In each of the first three games of the series between the Knicks and the Celtics, all of which were New York victories, Boston managed to put together a horrific half of offensive basketball.
The trend that subsided for two games returned for Game 6 back in Boston, and that was more than enough for the Knicks to come away with an 88-80 victory that closed out the Celtics, and advanced New York to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2000 season.
Boston scored 25 points in the second half of Game 1, 23 points in the second half of Game 2, and 31 points in the first half of Game 3. In an elimination game at home, after battling back into the series with two straight victories, the Celtics looked gassed in this one from the start, and managed just 10 first quarter points, on the way to a dismal 27 by halftime.
The Celtics just couldn’t get any easy looks, and couldn’t get whatever open looks they did have to fall. Paul Pierce looked especially drained after playing more than 44 minutes in Game 5 two nights earlier, and finished 4-of-18 from the field, and only 1-of-9 from three-point distance.
The Knicks were unable to pull away until late in the third, however, thanks to a lack of fluidity on the offensive end and plenty of missed shots of their own. New York led by 12 at the half, but was able to push its lead to 20 at the end of three thanks to Boston’s continued inability to score.
New York’s lead reached 26 points at 75-49 with 9:49 to play in the fourth, before the Celtics, essentially out of nowhere, put together a furious rally to try to keep their season alive.
Boston went on a monstrous 20-0 run over the next four minutes to cut the Knicks’ lead all the way back down to six. New York didn’t do themselves any favors during that stretch, settling for isolation basketball on virtually every possession, while forcing contested long jump shots out of rhythm or throwing up wild attempts on heavily-defended drives to the basket.
The Celtics were aggressive defensively, and got out in transition for some fast break opportunities. Avery Bradley was especially key during the run, and scored 10 fourth quarter points while forcing the action by coming up with three steals in the period.
Eventually, the Knicks stabilized, but not before the Celtics cut it to four with 3:32 remaining on a steal and breakaway dunk from Bradley. Carmelo Anthony then scored five straight, followed by an and-one layup from J.R. Smith that put the Knicks back up by 12, and ended the drama for the evening.
Of course the Celtics deserve plenty of credit for making this a series after falling behind three games to none, and for refusing to say die when things were at their bleakest in the fourth quarter of what was ultimately their final game of the season.
But the Knicks were their own worst enemy in this series. J.R. Smith throwing the elbow near the end of Game 3 that got him suspended gave Boston life against an undermanned opponent in Game 4, and then Smith’s overconfidence combined with Kenyon Martin’s effort to have the whole team wear black for some funeral nonsense had New York mentally unprepared for the close out opportunity at home in Game 5.
The Knicks were able to take advantage of the Celtics’ inability to score for long stretches in this series to ultimately win it, but things shouldn’t have been this close. Now that they’ve advanced in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, perhaps they’ll be more focused against the Pacers in their second round series, which is set to begin on Sunday.