NEW YORK — In a cruel irony involving the city they were trying to uplift, the Boston Celtics were shut down in the second half of their NBA playoff opener against the New York Knicks at an energized Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon.
One day after the Boston area was locked down during a frightening manhunt following terrorist bombings at the Boston Marathon, the second-seeded New York Knicks held the seventh-seeded Celtics to just 25 second-half points while allowing a playoff franchise-low eight points in the final quarter, to rally for an 85-78 victory in Game 1 of the teams’ Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Boston’s paltry point output in the final period also marked a Celtics team playoff low for a fourth quarter.
“It’s like we put so much emotion into the game, we just didn’t have a lot left in [second half],” said head coach Doc Rivers. “I thought we [became] flat.”
Initially playing their hearts out for their home town about 220 miles to the north, a bolstered Boston squad aggressively and frequently got into the paint, where it scored 22 first-half points while making all nine its free throw attempts before intermission, to lead 53-49 at the break.
And, despite scoring only 17 third-quarter points, the Celtics still led 70-67 heading into the final period. But, they couldn’t muster much of an offensive attack with veterans Jason Kidd (eight points, five rebounds, three assists, no turnovers in 35 minutes) and Kenyon Martin (10 points, team-high nine rebounds, five offensive, in over 28 minutes) coming off the bench, and leading the way defensively for the Knicks down the stretch.
“We were helping one another,” Martin said. “We did an excellent job of that. We made adjustments at halftime like [we] are supposed to. We played as a defensive unit in the second half.”
Kidd added, “I think we all believe or understand that championships are won playing defense. “This was a perfect example. It wasn’t our best offensive [game], but we stayed the course and got stops when we needed to as a team. That is what helped us win this afternoon.”
It was Rivers though, who had the statement of the day while praising the savvy play of the 40-year-old Kidd. “Ninety percent of the league is quicker and faster [than him]. He beats everyone with his brain. He beats them into the ground with his brain… if you think quicker than a [physically faster] guy can move, you’re still quicker… He’s there first, because he [thinks of] what [his opponent will] do before he [does] it. He’s just a valuable player to have on a basketball team.”
Head coach Mike Woodson’s take on Kidd, as it usually is, was along the same lines. “Jason has been doing it all season,” he said. “What can you say? Loose balls, strips, he keeps the ball alive. He seems to [always] be in the right place at the right time.”
Still, the Knicks needed some offense, and as expected, this season’s NBA scoring champion, star forward Carmelo Anthony (36 points) provided it. He got hot down the stretch to offset the severe lack of scoring from three other New York starters.
Center Tyson Chandler (five rebounds in over 20 minutes) and 28 year-old rookie forward Chris Copeland (almost 13 minutes) each went scoreless while guard Iman Shumpert had just three points in nearly 22 minutes.
But, Anthony, who made his first four field goal attempts (to give the Knicks a 12-6 lead), and who scored 13 of his team’s first 20 points, overcame a rough 5-for-20 stretch thereafter to make four of his five fourth-quarter shots.
By himself, Anthony matched Boston’s fourth-quarter point total and exceeded the Celtics’ three made field goals (in 11 attempts) in the period, after Boston went just 4 of 16 in the third quarter. The Celtics also had just three second-half assists after totaling 15 assists on 20 first-half field goals.
Forward Jeff Green led Boston with a career playoff high 26 points, but 20 of those came in the first half, before he shot just 1 of 5 after halftime.
Woodson credited Anthony with slowing Green down. “We changed up coverages,” he said. “Melo covered him most of the second half and I thought he did an excellent job on him.”
Harassed by Anthony, Green also had six turnovers, matching the half-dozen committed by teammate Paul Pierce, who was held to as many field goals (on 15 shots) while scoring 21 points.
In all, Boston had 20 turnovers (eight in the fourth quarter), seven more than New York, which had a season high 15 steals (11 in the second half), and held a 20-10 advantage in points off turnovers.
“If you told me before the game they were going to score 85 points and shoot 40 percent (actually 40.5) and we were going to shoot a higher percentage (41.5 percent), I’d take it,” Rivers said.
The former Knicks point guard added, “We turned the ball over a ton and I thought our spacing was horrendous in the second half… I thought in the second half, we stopped trusting a little bit. It seemed like we wanted Paul to win it for us. We stood around and watched him play.”
Pierce agreed, saying, “Offensively, we [have] got to do a better job with our execution. We turned the ball over too much… some were forced, some were just boneheaded plays… everyone has to know where they [have] got to be on the floor. Everyone has to get to their spots… games are too big at this point for us not to be at that point, especially in the playoffs, down the stretch.”
The Celtics closed the first quarter on a 15-6 run to lead 29-26, before four straight points from Green extended that edge to 34-28.
However, the Knicks scored the next nine points on a pair of three-pointers from Kidd, and one from Shumpert, to go up 37-34.
Seven more points from Green highlighted a 19-10 spurt that gave Boston a 53-47 lead before Anthony closed the first-half scoring on a couple of free throws.
A 63-63 tie turned into the Celtics biggest lead, 70-63, after two free throws and a three-pointer by Pierce was sandwiched around a Green layup.
“We got down, they went up seven, we called a time out,” Anthony said. “It was a matter of us willing our way on the defensive end. That fourth quarter was a good quarter for us… we held them to eight points… when we play defense like that, [we can ] get out in transition and get easy baskets, [and] that part of the game open up for us.”
New York scored 22 of the game’s final 30 points following the time out that Anthony noted, and took the lead for good, 74-72, on an Anthony jumper with 7:49 left in the game.
A little over two minutes after Pierce got Boston to within 79-76 on a jumper with 4:43 to go, Anthony recorded the last of his four steals and scored on a fast break layup, before hitting a jumper to give the Knicks an 83-76 lead with 1:21 remaining.
Prior to the game, Anthony and Pierce addressed the Garden crowd and spoke about the tragic events that occurred in Boston over the previous five days.
When some classless and utterly disrespectful Knicks fans booed Pierce, they were quickly and overwhelmingly silenced by a loud, collective “Shhh!” from a greater number of fans who wanted to hear Pierce tell them that “Boston will rise and run again.”
After the game, Anthony, who helped lead the United States to a gold medal in last summer’s Olympics, very candidly called out the disrespectful fans of his own team, saying, “We all know what the people in Boston have been through… Boston, New York, we’ll all [part of the] U.S. I don’t think it was right for them to boo like that. They shouldn’t have done that.”
To honor their recovering city, the Celtics took the floor (also to boos) in special yellow warm-up t-shirts reading. “Boston Stands as One,” and wore a uniform patch stating the same.
Having ended the Boston’s five-year reign as Atlantic Division champions, the Knicks, who won a division title this year for the first time in 19 seasons, won only their second playoff game since 2001, and posted their first Game 1 victory since that same time.
Game 2 of the series will be back at MSG, before a national television audience on TNT, at 8 p.m. ET.