The game and performance left questions about the Knicks — about their chances to move past the Pacers in the second round, about their offensive balance and shooting, about their ability to close out a series.
But there was also a crucial answer: The Knicks won a playoff series for the first time in 13 years.
They closed out the series against the Celtics in six games, even though it took three tries, and are advancing. It had been far too long for the franchise and its fans, but the drought was over, at last.
“It’s a small step, but it’s a giant step,” Tyson Chandler said. “It takes a little of the weight off.”
The Knicks had crumpled in Game 4 in Boston and Game 5 in New York, allowing the Celtics back into a series that they should have closed out. The Knicks started to crumple again in Game 6, until Iman Shumpert came through with a steal that stopped the Celtics’ run of 20 straight points and pushed the Knicks to the 88-80 win.
“There was definitely a moment . . . that I was thinking, ‘What are we doing, fellas?’ ” Chandler said. “It’s such a great learning experience when you can get a win. It’s a tough one when you get a loss. This would be a different conversation. We’ve got to grow from it.”
Added Shumpert of the Celtics’ attempted comeback, “It felt like it wasn’t real.”
And then, at the moment that the Knicks’ doubters were at their height, the team stopped the run and won.
They got a measure of redemption.
Carmelo Anthony had come to New York from Denver as the savior of the franchise, the one who would lead them into the second round and beyond. He hadn’t been able to do that, with the Knicks losing in the first round in each of his first two years in New York.
The playoffs had been a problem for Anthony throughout his career. Though his teams had reached the postseason in each of his 10 years in the NBA, he had moved past the first round just once, making the Western Conference finals in 2008-09.
“It’s a big relief for myself, for us as a team, for the organization, to make that next step, which is getting out of the first round,” Anthony said. “It’s something that I’ve been looking forward to since I came here to New York. It’s something that the organization had been looking forward to, it’s something that the city of New York had been looking forward to, and we was able to accomplish that.”
The end of the losing streak had seemed a foregone conclusion at the start of the fourth quarter, with the Knicks up by 20 points. They just had to get through the final 12 minutes against a team with limited firepower.
Then, minutes later, came the 20-0 run.
“It’s one of those things where you’ve got the little brother fighting tooth and nail, and you have the big brother on one hand trying not to let them win,” J.R. Smith said. “Little brother beats you twice, they’re never going to let you live it down.”
Instead, the Knicks ended their scoring drought, which had lasted from the time Shumpert slammed home a dunk at 9:49 until Shumpert got that layup at 5:06. That was less than five minutes, but nearly added the Knicks to the choke list.
But they won. They clinched a series. They got their redemption. They are moving on.
That was what mattered after they finally beat the Celtics: Four wins and a chance at another team.
“It’s just another step,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “It’s a major step for this organization, for our fans in New York who’ve been with us for many, many years. The players who put in all the time this summer to get to this point. My coaching staff.
“It’s been a total team effort, but it’s just one step. I’m looking at the big picture today, and I’m only in this for one thing and that’s to try to win an NBA title. We made a major step today, but we’ve got a long way to go.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.