After three horrible performances, the Celtics seem to have found their legs in their first round series with the second seeded Knicks.
Down 3-0, the rest of the series appeared a mere formality, as the Knicks’ defense befuddled the C’s into turnovers and countless bad shots in the opening three contests.
Game four, however, was a little bit better. Spurred on by a loud TD Garden crowd (albeit one with a respectable quantity of travelling Knicks fans), the Celtics snuck by the Knicks in overtime. (For a little more on game 4, follow this link.)
Coming into game five even I, a hopelessly and irrationally optimistic Celtics fan, couldn’t help but feel waves of apprehension and nervousness. I knew that the Celtics would leave it all on the court, as they did in game four, but I couldn’t help but worry about an offense that looked so out of sync the first two games in Madison Square Garden. When the Knicks leapt out to an 11-0 lead early, my uneasiness doubled. But the Celtics weathered the storm and kept the game close, finishing the quarter on a 20 to 11 run. The second quarter was an even better one for the Celts and they led by 6 going into the intermission.
The C’s then played their best second half of the series, putting in basket after basket and not allowing any Knick outside of Raymond Felton (yes, I know, weird…) to beat them. The Celtics escaped MSG with a six point win, thanks in large part to balanced scoring and big time performances from Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry among others.
Paulie only scored 16 points (a series low), missed 13 shots, did not attempt a free throw, and had his usual batch of horrific turnovers, but he came up with huge shots whenever the C’s needed a bucket. KG was also terriffic, especially down the stretch, and he sunk several clutch shots including the dagger. KG also was once again massive on the glass, racking up 18 boards. As for JET, he was a man on a mission once again, stroking 3’s early and often while J.R. Smith (that guy who did this to him) was tossing up bricks.
In total, five players in green jerseys finished with 16 or more points, including Brandon Bass, who got his 17 points on seven shots and played tremendous defense all night on Carmelo Anthony. Another huge performance came from Jeff Green. Like Bass, Green was intimidatingly efficient. It took him just 8 shots to score a team high 18 points. He also hit two enormous threes down the stretch.
The performance was amazing, with the undermanned Celtics getting huge performances from everyone who hit the floor (the C’s only went seven deep). Everything the Celtics had was left on the floor and every big shot that had to be made to stop runs was hit.
The fact here remains that, momentum aside, the Celtics are still down in the series. The Knicks are also the better team. And, no matter how good the defense you play on Carmelo Anthony is, he generally does not make a habit of the types of shooting performances he has churned out the past two games (10 for 35 and 8 for 24). The pressure has certainly shifted, but the Knicks are still in command. Coming back to Boston, both teams have reason to feel optimism. The Knicks are due for a better performance. The Celtics are back in the series, but their chances are still hanging by a thread.
Who knows what will happen in game six. But I can assure you it will be a grind.
Before I conclude, I would like to leave you with a final thought. The Celtics may still be up against it against a team with more healthy players and more firepower, but, in the words of former NBA coach Rudy Tomjanovich, “don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.”