WALTHAM — How do you eat a Big Apple?
One bite at a time.
That’s the Celtics’ mind-set as they head into Game 5 Wednesday against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
New York, which hasn’t won a playoff series since 2000, leads the first-round series, three games to one.
A Celtics win would extend their season to Game 6 Friday at TD Garden and, in the grander scheme, push them closer to becoming the first NBA team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit.
“We have no pressure at this point,” Kevin Garnett said Tuesday before practice. “It should be an all-out mentality and you should play with a free mind and an aggressive mind and take this thing one game at a time and see what happens.”
The Celtics have dubbed this a win-or-go-home “Game 7,” but coach Doc Rivers said there are differences in terms of how you look at it.
“In a Game 7, you’re thinking, ‘Let’s win it to win [the series],’ ” the coach said. “When you’re down 0-3, you never know. You may have a couple guys making vacation plans, thinking you can’t do it.”
Hence, focus is key.
Rivers agreed that each game from here on out is Game 7, but they’re winning just to play another game; he told his team that before Game 4 (which the Celtics won, 97-90, in overtime) and will say it again Wednesday.
But the Celtics have a mile-long to-do list if they want to steal a win in New York, where they have lost twice in the playoffs, both times in rather ugly fashion.
It starts with playing as aggressively as they did for stretches in Game 4.
“It’s clear when we play a certain way — and that’s in attack mode, not settling offensively, moving the ball, getting in transition — we’re hard to stop,” Rivers said. “It’s also clear when we get into the halfcourt and slow the ball down, we’re not that hard to stop. That’s obvious.”
But the Celtics also must be wary of playing rotten basketball for a quarter — their back-backing trend throughout the series.
“In the first two games in New York, we played well for one half, for two quarters, three quarters,” Paul Pierce said. “But it’s that one quarter where we have mental lapses. Either we lose focus, they pick up the energy, they pick up the defense, and they have us on our heels.
“So, we have to be conscious of that going into Game 5, knowing that they’re going to have a sense of urgency to try to close this out.”
The Celtics haven’t put together a complete game in this series . . . but neither have the Knicks, Rivers said.
“At some point, both teams are going to both play well and it’s going to be a heck of a game,” he said.
Carmelo Anthony will almost definitely come out guns blazing after shooting a hideous 10 for 35 from the floor in Game 4, but he’ll have company with the return of J.R. Smith.
Smith, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, missed Game 4 after being suspended for elbowing Jason Terry in the face in the previous game.
And Smith has been talking plenty of trash in the meantime, telling reporters that if he had played in Game 4, the series would be over and he would’ve spent Tuesday golfing
“He’s going to be very aggressive, he’s going to want to wash away the demons that he created, and that’s fine by us,” Rivers said.
The Celtics broke the 90-point barrier in their last game after not breaking 80 in the first three. That’s called progress.
“We played free,” said Jeff Green, asked what they needed to carry over the most. “We took the shot when it was there. We didn’t hesitate.
“That was one of the biggest things that we did in the first couple games: We hesitated a lot on our shot. When we think about the shot, we tend to be off target.”
Jason Terry put it more simply: “Well, we just know that if we can score 90-plus points, we’re going to have an opportunity to win.”
Offensively, one aspect that Boston hasn’t handled well all series — and especially in its one win — is the Knicks’ defensive pressure when they turn it up full blast. That style of defense has led to many turnovers — 16.8 per game — by the Celtics, who haven’t been able to find the open player when a trap comes.
“That’s where I would say I’m the most disappointed with us offensively,” said Rivers, “because we work on it every day and we really haven’t taken advantage of their traps. We have to do a better job there.”
And, above all, the Celtics can’t revert to their woeful road form of yore. They were 14-27 on the road this season, the worst record of any playoff team. They have dropped 11 of their last 13 road games, counting the two in this series.
You can bet Madison Square Garden will be rocking.
“It’s going to be very difficult with their fans behind them, but we can’t think about it too much,” Green said. “They don’t impact the game, we do. We’re playing. We just have to make sure we do what we have to do for us to win.”
And, as Pierce said, they have to match the Knicks energy that will be fueled by the home fans and withstand a scoring surge or two.
It would help if someone besides Pierce or Garnett stepped up and had a big game — such as Terry, as he did in Game 4, or Green, as he has done all series.
“The playoffs are where players are made,” Green said.
It’s where legends are cemented. The Celtics would like to match the 2004 Red Sox by beating a New York team four straight times in the playoffs after falling into an 0-3 hole.
That goal is on the horizon. The only way the Celtics can reach it — and live to play another day — is to win Wednesday.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BaxterHolmes