Carmelo Anthony had 21 points and the New York Knicks survived a late Boston rally to win 88-80 and wrap up their first-round National Basketball Association series against the Boston Celtics on the third try.
The Knicks, who took the first three games in the best-of- seven series before losing the next two, nearly blew a 26-point fourth-quarter lead last night before winning at Boston’s TD Garden for their first playoff series victory since 2000.
“It was an ugly series because neither team could really score, but we did what we had to do to get out of this round,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson told reporters. “We were up 3-0. I don’t think it was that we relaxed, they just wouldn’t quit.”
The Knicks will play the Indiana Pacers in the second round, with Game 1 tomorrow at Madison Square Garden in New York. David West and George Hill had 21 points apiece as the Pacers completed a 4-2 series win with an 81-73 victory at the Atlanta Hawks last night.
Also last night, the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder both finished off first-round series and advanced to face each other in the second round. Game 1 in their series is tomorrow at Oklahoma City.
Kevin Durant had 27 points as the Thunder won 103-94 at the Houston Rockets to capture their series by four games to two. Memphis also won 4-2, defeating the visiting Los Angeles Clippers 118-105.
Tonight, the Brooklyn Nets host the Chicago Bulls in Game 7 of their series. The Nets have won the last two games after falling behind 3-1 in their series.
The Knicks had not won a playoff series since 2000, when they beat the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat before falling to the Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals.
“It’s a small step, but it’s a giant step,” Knicks center Tyson Chandler said, “because if you know the history, this franchise has struggled.”
The Knicks started the game with a 21-5 run that included three 3-pointers by Pablo Prigioni, and never trailed. They led 24-10 after one quarter, built that margin to 18 points in the second period and were up 39-27 at halftime.
New York had a 67-47 lead entering the fourth quarter and built the lead to 26 points with nine minutes, 48 seconds left before the Celtics used a 20-0 run to pull within 75-69 with 5:44 left. Boston twice got within four points before Anthony scored five straight points to give the Knicks a comfortable margin.
“They made a hell of a run, but my guys they stood up and they made the plays they needed to get the win,” Woodson said in a news conference. “We gathered ourselves and got our composure and were able to get it done.”
The Celtics got seven points from Jeff Green and six apiece from Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley on the 20-0 run.
“We always thought we had a chance, I guess it just ran out of gas toward the end,” Green said. “We came together, we said, ‘If we have to go out, we’ll go out fighting.’”
Boston coach Doc Rivers said the frantic rally was a microcosm of the Celtics’ season.
“I think we’ve been counted out four or five times this year, and each time we just fought back,” Rivers told reporters. “It was amazing to see, we really never gave our fans anything to cheer about until then.”
The Celtics were trying to become the fourth team in NBA history to force a seventh game after losing the first three games of a playoff series.
The 1951 Knicks rallied from a 3-0 deficit before losing Game 7 to the Rochester Royals in the NBA Finals. The 1994 Denver Nuggets and 2003 Portland Trail Blazers also forced a seventh game after falling behind 3-0.
Green led the Celtics with 21 points. Kevin Garnett, 36, who completed his 18th NBA season, had 15 points and 10 rebounds and exchanged a long hug with Rivers as he left the game in the closing seconds.
“He told me he loved me, and I told him I loved him,” Rivers said. “He’s walking off the floor playing 40-some minutes and he was checking on me to see how I was, and that’s Kevin Garnett in a nutshell.”
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