- Ian O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer
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NEW YORK -- Go ahead and be afraid, New Yorkers. Your basketball team just wore black to another team's burial -- a really dumb thing to do -- only for that team to rise from the crypt and turn this first-round series into something more frightening than a zombie film.
So yes, be afraid, Knicks fans. Be very, very afraid.
Long before this 92-86 loss in Game 5, Doc Rivers had already addressed the 2004 Red Sox with his 2013 Boston Celtics. As he walked with two reporters from Wednesday night's postgame news conference to his Madison Square Garden locker room and talked about catching the early bus home, Rivers was asked by ESPNNewYork.com if he'd brought up the historic 2004 ALCS with his team.
Among the smartest guys in sports, Doc Rivers almost never gets boxed in by a question. He was boxed in here.
"Well, I'll just say we talked about something in that realm," he said. "I'm not going to give you what we talked about, but it's a guy. We've talked about people in -- yes, so I'm not going to say what."
On his way to the elevator, Celtics GM Danny Ainge confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com that Rivers did remind his players that a not-too-distant Boston team had erased an 0-3 postseason deficit in a New York minute and had gone on to win a ghost-busting championship to boot.
"I know that they've talked about it, yeah," Ainge said.
And that mysterious guy Rivers referenced in his response on the 2004 Red Sox? Paul Pierce declined to field a question on it as he staggered into the showers, but a whisper out of the Boston side put Kevin Millar high on the list of possible candidates.
The same Kevin Millar who famously warned all of Yankeedom, "Don't let us win tonight," before the Red Sox took down Mariano Rivera in Game 4 to start writing one of the greatest baseball stories ever told.
No, before Games 4 and 5, I didn't think the Celtics had the physical talent to do what the Red Sox did nearly nine years back. But maybe this isn't a series about physical talent anymore. Maybe this is a series about Doc Rivers, a master motivator, and about the Knicks making fools of themselves while they unravel in a spectacular way.
First, it was J.R. Smith's elbow into Jason Terry's chin in Game 3, and then it was Smith's refusal to offer any act of contrition after his Game 4 absence denied the Knicks a sweep. Smith said the suspension cost him some tee times, nothing more, and insisted he didn't know this Terry person everyone was asking about.
Smith then proceeded to miss his first 10 field goal attempts in Game 5 and to finish 3-for-14 in all. If nothing else, it was a spirited run at John Starks' infamous 2-for-18 in a Game 7 gone south.
To a man, the Knicks showed up at the Garden dressed head to toe in black, Johnny Cash style. The silly stunt was suggested by Kenyon Martin, a team member for all of 15 minutes, and it was meant to signal the end of a Celtics season, if not a Celtics era.
"We were going to a funeral," Smith said, "but it looks like we got buried."
The Celtics didn't cover themselves in glory when the ceremony was complete, either, as Jordan Crawford, scrub, shouted a profanity into Carmelo Anthony's face and inspired a shove-fest that involved Raymond Felton, too.
"We don't need any of that crap," Rivers said, before delivering the line of the night: "I thought it was a lot of talking. Glad Starks wasn't there."
The Knicks are in trouble now, big trouble. Suddenly, this is as real as Curt Schilling's bloody sock in Game 6, as real as that forever sound of Kevin Brown getting booed off the Yankee Stadium mound in Game 7.
At least the Yankees made six trips to the World Series over eight seasons and treated their fans to four ticker-tape parades before they lost four consecutive games to the Boston Red Sox in that ALCS.
The Knicks? They haven't won a playoff series in 13 years, and here they are halfway home to what would be the biggest choke job in NBA history. No pro basketball team has ever blown a 3-0 lead.
"Nobody said it was going to be easy," Mike Woodson said, "but now it is a series."
A series his team could actually lose.
"We are not chasing them," Tyson Chandler insisted of the Celtics. "We are up three games to two."
But after they blew Games 4 and 5 in Fenway Park, some Yankees later confessed that they made the trip back to the Bronx feeling they were down 3-2, not up 3-2. Chances are, some Knicks will head back to Boston feeling the same way.
They scored the first 11 points of Game 5 and had everyone thinking blowout in the Garden. During his first timeout, Rivers pleaded with his team, "We're fine, we're fine, we're good. Just hang in there. Just hang in there."
The Celtics never panicked, and by halftime they had a six-point lead that would grow to 15 in the fourth quarter. The same Garden fans who cheered wildly for Smith, sixth man of the year, when he first entered the game were booing him and calling for him to be returned to the pine.
It was an embarrassing night for the Knicks across the board, one that casted doubt on their legitimacy as a contender. "Now we have to see what we are made of," Woodson said.
The Knicks will have to see what they're made of after Anthony took another hit to his left shoulder, the same one he hurt last month against the Pacers. Kevin Garnett, his old friend, yanked on his arm in the fourth, and Melo grimaced in pain and dangled his arm as if the shoulder had been seriously compromised.
He said it wasn't, but again, the sight of Anthony in pain reminded everyone that nothing can be taken for granted in the playoffs and that Smith's suspension extended the series and put his team – and teammates – in harm's way.
"At the end of the day," Woodson said, "we still control our destiny."
Actually, destiny still controls the Knicks. Before Game 5, Rivers predicted that an NBA team will finally make history in overcoming a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series.
"Someone will do it," he said, "and I really want to be a part of that."
The Knicks have allowed the Celtics to dream the impossible dream, the dream of the 2004 Red Sox. It's time for New Yorkers to be very, very afraid.
4dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann