BOSTON — Carmelo Anthony has never swept a playoff series in his life.
As the whole world knows, he has been bounced from the first round of the playoffs eight times in nine tries.
Yet after scoring 26 points as the Knicks crushed the Celtics, 90-76, in Game 3 at TD Garden to take a commanding 3-0 series lead, Anthony and his teammates stand on the brink of a sweep.
Just two years after being swept out of the first round of the playoffs by these Celtics, Anthony and company can break out the brooms on Sunday afternoon and head back to New York that night looking forward to a week off.
“To accomplish that would be spectacular, it would be a dream come true,” Anthony said. “I never swept anybody.”
After two anemic offensive performances in New York, it was supposed to be an emotionally charged return to Boston for the Celtics in Game 3.
But thanks to Pablo Prigioni’s quick start, the Celtics were already down 23-18 after the first quarter when they introduced Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis and various other police, fire, FBI and hospital officials to honor individuals who performed heroically in the Boston Marathon bombings.
“I thought we did lose our spirit early on,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said in reference to a 21-8 Knicks run to close the half en route to a 47-31 halftime lead. “I thought we lost our spirit for one stretch, the last five minutes of the second quarter.”
The Knicks got 14 steals in the game, five by Prigioni, and forced 17 Celtic turnovers. But as stingy as the Knicks’ defense was, the Boston offense was equally as atrocious.
They had just 31 points at the half and for a while it was an open question whether they would crack the 70-point plateau.
The crowd lost its spirit, too, and at one point chants of “Let’s Go Knicks” could be heard inside the Boston Garden.
The Celtics never threatened in the second half and the Knicks made all kinds of history with the win.
It’s their first playoff win in Boston since 1990, their first win to go up 3-0 in a playoff series since 2000 and their first road playoff win of any kind since April 29, 2001.
They can make more history on Sunday.
The last time the Knicks swept a first-round series? 1969.
The only bad news for the Knicks was that J.R. Smith was ejected in the second half with a Flagrant 2 foul for elbowing Jason Terry in the face, and faces a possible fine and/or Game 4 suspension.
“It was a bad basketball play on my behalf just because I got kicked out of the game,” Smith told reporters.
The Celtics will show up here on Sunday but it may not matter the way their offense is struggling.
Boston’s Jeff Green hardly sounded convinced his team could begin to assemble a Red Sox-style comeback from 0-3 down.
“They haven’t won it yet,” he said, sounding as if he was trying to convince himself of that fact. “It’s one game at a time. Long as we still playing we have a chance.”
On the other end of the emotional spectrum, Anthony and point guard Raymond Felton, who authored another brilliant game with 15 points and 10 assists, sound intent on ending this thing on Sunday.
“We wanna close the deal, we wanna seal the deal,” Anthony said. “Come here Sunday and win, no ifs ands or butts about that.”
If they do that, the Knicks would have up to a week’s rest before facing the winner of the Indiana-Atlanta series, which could end as soon as Monday with an Indiana sweep.
“If we can come out and definitely sweep this game, it will be something special for all of us, for me, for him, especially individually,” Felton said. “Then on top of that we going to get a lot of rest and hopefully Indiana and Atlanta can go to Game 7.”
Two years removed from getting swept, Anthony and the Knicks are intent on returning the favor.