NEW YORK — Having ended a season-long nine-game losing streak with consecutive victories by 30 and 38 points, respectively, the New York Knicks thought they had finally put the miserable start to their season behind them.
Now they may not know what to think.
The Knicks (5-14) were on the wrong end of a stunning 79-point turnaround, as they followed their easy home win over Orlando on Friday night with an embarrassing 114-73 loss to their Atlantic Division rivals, the first-place Boston Celtics (10-12), at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon.
“I wish I could explain it,” said a dejected head coach Mike Woodson. “I didn’t see this coming in terms of how we played… it is a step backwards. I thought we [had] turned the corner somewhat.”
Star forward Carmelo Anthony was similarly at a loss for finding a sensible reason as to why New York could look so good in its previous two games, and just the opposite against Boston, which won its third straight game.
“There’s no comparison,” he said. “It’s night and day… I won’t try to pinpoint what happened. Whatever it was, I don’t think we were ready today and it showed out there… what Boston came in here and did was an embarrassment [for us]. To lose like that on our home court, I think everyone [on our team] should be pissed off right now.”
While Anthony led the Knicks with 19 points, he missed 10 of his 15 shots from the field and was part of a starting lineup that was outscored by a startling 89-29 margin.
As Woodson pointed out, that group included New York’s starting back court — Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert — going scoreless while missing six shots apiece. Starting center Andrea Bargnani took (and made) just one more than that.
“Two points out of Andrea, Iman and Raymond,” Woodson said. “[We] are not going to beat anybody that way.”
Conversely, all five Celtics starters scored in double figures, with guard Jordan Crawford’s 23 points, on 8-of-14 shooting (including 6-of-12 from 3-point range), and center Jared Sullinger’s 21 points (on 9 of 13 shooting) leading the way.
Connecting on only 34.2 percent (25 of 73) of its own shots, New York allowed Boston to shoot 54.2 percent (39-for-72), including a sizzling 56 percent (14-for 25) from 3-point range.
Offensively, the Knicks excelled in that area over their prior two games. They went 16-for-27 from behind the arc to beat Brooklyn on Thursday night before making half of their 34 3-pointers against Orlando. But the Celtics held New York to just 1-of-5 shooting on 3-pointers in the first half and only 6-of-16 on treys overall.
Long before that, the game was never in doubt, as Boston scored the first 12 points, with an Anthony technical free throw (following the Celtics being whistled for illegal defense) registering the only Knick point during a game-starting 18-1 run.
Boston extended that lead to 25-3, with 3:24 left in the opening quarter, and to 32-7, before the Knicks scored the last four points of the period to at least reach double digits, down 34-11 as time expired in the period.
When asked if he thought New York might have overlooked the Celtics after the Knicks’ two best performances of the season, Anthony dismissed the notion of complacency setting in, saying, ““I don’t think so. I didn’t see it, I didn’t sense it.”
Forward Amar’e Stoudemire (17 points on 5-of-7 shooting; 10 rebounds) cut New York’s deficit to 17 points three different times in the second quarter (twice on dunks), but a 17-5 spurt had Boston doubling the Knicks, 58-29, before Anthony closed the half with a pair of free throws.
Starting the third period on a 13-3 run, the Celtics swelled their advantage to 71-34, and although New York held its opponents to just 83 points in each of its two prior contests, Boston led, 92-56, entering the final quarter.
That edge never dipped below 34 points the rest of the way, and it grew to as much as 111-66, with 2:48 remaining.
A recurring problem with missing shots affecting defensive intensity continued to haunt the Knicks.
“I think our [poor] offense dictated how we played throughout the course of the game,” Woodson said. “My theme since I have been here is that when [we] struggle to score the ball, [we] are going to make sure that [our opponents] don’t score the ball. We didn’t do that today.”
Woodson’s club will get a chance to avenge the defeat when New York travels to Boston on Friday. But first, the Knicks will play a back-to-back with the Central Division, in Cleveland (7-13), on Tuesday night, and back at the Garden the next night, against Chicago (8-10).
Although Knicks fans might not be so sure that their team can turn things around so quickly again, Stoudemire insisted that the loss to the Celtics was a “minor bump in the road,” while adding, “We came off two great games, offensively and defensively. We will be able to put this behind us and move on to Cleveland.”