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Knicks prove they belong in title conversation with bludgeoning of league-best Celtics

BOSTON — This is what a championship contender looks like with its tail tucked between its legs. What Goliath looks like when the stone rifled via David’s slingshot deals critical damage.

Or maybe it’s the coming of age moment: When David realizes Goliath is human, a mere mortal, just like everyone else.

That Goliath, too, can wave the white flag and concede defeat against the better opponent on a given night.

That’s right. The New York Knicks did that.

They have moved a so-called immovable object, pushed through an unstoppable force.

The Knicks walked onto the TD Garden’s parquet floors as perceived underdogs going up against a Boston Celtics team running away with the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed — and emerged as dark horse NBA Finals contenders with a resounding 118-109 victory on Thursday night.

“We obviously know that they’re obviously the top dog in the East,” said All-Star guard Jalen Brunson. “Whenever you play against them, it’s always a good measure to see where you’re at. Obviously we played pretty good tonight. But we know what they’re capable of. We just had their number tonight. But if it does come to a point where play them, we know we have our hands full.”

The Knicks built a lead as large as 31 before the Celtics emptied their bench. The Celtics second unit outscored the Knicks, 38-18, in the fourth quarter, but the damage had long been done.

And as a result, the Knicks not only moved within arm’s reach of the East’s No. 2 seed with the victory, they also proved they belong in the conversation for best team in the East, regardless of the standings skewing heavily in the Celtics’ favor.

If these are the Knicks to expect in a highly-anticipated playoff run — even with Julius Randle (shoulder surgery) ruled out for the season — standings be damned.

New York is here. And here to stay.

“Obviously, we know how good they are and to win a game on the road is hard. We’ve been a good road team all year. But they don’t count any more than any other game,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game. “But it’s a good test for us to show us exactly where we are. And like I said, in every game there’s things you do well, things you don’t do as well as you would like. But this team will test you in a lot of different ways.”

The Knicks used a dominant second quarter to unravel the Celtics, outscoring Boston 37-19 in the second frame to take a 69-48 lead into the half.

They never looked back and sustained a number of green-and-white rallies to secure win No. 48 of the season.

It was the Knicks’ first victory against the Celtics in five tries this season — and with now just two regular-season games left on the schedule until the playoffs begin on April 20, the win couldn’t have come at a better time.

Every dog has its day. A broken clock is right twice every 24 hours. The Knicks, however, are no broken clock.

They are for real — and they are peaking right on time.

“I think so for sure,” said OG Anunoby. “We got stops. And we got out, spread the floor, got out and scored. JB [Jalen] was getting into the paint, Josh [Hart], Donte [DiVincenzo], Isaiah [Hartenstein]. We have a great team.”

And it’s the two newcomer Knicks who swung the game in New York’s favor in hostile territory on Thursday: Anunoby and Bojan Bogdanovic are game-changers for a Knicks team with legitimate, deep playoff-contending depth at all five positions.

Anunoby shadowed Celtics’ star Jayson Tatum on defense and provided elite-level spacing on offense to open up the floor for his teammates to drive to the rim. Bogdanovic turned in one of his best games since his arrival as the headliner of the Quentin Grimes trade with the Detroit Pistons.

If this is the version of Bogdanovic the Knicks are getting as they gear up for the playoffs, the Grimes trade was well worth it, a no-brainer for a team whose playoff-tested veteran forward has hit a stride right on time.

The Croatian forward has now scored in double figures in four of his last six games, averaging 11.5 points during this stretch.

Meanwhile, Brunson continues to prove no individual defender — or team defensive scheme for that matter — can inhibit his ability to get where he wants, when he wants.

Brunson scored 39 points on 15-of-23 shooting from the field. His two primary defenders — Jrue Holiday and Derrick White — both made NBA All-Defensive Teams last season.

Neither were up to the task on Thursday.

“It’s special,” Anunoby said of Brunson. “The way he plays, the things he can do, it’s definitely special. He’s one of the best in the league. He’s playing like an MVP. He should win MVP.”

Just like Chicago’s staunch defensive backcourt of Coby White and Alex Caruso fell short when Brunson torched the Bulls for 45 points on Tuesday.

The same happened in Milwaukee, when Brunson carved a notably poor Bucks defense to the tune of 43 points in another victory over an Eastern Conference championship contender.

That title — championship contender — belongs to the Knicks as much as it belongs to any other team hoping for a shot at the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season.