NEW YORK — The Knicks arrived at Madison Square Garden to a man adorned in black, the fitting attire for what they were predicting Wednesday — a funeral for the Celtics.
But the boasts and bombast fell flat as the Knicks found themselves losing on their home floor, dropping a shocking 92-86 decision to the Celtics in Game 5 of the best-of-seven. Now they face an unexpected trip back to Boston for a sixth game, and the suddenly queasy feeling that they could be squandering a 3-0 series lead.
The loud chants that marked the early moments faded to a whimper from the crowd by the end — matching the effort of the Knicks. The most fight shown by the Knicks came as the teams left the court, when Raymond Felton and Celtics reserve Jordan Crawford exchanged shoves and words.
“I think it’s much to do about nothing. I didn’t see it. I wasn’t happy with it,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “(Knicks coach Mike Woodson) wasn’t happy with it. We don’t need any of that crap. … I don’t know what happened; a lot of talking. Glad (John) Starks wasn’t there.”
No team in NBA history has won a series after trailing 3-0 in a best-of-seven, but the Celtics entered the Garden with a thought: “Why not us?”
“Somebody is going to do it,” Rivers said before the game. “And I want it to be us obviously, since that’s the situation we’re in. But someone will do it, and I really want to be a part of that.”
It certainly seemed unlikely when the Knicks steamrolled their way through the first three games and then when New York fought back from a 20-point deficit in Game 4 to force overtime. But the Celtics survived Sunday in OT and upon returning to New York — where the Knicks hadn’t lost since March 7 — found their way again.
Or, the Knicks lost their way. J.R. Smith played the goat while not even in the arena Sunday, having to serve a one-game suspension for a foolish elbow to the head of Jason Terry. Carmelo Anthony fired up 35 shots that day, missing 25, and the Knicks promised everything would be different this time.
Smith, who said Tuesday that if he played in Game 4 the series would have been over, returned in body — but still out of mind. He missed his first 10 attempts, not connecting from the field until a three-pointer with 2:49 remaining in the game. He finished with 14 points — a hollow total.
The Knicks needed him because there was no offensive explosion coming anywhere else. After bolting out at the start to an 11-0 lead, the Knicks simply crumbled under whatever it was that weighed them down — pressure, expectations or carelessness.
With an eye already on the second round, the Knicks faced a veteran team that wasn’t going to make it easy. Paul Pierce, after an ice-cold start, hit big shot after big shot and a balanced Boston attack just outplayed the Knicks.
“Win,” was the simple message Rivers gave his team before the game. “Really I don’t think you need to get deep when you’re down.”
The loud cheers of the pregame introductions seemed to carry over as the Knicks started the game on an 11-0 run, capped by an aggressive drive and dunk by Anthony over Kevin Garnett. By that time the Celtics were 0-for-5 with three turnovers and they seemed not only uninterested in extending the series, but frankly, not that interested in playing this game.
Somehow, even with Pierce struggling through an 0-for-6 first quarter and Garnett missing both of his attempts, the lead was down to 22-20 by the end of the period. In the second those two got started while the Knicks were falling apart.
Fouls plagued the front line and Smith, who had to watch Game 4from a hotel room, was brutal: 0-for-5 from the floor in the first half and a non-factor, other than forcing action and pulling the Knicks out of anything good they were doing.
Garnett scored inside and then on the next trip drew a hard foul on Kenyon Martin — originally called a flagrant, but changed to a common foul. But it was the third on Martin, and in the quarter Tyson Chandler would also get hit with his third foul — prompting the first appearance of the series for Marcus Camby.
When Pierce drained a three-pointer with 5:46 left in the half the Celtics took their first lead, 34-33. By halftime the lead was 45-39 for Boston, and the Garden crowd was almost eerily silent as the teams left the court.
The Knicks fell behind by eight early in the third quarter and fought back as they had Sunday, again riding the offense of Felton. The Knicks’ point guard scored 11 in a 14-3 run Sunday, and this time put up eight in a flurry along with a lob to Chandler for a dunk that got the quiet crowd back into the game.
But with Smith misfiring three more times in the quarter — 0-for-8 through three quarters — the Knicks were crumbling again, trailing, 69-60, entering the final quarter.
Distributed by MCT Information Services