Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Feeling green in a New York minute
By Jackie MacMullan ESPNBoston.com
NEW YORK -- Hold on a minute.
The dudes in green have decreed they aren't done yet.
The Boston Celtics' core veterans banded together, withstood a staggering 11-0 deficit in the opening minutes, then knocked the swagger out of a stunned New York Knicks team by stealing Game 5 in their vaunted Madison Square Garden with equal parts poise, pride and precision Wednesday night.
The word buzzing around the buoyant, yet restrained Celtics locker room in the wake of the team's 92-86 victory was "trust."
"I thought this was the first game we had complete trust, moved the ball and found the open guy," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
Doc Rivers loved the trust his Celtics exhibited for one another in Wednesday's Game 5 win.
"We've got to trust each other," said Kevin Garnett, who was immense with 16 points and 18 rebounds. "At this point we've got no other options. For us to be successful, we have to lean on one another."
Few (if any) other rotations in the league are still taking shape in the middle of a postseason run, but Rivers, still searching for the calming influence on the offensive end to fill a roster devoid of true point guards, shortened his bench to seven players, and, for the second game, gave significant, critical minutes to Terrence Williams, who is on his fourth NBA team in four seasons, and as recently as early February was toiling for the Guangdong Southern Tigers in China.
"We're finding out more and more about this team and more about the guys we put out there," Paul Pierce said.
Seriously. What other team in the postseason is making statements like that?
Williams' size and athleticism have made the Knicks' strategy of pressuring the ball handler less effective than when Pablo Prigioni was able to hound Avery Bradley up and down the court. Bradley, who was being asked to play out of position and was overwhelmed by the assignment, sat for most of the second half while Williams (4 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 0 turnovers) and Jason Terry assumed the de facto point guard mantle.
The rest of Boston's veterans joined in the "share the ball" mantra, and the result was an efficient, balanced approach that featured 20 assists and produced five players who scored between 16 and 18 points -- KG (16), Pierce (16), Brandon Bass (17), Terry (17) and Jeff Green (18).
"That's when we're at our best," Piece said, "when we look up at the scoreboard and we have a bunch of guys in double figures."
The Celtics delivered a forceful kick in the teeth to a team that has thrived on 3-point shooting by outscoring them 33-15 from behind the arc. Boston, which was shooting just 30 percent from the 3-point line in this series, drilled 50 percent (11-of-22) of them in this Game 5 win. The difference? Open looks, instead of hurried, contested shots.
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The Knicks, meanwhile, missed 17 of their 22 long balls and shot 39.5 percent overall for the game, the second time in as many games they've been held below 40 percent.
J.R. Smith, who declared the series would have been over had he played in Game 4 (he was suspended for a flagrant foul on Terry in Game 3), missed 10 consecutive shots before he dropped in three meaningless baskets in the final minutes, when Boston's lead was in double digits.
Carmelo Anthony missed 16 of his 24 shots and went an astounding 23 minutes, 5 seconds without a field goal, a period of time that included the final 8:40 of the second quarter, the entire third quarter, and the first 3:05 of the fourth quarter.
Rivers correctly wondered aloud in advance of this game if when Melo misses shots it's because of his team's defense, or because he simply missed them. While Bass clearly challenges New York's young superstar, there were a number of clean looks that went halfway down and back out again for Melo.
"We're not making shots," Anthony shrugged. "I don't think Boston is doing anything they haven't been doing."
That's not entirely true. Defense has never been the issue for the Celtics in this series. Through five games, they've held one of the most explosive offenses in the NBA to 85, 87, 90, 90 and now 86 points. Doc will take that every time.
The difference on Wednesday night was the ability to make the extra pass out of New York's trapping pressure and double-teams that in previous games ratcheted up Boston's turnover totals -- and its frustration level.
"It was the most disappointing thing in this series," Rivers said, "because we work on it all the time."
That simple concept -- the extra pass -- is why the Celtics were able to get so many open looks from the 3-point line Wednesday night. It was also why Bass, who submitted another terrific performance on both ends of the floor, was able to break free for easy baskets. If New York is double-teaming, that means someone is open.
"I think after watching film and seeing the rotations when we're moving the ball, I think we're starting to trust now, and that's the biggest key," said Green, who hit two of the biggest shots of his Celtics career in the fourth quarter, when New York threatened to make a late charge.
Naturally, the Knicks' poor showing on their own floor and their inability to close out this series after two attempts has kick-started questions anew whether New York has what it takes to polish off a stubborn, resilient Celtics team that is clearly motivated by the uncertain future awaiting them when their season finally ends.
"Sure, that's part of it," Terry agreed.
New York's players insisted they aren't worried.
"[J.R.] will be fine, everyone will be fine," said Raymond Felton, who has proven to be the most reliable and consistent player on the Knicks' roster. "Just get this over with."
Suddenly, that stated goal is not so certain. Doubt can eat away at the best of competitors, and Knicks coach Mike Woodson has been in the league long enough to know you can't leave that playoff door ajar when there are fiercely proud players like Pierce, Terry and Garnett in the other room plotting your demise.
Asked if the momentum in the series had shifted, Garnett answered, "No. We're still down. Our mentality has to be all out. We're down 3-2 and the next day we lose, that's it."
The guys in Celtics green have been here before. They know their margin for error remains exceedingly small. They know the Knicks won't miss that many open shots again. They know their opponent is younger, more agile, and has an MVP candidate who will be looking to atone for his Game 5 sins.
But those wily old Boston veterans also know something else: Trust is a good thing.
The question remains whether it's enough to keep their season alive.