NEW YORK — The ball felt good leaving Raymond Felton’s hands, though he took the shot from beyond halfcourt just before the buzzer to end the first half Sunday night.
And why not? Just about everything feels good again suddenly for the red-hot New York Knicks.
Felton banked in his buzzer-beater to give the Knicks a 17-point halftime lead on the way to a 108-89 win over the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden. The victory extended the Knicks’ season-high winning streak to eight games, gave them their first season series victory over the Celtics in nearly a decade and set them up for a showdown with the Miami Heat on Tuesday.
There, the Knicks will have a chance to repeat their feat against the Celtics, and take three of four from the Eastern Conference’s top team.
“Defending champs, that’s what they are,” Felton, who scored 18 points, said of the Heat. “They’re the team to beat. … Right now, they’re the best team. You just have to go out and play hard.”
The Knicks (46-26) have been doing just that again, reminding folks of the promise they showed in the season’s first month when they won 18 games. Despite missing injured center Tyson Chandler for the past 10 games, New York matched that win total in March, helped Sunday by Carmelo Anthony’s 24 points and Chris Copeland’s 22.
“At this point, we are playing extremely well. We got back to how we started the season off,” Anthony said. “We started believing in ourselves again. Every season you hit walls, hit hurdles and you lose momentum a little bit and you have to find ways to get that back. We are finding ways to get that back.”
The Celtics (38-35), missing injured leader Kevin Garnett for the fifth straight game, have lost six of eight, but had won two in a row. To add to Boston’s injury-riddled season, Paul Pierce turned his ankle in the first quarter and sat out the final eight minutes after scoring 24 points and grabbing a season-high 15 rebounds. Jeff Green led the Celtics with 27 points.
Boston coach Doc Rivers said he might rest Pierce on Monday for the back-to-back game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but Pierce said he didn’t think the injury would be a big factor beyond that.
Rivers said last year’s run to within a game of the NBA Finals shows the Celtics can catch fire in the postseason and he was ready to take on “anybody, anytime” when the team gets Garnett back. But Pierce acknowledged the team was disappointed to drop three of four to the Knicks, who currently line up as a possible first-round playoff matchup.
“Yeah, I’m definitely disappointed coming to Madison Square Garden, especially with the way they did us on our home building and especially being the team that we may face in the playoffs,” Pierce said of the Knicks, who took two road games in Boston this season. “Who knows? We have to do something about it. If we play them in the playoffs and they think they got our number, we did it to ourselves.”
The Knicks entered halftime with a double-digit lead for the sixth straight game, and punctuated their 65-48 with a mouth-dropping, crowd-pleasing buzzer-beater.
Felton nailed a 3-pointer from a little past halfcourt as the buzzer sounded, as the fans at the Garden gasped, then cheered and the Knicks point guard strutted after hitting the unlikely shot.
“Soon as it left my hand, I said that might go in,” Felton said.
Green scored 10 points in the first quarter to keep the Celtics close, but New York went on a 22-8 run early in the second to build a 50-35 lead with 4:39 left before the half. Copeland scored nine points for the Knicks during the spurt, including back-to-back 3-pointers.
Anthony led the Knicks with 18 at the half while Green had 16 and Pierce 15 for the Celtics.
New York, which had watched 30-point leads reduced to single digits late in their last two wins, didn’t allow the Celtics to get that close.
The Celtics opened the third quarter with a 14-8 run, fueled by a pair of 3-pointers by Pierce and five points from Green to close within 11, but New York expanded the lead again and entered the fourth quarter up 86-69.
The Knicks then finished the Celtics off in the final quarter as Garden fans began chanting their unflattering opinion of Boston to celebrate New York’s first season series win over the Celtics since the 2003-04 season.
“Anytime you can take three out of four against a team like Boston is always a good thing,” Anthony said. “The energy was there. The fans definitely see and know what is going on right now.”
NOTES: Chandler was out for the 10th straight game due to a bulging disk in his neck, but told reporters he hoped to play against Miami. Knicks coach Mike Woodson said Chandler was “improving” but still stressed caution in bringing him back, saying he was unsure if he could play against the Heat. … Garnett (left ankle inflammation) made the trip to New York. Rivers told reporters at shootaround Sunday morning Garnett was “feeling a lot better,” and Boston expects him back early next week. … Knicks forward Kenyon Martin sat out the fourth quarter with an abdominal injury, but said it was for precautionary reasons, saying he injured himself in the first quarter and played through it after that. … Anthony, who led Syracuse to the 2003 national title, has been knocking off teammates and coaches throughout the Orange’s run to the Final Four. Teammate Steve Novak, who went to Marquette, will now have to wear orange on the team’s flight to Miami, Anthony said, laughing at how Syracuse has chalked up victories against the schools of Woodson and teammate Jason Kidd.