Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks arrived at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday all wearing black. Their message was unmistakable. Holding a 3-1 series advantage heading into a potential close-out Game 5 on their home court, the Knicks were preparing for a funeral — the Celtics’ funeral.
But there would be no funeral Wednesday night.
With images stirring of bloody socks and Alex Rodriguez slapping the ball out of Bronson Arroyo‘s glove, the Celtics shut down the Knicks after a shaky first four minutes to earn a 92-86 win, sending the series back to Boston for Game 6 on Friday. Like that legendary Red Sox comeback in 2004, this one comes with no precedent.
No team in NBA history has ever clawed all the way back from a 3-0 series deficit to advance in the playoffs. No team except, possibly, this one.
“Throw your hard hat on,” Kevin Garnett barked at a Comcast SportsNet’s Greg Dickerson after the game. “Get your hammer, get your nails. It’s time to work. Let’s do it!”
Garnett had a massive game with 16 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots, but as with any hard-won playoff game, this game was all about the role players. Brandon Bass blanketed Carmelo Anthony on defense once again, holding the league’s reigning scoring champ to 22 points on 8-of-24 shooting. Terrence Williams replaced an ineffective Avery Bradley in the second half and helped slow down Raymond Felton, who had teamed with Tyson Chandler to gash Boston’s defense with pick and rolls for most of the night.
The Celtics did not look ready for a rousing victory from the outset. They handed the Knicks an 11-0 lead in the first 4:13 as every member of Boston’s starting lineup either missed a shot or committed a turnover. The deficit was a total team effort.
Yet after that, the Celtics clamped down defensively. They forced the Knicks to miss 48 of their 75 shots the rest of the game and held the Knicks to 13 assists — total — for the game. The Knicks deserve their share of credit for that, too. Despite the effectiveness of their pick and roll game, they kept going back to isolation plays, which failed to work because Bass continued to lock up Anthony as well as any defender has all season.
Paul Pierce and Jason Terry were huge in the third quarter, combining to shoot 7-for-10 and score 18 of their team’s 24 points. They were not so huge in the fourth, when they were 1-for-9, committing three turnovers and four fouls. (The latter two statistics were all Pierce’s). In their place, Jeff Green stepped up with 10 of his 18 points, including two dagger 3-pointers from the left corner.
By the time the teams exchanged handshakes at midcourt after the game — including an eye-rolling contentious exchange between Anthony and Celtics guard Jordan Crawford, who played zero minutes — the Celtics had sent a message of their own. J.R. Smith can promise all he likes that the series would be over if he had not been suspended for Game 4, just as A-Rod could look indignant when the umpires called him out for slapping at Arroyo’s glove in the eighth inning of Game 6. No series is over until that fourth game is won, no matter how much tough talk occurs off the court or how much extralegal activity occurs on it.
After three games, the Celtics faced a deficit that no team in their league’s history had ever recovered from. But some team has to be first. Like a fellow Boston team from nine years ago, the Celtics came through in New York and asked, “Why not us?”