NEW YORK — He tried not to smile, even as the bloodbath worsened, becoming so brutal NBA officials should have stepped in to stop it.
Brad Stevens just looked over at his bench and told his players to remain focused, preaching that the Knicks could always come back, even if the Knicks had already given up long ago.
And when a merciful buzzer finally ended a 114-73 matinee massacre Sunday at Madison Square Garden, the rookie Celtics coach who once said “I’m never happy” seemed to be just that.
“I’m not doing cartwheels,” Stevens said.
He is all business and didn’t waver for one moment during or after his team destroyed a bitter division rival, notching the most lopsided win in the league this season.
“Coach, day in and day out, he shows great poise,” said forward Brandon Bass, who scored 16 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and held Carmelo Anthony to 19 points on 15 shots.
“I think it’s rubbing off on me and I think it’s rubbing off on the rest of the guys.”
It sounded that way, with players using the team-first rhetoric for which Stevens is known.
Said Jeff Green, who scored 16: “We’re playing as a team.”
Said Avery Bradley, who scored 13 and had 10 rebounds: “We played well as a team.”
Said Jared Sullinger, who scored 21 points: “We were just playing team basketball.”
The Celtics downplayed the win, as Stevens did and has done after every win this season.
“We played really well,” the coach said. “They didn’t play as well as they’ve been playing.”
He added, “Everything we did will get overexaggerated, everything they did will get overexaggerated, but the bottom line is, we just played better today for 48 minutes.”
Anthony was a bit more blunt after his team (now 5-14) was showered with boos for most of the game, especially when it walked off the court after a pathetic effort.
“What Boston came in here and did was an embarrassment,” he said. “To lose like that on our home court, I think everyone should be [ticked] off right now.”
The turning point came at tipoff — the Celtics won that and pretty much everything that followed, scoring the game’s first 12 points before soon leading 25-3.
Knicks coach Mike Woodson twice called timeouts to stop the surge, but nothing worked.
The Knicks trailed by as much as 45 and showed as much life as a morgue. Their orange uniforms were hideous and their play was a perfect match.
One team looked like it was “rebuilding” and “tanking” – but it wasn’t the Celtics.
“I didn’t see this coming,” Woodson said.
Coming in, the Knicks had won consecutive games by 30 or more points.
“I thought we turned the corner somewhat,” Woodson said.
He thought wrong, the Knicks suffering their third-worst home loss in franchise history and their worst loss to the Celtics ever at Madison Square Garden.
The Celtics’ starters outscored the Knicks’ starters, 89-29, and perhaps most impressively, the Celtics never let up, as they had when holding big leads in previous games.
“Nah, we didn’t play the scoreboard,” Gerald Wallace said. “We wanted to play the way we wanted and that was to stick to our game plan.”
That game plan, defensively, was to force the Knicks to shoot contested 2-point jumpers, keep them from shooting too many 3-pointers, and limit them to just one shot on any possession.
The Celtics executed that plan perfectly, breaking the Knicks’ spirit. And Sullinger said he noticed that the Knicks stopped playing as a team in the first quarter.
“We just played hard, and that’s when they kind of went individual,” he said.
There were points when the Knicks didn’t run back on defense and gave up wide-open transition layups, points when they just stood and watched the Celtics drive down the lane and score.
But the Celtics followed Stevens’s lead and didn’t make much of the Knicks’ terrible performance or their astounding rout.
“So you got a win, you can’t get too high,” said Jordan Crawford, who scored a game-high 23 and made six 3-pointers, including four in a row in the third quarter.
The closest any player came to breaking from the company line was when Bass was asked about the lead, and if it seemed somewhat surreal as it ballooned to more than 40 points.
“I didn’t really pay attention to the score until I sat down and realized where we were at,” he said.
Then Bass paused, smiled, and said, “More than anything, I’m just happy about the win.”
A diplomatic response, one that sounded like it came straight from Stevens, who described his postgame speech as “boring as heck.”
“I just said, ‘Keep being a team and keep playing together,’” Stevens said.
The biggest question, perhaps, was whether Sunday’s rout was just one of those games — or if it was something more?
“You’re never as good as you think you are, never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never far from either,” Stevens said.
“It’s one of those days in a lot of ways, but also we played pretty well. Can we play like that every day? Probably not. But can we bring the same intensity level and be as much of a team as we were today? Hopefully.”Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes