BOSTON -- There was no celebration, no trash-talking, no screaming and yelling at midcourt when the final buzzer sounded. The New York Knicks, despite nearly coughing up a 26-point fourth-quarter lead, actually looked and acted as though this wasn't some novelty act and that they belonged.
“Nothing to celebrate,” 18-year NBA veteran Jason Kidd said after the Knicks held on for an 88-80 victory to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals. “We didn't do anything.”
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To the contrary. This was a franchise buried in mediocrity, and that's probably giving it more credit than it ultimately deserves, over the past decade or so. This was the first time New York has won a playoff series since 2000, and a first-round exit would have been humiliating, especially under these circumstances.
"This was a big relief for myself, us as a team and the organization to make that next step with us getting out of the first round," Carmelo Anthony admitted.
For three games, the Knicks had the look and feel of a team that could give the Miami Heat a legitimate run in the Eastern Conference finals. Anthony was dominant, J.R. Smith was making shots and Raymond Felton was playing like an elite-level point guard. But then 'Melo started missing. Over and over. Smith couldn't buy a bucket, either. But it didn't matter, not against the Aged Ones.
The Knicks earned the No. 2 overall seed in the Eastern Conference, and while they were without Amar'e Stoudemire for the series, the Celtics were handicapped at a higher level. Boston didn't have a point guard on their roster. Avery Bradley was exposed as an undersized shooting guard, and the future Hall of Fame duo of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce -- especially Pierce -- looked like a pair on the verge of retirement. It was so bleak that Doc Rivers was forced to go with Terrence Williams at the point in crunch-time during the series.
Pierce was 4 of 18 from the field on Friday and Garnett put up another double-double, but let's face it: These guys don't have much left in the tank. This series appeared over when the Knicks won the first three games of the series, but the Celtics forced a Game 6 -- and then battled back from a 75-49 deficit early in the fourth to go on a 20-0 run and eventually cut the lead to just four points at 77-73.
But KG and Pierce ran out of gas, and the Knicks advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals -- where they will meet the Indiana Pacers.
"We were supposed to win this series and we did," Kidd said.
The Knicks were deemed immature, for valid reasons, just a couple of nights earlier. Kenyon Martin's idea to wear all black for the previous game to prepare for the Celtics funeral backfired. Smith's smart-ass comments about Jason Terry were ill-advised. Then came the near unraveling for about six minutes in the fourth quarter, and the skeptics were ready to jump on Melo and his teammates.
But the Knicks staved off the Celtics. Sure, it's not the same Boston group that won the NBA title five seasons ago, but it's still a significant accomplishment. Tyson Chandler described it as a "small step, but a giant one."
Can the Knicks challenge the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals? It appears unlikely after watching the last few games, but it would certainly be more entertaining that watching the Indiana Pacers go up against LeBron and D-Wade with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line. Chandler was as productive as he's been since late February, and Stoudemire is still hopeful of returning from a knee injury against the Pacers. Anthony won't miss 18 consecutive 3-pointers again, and Smith, while unreliable, is one of the more talented players in the league. Felton was the MVP of the entire series against Boston.
When the doors to the locker room opened after the Knicks wrapped up the series, it was almost an identical scene as the one about an hour prior to Game 6. Fairly quiet, even subdued, almost business-like. Anthony was being worked on by a trainer, Smith sounded like a seasoned veteran, and Chandler sat in a corner of the room eating dinner in front of his locker.
Business as usual for the New York Knicks.
"We haven't done anything," Martin said.
No, they didn't beat the world champion Boston Celtics. That's true. They knocked off a team with old and tired legs that was sorely missing its All-Star point guard, but this franchise just needed to advance. It didn't matter how, just that Anthony took this team past the first round.
Kidd is one of the most intelligent players to play this game, a brilliant playmaker who is in the twilight of his career. But even he realizes that the New York Knicks did do something on Friday night.
They did something that hadn't been done in New York for 13 years.