- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers implored his troops to keep it simple and this was about as simple as it gets.
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen couldn't miss, so Boston put the ball in their hands and reaped the benefits. What was supposed to be playoff basketball's triumphant return to the mecca that is Madison Square Garden, turned into nothing more than a street-ball game with Pierce and Allen amusing themselves by simply trying to one-up each other.
For all the hype about the New York Knicks' dynamic duo of Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, they were mere spectators as Pierce and Allen did something they've never done in Boston uniform: Each produced a 30-point effort while guiding the Celtics to a 113-96 triumph over the Knicks on Friday night in Game 3 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinals series.
All this in front of a disinterested audience that hadn't waited seven years to watch their beloved Bockers get run out of their own building (it was hard enough watching Pierce & Co. do home run trots during nail-biters earlier this season).
The Celtics boast a 3-0 series lead and can knock a wobbly-kneed Knicks squad out on its home turf on Sunday.
New York might still be reeling from the 1-2 punch Pierce and Allen delivered Friday. Pierce poured in a game-high 38 points on 14-of-19 shooting, canning 6 of 8 trifectas, while Allen added 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting, making 8 of 11 triples.
"After a while, I started feeding off of Ray," said Pierce. "It was like he was making every shot and it was putting pressure on me to make shots. I couldn't let him down, so it was fun to be a part of, just to kind of watch him take those shots, because I was looking at him saying how on fire he was. But then everyone was saying I'm on fire, so it was good to be a part of that and just have teammates that can really put on a show like that."
This surely wasn't the show the majority of the paying customers came to see. After Boston's lackluster bench effort produced a non-requested encore in the fourth quarter, Allen and Pierce continued their hot-shooting exploits and Bockers fans stomped to the exits with four minutes to play.
"It's unbelievable," said Glen Davis. "When you've got two guys like that who are just on fire, you've got to keep feeding them. You've got to keep getting them the ball because they're hot. They're special players and that's what it's about, you know, making sure that we get them open, making sure we that we make sure that they get the ball."
Rajon Rondo was the chief beneficiary of that hot-shooting, producing 20 assists to go along with 15 points and 11 rebounds as part of his sixth postseason triple-double. Somehow it was all overshadowed by Pierce and Allen, who provided the only real competition in the game.
Pierce came out with the hot hand and quickly quieted the crowd, sinking 5 of 6 shots as part of a 14-point first quarter and the Celtics led by as much as 17 early on. That pregame buzz quickly turned to in-game venom, but chants from the crowd only added fuel to Boston's fire.
Allen answered Pierce's first-quarter outburst by chipping in 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the second quarter, keeping the Knicks at arm's length even as they made the first of two feverish charges.
And it was only a warm-up. Pierce and Allen combined for 18 points in the third quarter, matching each other shot-for-shot at the start as the lead only ballooned after the intermission.
This wasn't some complex game plan designed at getting Pierce and Allen easy looks. Yes, the duo combined to make 7 of 11 shots off screens, but much of their production came off basic spot-up jumpers. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the duo combined to connect on 8 of 9 attempts on spot-up jumpers alone.
"Very simple: Just get Paul and Ray open," Kevin Garnett said when asked about the simplicity of the game plan. "They had their shots."
And they made them, too. Which is no small feat. According to Synergy Sports, 17.8 percent of Boston's total plays during the 2010-11 season have been spot-up jumpers. That's the highest percentage of any type of shot Boston utilized. But it's also the lowest percentage option in their toolbox, with Boston connecting on a mere 39.3 percent of those attempts.
Which only makes the fact that Pierce and Allen shot a blistering 88.9 percent on that sort of shot Friday seem all the more incredible.
"They were great," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I thought our defensive energy [was good] to start the game. We got stops and then, offensively, we kept the game simple."
If only the secret to stopping them had been as easy, as well.
"Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were awesome," admitted Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni. "Ray didn't miss anything. We got it respectful at halftime, and third quarter.
"You know that is going to happen they are going to explode. Their great players played great tonight."
Conspiracy theorists will look back and argue that the Boston bench tanked its play to simply get more court time to watch Pierce and Allen in the fourth quarter. (If only that were true, then Rivers' blood pressure would have been a lot lower postgame.)
Pierce poured in 13 of the duo's 19 fourth-quarter points. No need for a home run trot. Boston's stars simply enjoyed the final moments from the comfort of the bench.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, it's the first time two Celtics teammates have topped 30 points in the same game since Pierce and Antoine Walker accomplished the feat back on May 27, 2002. That night, Pierce chipped in 31 points on 10-of-21 shooting, while Antoine Walker added 30 points on 10-of-17 shooting in a 94-92 loss to the New Jersey Nets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"[The shots] felt pretty good," Pierce admitted. "I had a good rhythm. Doc really did a good job of getting me off early. The first couple of plays were for me, so he was trying to get me the ball, get in a good rhythm. And then from that point on, as a scorer, once you get a couple shots, you see a couple shots fall, you get a good rhythm and your confidence keeps going."
Boston can only hope that confidence keeps going into future rounds.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.
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