Celtics improbably back in series after Game 5 win
NEW YORK -- Kill the Kevin Garnett retirement talk. Put a hold on the 'Will Amar'e play next series?' stories. And keep an eye out for Dave Roberts at the Garden on Friday.
Celtics-Knicks is going to a Game 6.
Improbable? That's an understatement. Did anyone give the Celtics a chance to win on Wednesday? They took Game 4 in Boston, they avoided a sweep, they gave a grieving city something to cheer about. For many, that was enough.
Think New York was confident? On Tuesday, J.R. Smith, whose errant elbow knocked him out in the fourth quarter of Game 3 and kept him out of the lineup for Game 4, lamented that he wasn't already on the golf course enjoying a little R & R before the next series. Kenyon Martin prodded teammates to come to the game dressed in black--"funeral colors," Martin said--and they all obliged.
And let's face it: The Knicks are a better team. Without Rajon Rondo, Boston's offense is aimless. Avery Bradley, the promising third-year guard, has been a disaster. He's been asked to fill Rondo's shoes, to play a position he isn't suited for. On Wednesday, Doc Rivers let Bradley play 22 minutes and commit five turnovers before replacing him with Guangdong Southern Tigers star Terrence Williams.
And it's not just Bradley. Rivers can't trust anybody. Courtney Lee has been in the doghouse since Game 1. Jordan Crawford is a 3-for-12 shooting night waiting to happen. Rivers played seven guys in Game 5, and you got the feeling that if Boston's aging roster could have handled it, he would have played six.
But here's the thing: It worked. After falling behind 11-0, the Celtics outscored the Knicks 45-28. They held a four-point lead at halftime, which they have done before, but instead of squandering it in the third quarter, they extended it, outscoring New York 24-21. The scoring was balanced (five Celtics finished with at least 16 points), the defense stout (for the second straight game the Knicks shot less than 40 percent) and with a 92-86 win Boston is headed home with momentum for the first time this series.
"We [were] going to a funeral," Smith said. "But it looks like we got buried."
Make no mistake, the pressure now is squarely on the Knicks' shoulders. Rivers tried to tell a roomful of reporters after the game that both teams feel it, but come on: Boston is a wounded dog. No one outside of the Celtics' locker room expects them to advance. In New York, there are expectations. Lofty ones. Amar'e Stoudemire is out, but this is the same team that rattled off 13 wins a row without him. It's conference finals or bust, a deep playoff run or heads could roll.
This is where the Knicks' character will be tested. It's been 40 years since New York has won a championship and 13 since they have been out of the first round. Carmelo Anthony, the face of the franchise, the man that pleaded for the opportunity to play for the Knicks, needs to step up. 'Melo was a woeful 8-for-24 in Game 5, bricking all five of his three-point attempts, handing out two assists, which, remarkably, was half of his total in the first four games of the series. Anthony has had his own playoff problems: He has escaped the first round just once in nine previous appearances. The Knicks will be looking for him to have a big game in Boston on Friday, and he must deliver.
Shooters have to make shots, too. Smith (3-for-14) led the brick brigade Wednesday, and he didn't get much help, with the team connecting on just 22.7 percent of its 3-point attempts. No team attempted (2,371) or made (891) more three's than the Knicks during the regular season. But the basket looks like a bathtub when you are winning. When you start to struggle, it can shrink to the size of a thimble.
"Regardless of if I miss five or six shots in a row, the next seven or eight [are] going up, regardless," Smith said. "I am a streaky shooter and that is how I get into my rhythm. That is how my teammates want us to play."
Added Mike Woodson, "We have to find some offense somewhere."
No NBA team has rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a series, but that fact doesn't carry much weight in Boston. This is a city that celebrated as the Red Sox rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in 2004 and buried its collective head in its hands when the Flyers came back from 3-0 down to upend the Bruins in 2010. They know winning under these circumstances is difficult. But they also know its doable.
"We're not getting over excited," Paul Pierce said. "When we lost games, we didn't get too down and now we've won a couple and we're not getting too overly excited. We just have to maintain a certain calm, keep taking it one game at a time and just keep climbing the mountain."