hoop for several baskets.
“It feels like they didn’t have any shot blockers,” he said. “So (I) take it to the basket, draw fouls, find some teammates that get open and play from there.”
The Knicks were without two key big men. Tyson Chandler has a bulging disk and missed his seventh consecutive game, while Amare Stoudemire was sidelined for the 10th game following knee surgery that is expected to keep him out four more weeks.
Steve Novak began New York’s 14-0 surge with a 3-pointer, Anthony hit a 19-foot jumper and Smith followed with a tip-in. Anthony then converted an alley-oop from Pablo Prigioni before Prigioni made a reverse layup and Novak ended the run with another 3.
Brandon Bass’ layup with 7:47 left in the second quarter had tied it at 35, but the Celtics didn’t score again until Jordan Crawford made a pair of free throws with 3:53 left in the half. Boston went without a field goal until Green’s layup with 3:27 remaining made it 49-37.
The Celtics cut the lead to 69-62 on a layup by Pierce with 5:21 left in the third quarter, but the Knicks scored the next nine points to open a 78-62 lead.
Anthony began the spurt with two free throws, Jason Kidd scored his first points of the game on a 3-pointer, Kenyon Martin dunked on a follow-up and Anthony hit two more free throws.
“We credit everything we do to our defense,” Smith said. “When we get out and run, no one can really run with us.”
Neither team shot well, with Boston making 44.9 percent of its attempts and New York hitting 43.3 percent. But the Knicks had 15 offensive rebounds, six by Anthony, compared to seven by the Celtics, and took 21 more shots.
“No one played well,” Rivers said. “They just had a lot of extra shots to miss and they made a couple of them.”
The Knicks led 84-69 entering the fourth quarter and took their biggest lead, 91-74, on a 3-pointer by Novak.
“We allowed them to get easy layups,” Green said. “We allowed them to get a good rhythm and that’s when they started knocking down threes and it put us on our heels.”
And that led to another win in Boston for New York.
“A great road win for us, especially in this arena,” Anthony said. “Knowing how hostile it can get here and knowing how well they play here at home in front of their fans, it just says a lot about our team.”
NOTES: Smith and Anthony combined for 34 of the Knicks’ first 44 points. ... New York’s reserves led Boston’s 27-7 in the first half. Jason Terry was the only non-starter to score for Boston in the half. ... With Lee sidelined, Crawford made his first start for the Celtics in 17 games since being traded from the Washington Wizards and finished with 14 points. ... Boston is one away from its longest losing streak of the season. ... The teams meet again on Sunday in New York.