While they were finishing off their second victory over the Celtics this week, injured forward Rasheed Wallace drew a large "50" on the board in their locker room, challenging them to strive for a 50-win season.
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They're on pace to get that, too, in what's shaping up as their best season in two decades.
Carmelo Anthony had 24 points and 10 rebounds, and the Knicks extended their winning streak to eight games and moved closer to ending Boston's hold on the Atlantic Division title with a 108-89 victory Sunday night.
Coach Mike Woodson has talked about winning the division title since taking over last March, and Wallace has given the Knicks (46-26) another target.
"It's very doable for us and we have something to look forward to," Anthony said. "Fifty wins is always a great thing in this league to accomplish, winning a division is always a great thing to accomplish, a great accomplishment in this league. So them two things are definitely doable, we've just got to keep it moving, keep it going."
The Knicks won the season series for the first time since 2003-04, when they also went 3-1 against Boston. New York climbed back into a tie with Indiana in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, which would currently mean a playoff meeting with the Celtics.
"I think we're just clicking at the right time," swingman Iman Shumpert said. "Going in the playoffs, everybody's got a different focus. Guys got a little more pep in their step and everybody's locked in."
J.R. Smith, who had 30 points off the bench in his previous three games, finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
"We just didn't close out to their shooters," Pierce said. "We pretty much gave them everything they wanted. We opened up their shooters, we opened up their drives [and] we fouled them too much. I don't even know how to explain it. They just beat us to the punch."
Pierce turned his ankle in the first quarter and could sit out the Celtics' game at Minnesota on Monday.
New York opened a 4 ½ -game lead over Brooklyn atop the Atlantic and dropped the Celtics to 8 ½ games back and the brink of elimination in the division race. Boston has won all five division titles since acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the summer of 2007.
The Knicks, who won by 15 in Boston on Tuesday, haven't won a division title since the 1993-94 season, but a 12-6 March -- their most wins in that month since going 14-0 in that last division championship season -- has them on track.
"We all knew it was going to be a tough month and we're playing like we're trying to get something accomplished and that's winning our division and trying to secure that second spot," Woodson said.
The Knicks played their 10th straight game without Tyson Chandler, who has a bulging disk in his neck and hopes to return Tuesday. They flourished using a variety of small lineups, taking advantage of a Celtics team that has no inside presence, either, with Garnett continuing to rest a sore left ankle.
They believe a playoff meeting would be different with Garnett back. Boston swept New York in the first round in 2011.
"I feel like when we're healthy we can compete with anybody," Green said. "We can't get down on ourselves thinking that just because they beat us the last couple of times, that if we play them again that we have no chance. We have a chance on it, whoever we match up against."
Smith had averaged 26.4 points during the winning streak but shot just 4 of 12 Sunday. Still, New York controlled the game from early in the second quarter in the opener of a five-game stretch against likely playoff teams.
The Knicks shot 52 percent in the first quarter, got 12 points from Anthony and led 28-23. They opened it up with eight straight points early in the second to take a 42-32 lead on Steve Novak's 3-pointer. The Celtics trimmed the deficit to single digits just once in the half, which ended spectacularly when Felton threw in a buzzer-beater from just beyond half court to make it 65-48.
|The Knicks' win over the Celtics moves them closer to ending Boston's hold on the Atlantic Division title. (Getty Images)|
|New York (46-26) «||28||37||21||22||108|
|BOS:J. Green 27 Pts
BOS:P. Pierce 15 Reb
BOS:P. Pierce 5 Ast
|NY:C. Anthony 24 Pts
NY:J. Smith 12 Reb
NY:P. Prigioni 5 Ast
|Players of the Game|
Majestic Carmelo Anthony Knicks Player T-Shirt - White Shop Now!
|J. Green, PF||35||10-14||5-8||4||1||4||27|
|P. Pierce, SF||32||6-16||8-10||15||5||2||24|
|A. Bradley, PG||24||1-5||0-0||1||1||6||2|
|B. Bass, PF||22||1-4||0-0||4||2||3||2|
|C. Wilcox, C||12||1-2||0-0||2||0||2||2|
|C. Lee, SG||28||5-11||0-0||4||0||2||10|
|J. Crawford, SG||25||3-10||4-4||2||2||1||10|
|J. Terry, SG||21||3-7||1-1||1||0||0||8|
|T. Williams, SG||19||1-4||0-0||0||1||0||2|
|S. Randolph, PF||14||0-0||0-0||2||0||2||0|
|D. White, PF||7||1-1||0-0||2||0||0||2|
|K. Garnett, PF||Did Not Play|
|R. Rondo, PG||Did Not Play|
|F. Melo, C||Did Not Play|
|J. Sullinger, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|P. Prigioni, PG||33||1-4||0-0||1||5||2||3|
|R. Felton, PG||31||6-10||3-3||0||4||2||18|
|C. Anthony, SF||27||9-19||4-4||10||3||4||24|
|I. Shumpert, SF||27||3-3||2-2||4||2||5||10|
|K. Martin, PF||23||1-2||1-3||4||2||4||3|
|J. Smith, SG||33||4-12||7-10||12||4||1||15|
|J. Kidd, PG||21||1-4||0-0||5||2||3||3|
|S. Novak, SF||20||4-7||0-0||0||0||0||10|
|C. Copeland, SF||20||6-10||7-9||5||0||0||22|
|J. White, SG||6||0-1||0-0||0||1||1||0|
|M. Camby, C||Did Not Play|
|K. Thomas, PF||Did Not Play|
|R. Wallace, PF||Did Not Play|
|T. Chandler, C||Did Not Play|
|A. Stoudemire, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|