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Celtics, Hawks, Lakers Win to Take Leads in Their NBA Playoffs

The Boston Celtics defeated the New York Knicks 113-96 to come within one game of a sweep in round one of the National Basketball Association playoffs.

The Atlanta Hawks beat the Orlando Magic 88-84 to lead two games to one, while the Los Angeles Lakers topped the New Orleans Hornets 100-86 for a 2-1 edge in their best-of-seven series.

The Celtics’ victory last night at New York’s Madison Square Garden gave Boston a 3-0 advantage in their Eastern Conference series. Host New York will attempt to prevent elimination in Game 4 tomorrow.

The Celtics started the game by taking a 9-0 lead over the Knicks.

“You can’t give them that big an opening that they can smell blood,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters.

Boston had a 52-44 lead at the half and then came back with a 19-6 run early in the third quarter.

Paul Pierce had 38 points and Ray Allen added 32, while Rajon Rondo had a triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 20 assists for the Celtics.

Shaquille O’Neal remained sidelined by a strained right calf, although he did travel with the team to New York. He said there was a possibility he would be ready for the next game.

Shawne Williams led the Knicks with 17 points and Carmelo Anthony and Toney Douglas each had 15 points. Knicks’ forward Amar’e Stoudemire, who sat out Game 2 with back spasms, was held to seven points.

“I felt good enough to play but I wasn’t 100 percent,” said Stoudemire, who was 2 for 8. “I just wanted to show some courage out there for the fans of New York.”

Chauncey Billups, who has missed two games with a strained knee, said his return to the Knicks for round one is uncertain.

“It’s just tough, man. This is the time of the season that I live for,” Billups told reporters before last night’s game. “But I’m just going to continue trying to do the best that I can do to get back on the floor, man, but simply, it’s just not ready.”

At Philips Arena in Atlanta, Al Horford hit a 22-foot jump shot with 46 seconds left to give the Hawks an 85-84 lead, and Jamal Crawford put the win out of reach of the Magic with a 26-foot 3-pointer with five seconds left.

Crawford led the Hawks with 23 points and Joe Johnson added 21. Dwight Howard had 21 points and 15 rebounds for the Magic, who play Game 4 tomorrow in Atlanta.

At New Orleans Arena, Kobe Bryant had 30 points and Pau Gasol had 17 for the Lakers. Carl Landry led with 23 points followed by Chris Paul with 22 for the Hornets, who host Game 4 tomorrow.

In today’s games, the Chicago Bulls will attempt to eliminate the Indiana Pacers with a 4-0 sweep; the Dallas Mavericks will try to gain a 3-1 lead over the Portland Trail Blazers; either the San Antonio Spurs or Memphis Grizzles will break their 1-1 series tie; and the Denver Nuggets will try for their first win in Game 3 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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