Celtics Refuse To Go Down Quietly; Force Game 6
The Boston Celtics are still alive in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series as they beat the New York Knicks in Game 5 to send the teams back to Boston for Game 6.
After the Knicks won Game 3 in convincing fashion, the sentiment was that the Celtics were done and the Knicks could have a week to rest for their next opponent (either the Indiana Pacers or the Atlanta Hawks). The Knicks have been acting with bravado by dressing in all black clothes when they arrived at Madison Square Garden for the Celtics’ “funeral” last night.
With battle-tested veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics are not ready to enter the off-season filled with questions about their future. Pierce has a team option for $15.3 million and he told reporters that he plans on playing for at least one more year. Garnett has been dealing with inflammation in his left ankle and a hip injury. Garnett also will be 37 years old on May 19th. Even though he is under contract for two more years, Garnett could decide to retire.
Garnett had 18 rebounds to go with 16 points, including knocking down a clutch jumper to give the Celtics a 90-83 lead out of a timeout with less than a minute remaining in the game. Pierce had another frustrating night with five turnovers and he was just 6-of-19 from the field. He was also 4-of-8 on three-pointers.
The Celtics had 20 assists as a team. They shot 50% from behind the three-point line (11-22) and they made all 17 of their free throws. The Celtics had balanced scoring with five players in double figures led by Jeff Green’s 18 points. Green was 1-of-3 at halftime, but he was 4-for-5 from the field in the second half. Green made two critical three-pointers in the fourth quarter.
Early in the game, the Celtics looked like the inferior team that they have been throughout the series. The Celtics fell behind by 11 points (11-0). They missed their first five shots with three turnovers. Brandon Bass nailed two free throws to get the Celtics on the scoreboard and then he scored in transition off a steal. Bass scored nine of the team’s initial 11 points and the Celtics closed the double-digit deficit to just one possession at the end of the first quarter at 22-20.
Another amazing statistic is the Celtics’ bench outscored the Knicks’ reserves (21-20) despite having just two players. The Knicks had three players who played significant minutes off their bench, including NBA Sixth Man of the Year in J.R. Smith. Smith shot 3-of-14 from the field, but he missed his first 10 shots. Smith did not make a shot until late in the game when the Knicks trailed 88-76. After the game Smith blamed himself for both losses in Games 4 and 5 because he was suspended for Game 4 after he elbowed Jason Terry in Game 3. Terry and Terrence Williams played critical minutes and even though Terry missed many shots, he was able to hit five three-pointers that helped the Celtics stretch their advantage into double figures in the fourth quarter. Terry also hit a shot from beyond the arc late in the third quarter to provide the Celtics with a 69-60 lead going into the final frame. Williams substituted for Garnett midway through the fourth quarter and he helped the Celtics regain a 13-point gap at 80-67.
Despite the Knicks’ desperate attempt to get back in the game, the Celtics had an answer unlike the previous four games when the Celtics failed to show up in the second half and respond to the Knicks defensive pressure.
Carmelo Anthony is 18-of-59 from the field in Games 4 and 5. The whispers will continue to get louder for Anthony if the Knicks come back to New York for a Game 7 on Sunday. Anthony has only got past the first round on one occasion in his 10-year career. He has always been known as a perennial scorer, yet he is not a team player.
The Celtics still committed 15 turnovers. Avery Bradley continues to allow Raymond Felton to roam to the basket with dribble penetration in the paint.
Throughout this series, the Knicks have been chirping about how they are the better team. In the first three games, the Knicks were the better team over an injury-riddled Celtics team who looked old and slow. Yet, the Knicks have been unable to secure that all-important fourth victory.
For Anthony and his mates, the questions will linger whether this year’s Knicks team can win a playoff series for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
Meanwhile, the Celtics were finally able to shoot the ball well and silence both the Knicks and the thousands of New Yorkers in the crowd. The Celtics will have to follow this formula in Game 6 to continue their season and extend this series to a winner-take-all Game 7.