PORTLAND, Maine — Former Boston Celtics player and current radio color commentator Cedric Maxwell said Thursday in Portland he believes the team can defeat the New York Knicks in its first-round playoff series despite having fallen behind three games to none at one point.

Maxwell made his first visit to Maine’s largest city in what he estimated was at least 15 years Thursday evening with an appearance at Bayside Bowl, where the Maine Real Estate and Development Association was holding a silent auction and charity bowling competition to raise money for the ACE Mentor scholarship program.

On Wednesday, Maxwell was in New York City broadcasting the Celtics’ 92-86 victory over the rival Knicks, Boston’s second straight win and one that cut its deficit in the best-of-seven postseason series to 3-2.

Game 6 in the series is scheduled for Friday night in Boston.

The color commentator, who won two NBA titles in the 1980s wearing Celtics green, said the Knicks woke a “sleeping giant,” taunting Boston by wearing black to the game — expecting they would eliminate their New England foes and that they had arrived at the Celtics’ funeral.

“I don’t think the Knicks did the smartest thing in the world by wearing all-black in New York and mocking the Celtics,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell said he believes his former team can come all the way back in the series, defeat the Knicks twice more and advance to the second round. If the Celtics do that, they would be the first NBA team to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.

“They can come back because I think they have the intestinal fortitude,” he said.

Maxwell said the current Celtics team, which is led by aging stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, has a different chemistry than the largely veteran Boston roster he joined as a rookie in 1977, before soon-to-be superstar Larry Bird and others joined the team.

“They’re an older team, but they’re transitioning and they still like each other,” he said of the current Celtics. “In my first year, we had seven all-stars, but we didn’t make the playoffs. We had seven all-stars, but they were all individuals.”

By the time Bird hit his stride, the Celtics had restored that chemistry and went on to claim multiple league championships. In the 1981 NBA Finals, Maxwell was named the series Most Valuable Player, and in the 1984 Finals, he scored 24 points in the decisive Game 7 to overcome the Los Angeles Lakers.

Maxwell identified that Game 7 performance as his top career highlight while chatting with the BDN Thursday evening.

“It was a great experience to beat a team you didn’t like,” he said.

The last time Maxwell said he visited Portland, he was coaching the Long Island Surf of the now-defunct United States Basketball League against the Portland Wave in 1996. Now, Portland is of course home to the Maine Red Claws, the Development League affiliate of the Celtics.

Maxwell was scheduled Thursday night to sign autographs, preside over a silent auction of sports memorabilia, socialize with bowlers and perhaps even roll a few balls himself.

He said the first time he bowled, he was in high school, tossed three straight gutterballs and quit. Years later, in 1981, he bowled again as a participant in the celebrity television competition “Superstars” and bowled an impressive 220.

“I’m not as good as that, but I’m not as bad as three gutterballs in a row either,” Maxwell laughed as he considered his chances Thursday.

The ACE Mentor program provides scholarships to high school seniors pursuing careers in architecture, engineering or construction, according to Maine Real Estate and Development Association head Shelly Clark. The bowling benefit with Maxwell represented the organization’s first fundraiser for the charity, she said.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.