Celtics thump Knicks, Hawks edge Magic

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NEW YORK, April 23 – The Boston Celtics dominated the New York Knicks 113-96 to take a stranglehold on their NBA Eastern Conference playoff series.

Paul Pierce scored 38 points and Ray Allen added 32 for Boston, whose Rajon Rondo handed out a Celtics playoff-record 20 assists in a victory that put Boston within one victory of advancing.

They lead the best-of-seven series 3-0, with the Knicks no doubt well aware that no team has recovered from an 0-3 deficit to win an NBA postseason series.

Elsewhere in the East, Jamal Crawford’s three-pointer with less than six seconds to play sealed the Hawks’ hard-fought 88-84 victory over the Orlando Magic in Atlanta.

The Hawks, who took a 2-1 series lead, led much of the contest, but with the score close in the final minutes the tension boiled over.

Zaza Pachulia of Atlanta and Jason Richardson of Orlando were both ejected with 2:22 to play after a confrontation, which came after Pachulia fouled Orlando’s Dwight Howard as Howard drove to the basket.

Howard retaliated on his way down with a forearm to Pachulia’s face.

Howard eventually received a technical foul, but Pachulia also shoved Howard from behind after the play.

Richardson waded in, exchanging words with Pachulia, with Pachulia appearing to deliver some headbutts to Richardson, who responded by taking a swipe at Pachulia.

Pachulia and Richardson are in danger of being suspended when the Hawks host game four on Sunday, but Pachulia was unrepentant.

"In that situation, I’m never going to back down," Pachulia said. "That’s just my personality."

After that the lead changed four times, with Al Horford putting Atlanta ahead for good with less than 47 seconds left.

Crawford, who scored 18 of his 23 points after halftime, then beat the shot clock with his long-range jump shot.

"I just tried to get to my comfort zone, my sweet spot," Crawford said. "I felt like I had a good look and it happened to go down for us."

In New York, where Madison Square Garden was hosting its first NBA playoff game in seven years, the Celtics made sure it wasn’t even close.

Rondo scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a triple double for the Celtics, who had emerged with two close-run victories in Boston but never trailed and were never threatened in this one.

The Celtics will try to finish off a four-game sweep in New York on Sunday.

Carmelo Anthony had 15 points and 11 rebounds but shot just 4 for 16 from the floor for the Knicks. New York remain without a playoff game win in a decade.

Amare Stoudemire, battling back spasms, shot just 2 for 8 and finished with seven points.

New York’s Chauncey Billups was again sidelined by a knee injury.

"It’s tough knowing that Amare’s not 100 percent, Chauncey’s not 100 percent and we’re just trying to find our way on the fly right now," Anthony said.

"That’s a tough situation but I think that would be making excuses if I sit here and say that they beat us because we’re not at full strength.

"We’ve still got guys that have to go out there and play and that is going out there and playing, so I don’t want to use that as an excuse."

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