NEW YORK (AP) — Isaiah Thomas had never been part of a 50-game winner, so one goal has been realized.
The Boston Celtics have much bigger things ahead of them — starting with a showdown against the defending NBA champions.
Thomas scored 19 points in just 24 minutes and the Celtics remained atop the Eastern Conference, beating the New York Knicks 110-94 on Sunday.
“I’ve never won 50 games in my NBA career, so definitely was an individual goal of mine coming into this season to win 50 games and I’m just glad we got to that,” Thomas said. “But like I keep saying, we’ve got a lot more work to do.”
Jaylen Brown added 16 points for the Celtics, who will be no worse than tied with Cleveland for the best record in the East when they host the Cavaliers on Wednesday. Boston is off until then, while the Cavs were set to play two games in between.
Boston secured its first 50-win season since going 56-26 in 2010-11 and did it easily, shooting 55.6 percent and getting 14 points apiece from Marcus Smart and Al Horford.
“Couple years ago I would’ve thought that that was going to be something that we were really going to have to build for a while to, but I thought that obviously we’ve been lucky to strike on a couple of guys,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Everybody’s got a like mind with regard to the bigger purpose of playing for the Celtics and trying to compete every night.
“So we’re happy, but we’ve got to finish out these next five games well and then get ready for the playoffs and we’ll look at whatever we accomplish at the end of the season at the end of the season.”
Courtney Lee scored 16 points and Kristaps Porzingis had 14 for the Knicks, who announced during the game that Derrick Rose will have season-ending surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee. They also played without Carmelo Anthony (sore lower back).
Boston had little trouble with the Knicks who remained. The Celtics never trailed, shot 60 percent in a 60-point first half and led by as many as 27 points.
They had some easy dunks while cruising through the fourth quarter, when a loud “Let’s go Celtics!” chant broke out in the final minutes at Madison Square Garden.
Celtics: Stevens said he texted Sunday with ailing guard Avery Bradley, who said he was feeling better. “All signs point to him practicing Tuesday with us,” Stevens said. … Jae Crowder left in the second half with a sore left elbow. He called it a “weird” feeling more than a painful one. X-rays were negative but he thought he’d probably get an MRI in Boston to further investigate.
Knicks: Anthony missed his second straight game. … The Knicks welcomed back coach Jeff Van Gundy and a few players from their 1999 Eastern Conference championship team during a first-half tribute on the court.
Rose’s injury news was a surprising but all too familiar ending to his first season in New York. Coach Jeff Hornacek said before the game he thought Rose could play again this season. Instead, it’s another summer when Rose will be rehabbing from knee surgery — and this one comes as he heads into free agency.
“I thought he’s played well,” Hornacek said. “The explosiveness that you saw years ago, you saw (this year). Again, the way the season has gone, to have something like that happen towards the end is a bad break for us.”
Former Gonzaga All-American Kelly Olynyk was hoping to join his many former teammates who are already at the Final Four for Monday’s national championship game, but figures it will be difficult. He watched Saturday’s victory at a bar in New York and his excitement was obvious to anyone following his Twitter feed .
“I was juiced. I was really juiced,” he said. “Juiced up — not juiced. For the record, I was not drinking. I was really excited about things that that team was doing at the moment.”
Celtics: Host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.
Knicks: Host the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, trying to sweep the season series for the first time since 1999-00.