By A.Sherrod Blakely
NEW YORK For most of the night, the Boston Celtics made it look easy.
The defense was crisp and the offense had a Niagara Falls-like flow to it.
Boston even called off the search party for its bench, which had been missing in action throughout most of the first three games.
Then came some Celtics slippage, hot-shooting by the New York Knicks and just like that - new ballgame, folks.
But on this day, with so much at stake, the Celtics refused to let their lead-blowing tendencies get in the way of yet another milestone during the Big Three era.
When the game mattered most, the Celtics' defense was too good, Kevin Garnett was too hot and the Knicks were too overwhelmed by it all as the Celtics pulled away for a 101-89 victory Sunday at Madison Square Garden to complete the first playoff series sweep in the Big Three regime.
It was also the Celtics' first sweep in the playoffs since 1992 (vs. Indiana), and first in a best-of-seven series since 1986 (vs. Milwaukee)
Garnett, whose defense late in the first three games critical to Boston victories, was the Celtics' go-to guy when in the game's closing moments.
He led all Celtics with 26 points to go with 10 rebounds, and also scored six of Boston's final eight points.
"It was great to see that," said coach Doc Rivers. "Fourth-quarter scoring for him has been very good for us all year. He did that again tonight."
For most of the game, it didn't seem as though the C's would need any late-game heroics to send the Knicks home for the summer.
After trailing for the entire game in Friday's 113-96 Game 3 win, the Knicks weren't much better on Sunday. Their lead over the C's in Game 4 lasted less than two minutes - all in the first quarter.
Boston maintained a modest lead for most of the first quarter, but didn't really seize control until the second quarter with a strong showing by the Celtics' bench.
In a matter of minutes, Boston's six-point lead had blossomed into a 17-point margin by halftime.
Glen Davis, who came into Game 4 shooting 5-for-16 from the field and not really making much of an impact defensively or on the boards, was all over the floor on Sunday, delivering the kind of high-energy, hustle plays the Celtics are counting on him to provide.
He also came through with some much-needed baskets, scoring 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting to go with five rebounds.
But these are the Celtics.
And a game by the Green team wouldn't be complete without some stretch of lackluster play.
That was indeed the case in the third quarter, as Boston's lead - which peaked at 23 points - was trimmed all the way down to just four (84-80) following a 3-pointer by Anthony. (That's Anthony Carter, not Carmelo Anthony.)
After a Celtics timeout, lay-ups by Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo had the C's back up by eight points.
The Knicks were never able to get any closer than that.
Rivers was pleased with the win, but would have preferred his team to close the game out in better fashion.
"We dropped the guard a little bit," Rivers said. "We came out and scored a little bit to start the third and we lost our edge and they had an edge."
But New York's edge wasn't nearly as sharp as it could have been, not with Amar'e Stoudemire limited because of a back injury and Chauncey Billups (left knee) unable to play in the last three games.
"It was tough," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said of Sunday's loss. "Boston is a good team, obviously. We just didn't get quite enough from a lot of people. We really played hard the whole series. I thought these guys played as hard as they could."
Now the Celtics' focus will shift to the next round, where they will likely face Miami. The Heat lead their series with Philadelphia, 3-1.
One thing is for sure.
The Celtics are starting to show signs of being the team we saw at the start of the season, and not the one that limped into the playoffs.
How do we know?
Because they're starting to make the game look easy.
"I love our team," Rivers said. "We do some things that are a little nuts, but they have a way to play together and they trust each other and as a coach, that's all you can ask for."