It was chippy, it was tense, it was entirely too close and too stressful and too breathless and too much like every other game in these playoffs, except that instead of folding and breaking down in the second half, the Celtics actually pulled away. And then, of course, the Knicks pulled closer again, but Boston maintained their advantage, and as a result, this series is somehow, inexplicably, improbably going to Game 6. In Boston. Friday. This season is still breathing.
Although the season is still breathing, I, quite frankly, am not. There were two moments in the second half in which most Celtics fans thought they could exhale. The first was with nine minutes to go (which should have been a good indicator that the game was far from over, but such is life) when Jeff Green swooped down the lane and smashed the ball through the net to give Boston a 15-point lead. 15 points! A 15-point lead AGAINST the Celtics is doomsday, since the Celtics have struggled to score 15 points in an entire 3rd quarter this series.
Unfortunately, against the Knicks, 15 points is quite doable, especially when Boston’s offense stops scoring until the 5:39 mark. By the time Brandon Bass tossed in a shot in the post against Tyson Chandler (and yes, you read that right), New York had closed the gap to 10. Jeff Green scored eight straight points to push Boston’s lead to 12 with about 2:30 left including back-to-back corner 3-pointers that completely quieted the MSG crowd. That was the second moment. I exhaled.
Then JR Smith made a couple of 3-pointers that brought New York within five with a minute remaining. If there was a heart-breaking way 2013 could end, it would be blowing a 12-point lead with two minutes left. But KG wasn’t done. He pump-faked Chandler into the air, stepped to his left and buried a cold-blooded mid-range jumper that stopped New York in their tracks. The Knicks missed a couple of desperation threes, and the Celtics pulled off a must-win victory. Boston is not dead just yet.
I realize that, for the most part here at Celtics Town, our run-ups to the bullet points are rarely this long, but we rarely have games like this one. So without further (further) ado, let’s get to the bullet points.
- At this point, nothing is about efficiency. Neither team has been efficient. The Celtics shot EXTREMELY well from 3-point range (11-22), but Pierce and Terry were both inefficient overall (6-19 and 6-16 respectively). Jeff Green was efficient (18 points on eight shots), but he was rarely used. It was the Celtics’ defense that won this game. The Knicks shot 39.5% from the field overall and 22.7% from the 3-point line. Boston still can’t stop Felton’s P&R game, but they defended everything else very well.
- JR Smith had perhaps the worst game of his life in his return from a suspension. Smith finished with 14 points, but he needed 14 shots to do it, and even that inefficiency undersells how bad he was. He didn’t make his first field goal until the 2:48 mark of the 4th quarter, and he seemed hesitant and uncomfortable all game. You can bet Boston’s crowd is going to let him have it in Game 6, and if Game 5 was any indicator, Smith may not respond very well to the pressure.
- Terrence Williams was good and bad. He didn’t turn the ball over in 17 minutes as a point guard, he brought the ball up the floor more reliably than any Celtic has so far in the playoffs, and he (wait for it) COMPLETED ENTRY PASSES. I know. I was surprised too. On the other hand, he attempted three 3-pointers, and while one of those was an end-of-the-shot-clock heave, another was taken instead of swinging the ball to an open Jason Terry (who, despite his overall inefficiencies, was 5-9 from 3-point range). But if we assume that a few bad shots are nullified by 17 minutes of turnover-free basketball from an extremely turnover-prone team, we can also assume that Williams deserved his minutes and might get more in the future.
- Avery Bradley is shook. I don’t know what else to say. I hope this series doesn’t do him any lasting damage.
- Doc’s rotation was seven deep. SEVEN. Every non-Bradley starter played over 40 minutes. That’s going to make for some tired legs in Game 6.
- WHAT MORE CAN YOU SAY ABOUT KEVIN GARNETT. 16 points on 5-9 shooting, 6-6 from the free throw line and (get this) 18 rebounds. Garnett is not going into the sweet beyond without a fight.
- Brandon Bass didn’t do much in the second half, but let’s all take a moment and salute him for his first quarter performance that brought the Celtics back from a 9-0 hole. Bass scored Boston’s first four points and seven of their first nine. His offense seemed to calm the New York storm, and Boston managed to work the lead down to two by the end of the quarter. Great first half for Bass.
The Celtics refuse to die. New York is going to have to take a playoff series from their cold, dead, arthritic and inexplicably steadfast fingers. Win or lose Game 6 (and potentially Game 7), that resiliency is what we should take away from the KG era. It’s not easy. It has NEVER been easy. But Boston doesn’t die.
Win or lose, that’s worth appreciating. Game 6. Friday. In Boston. It’s happening.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.