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Dan Shaughnessy

Knicks are choking against Celtics

NEW YORK — Perfect.

The Knicks are choking. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2000 and now they have a chance to be the first team in NBA history to blow a 3-0 series lead in a best-of-seven playoff. The wait of 13 years has become the weight of the basketball world.

Suddenly, Celtics-Knicks has morphed into Red Sox-Yankees, circa 2004. Carmelo Anthony is Alex Rodriguez. James Dolan is George Steinbrenner. Jason Terry is Dave Roberts, and Doc Rivers is Terry Francona. We’re not quite sure who’ll get to play Curt Schilling with the bloody sock. Game 6 is Friday night on Causeway Street and the Knicks are certain to be tighter than Kevin Brown before Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS.


No team in baseball ever came back from 3-0 . . . until the 2004 Red Sox did it against the Yankees. Now the Celtics have a chance to do the same thing . . . to the Knicks.

“Somebody’s going to do it,’’ Rivers said before Wednesday night’s shocking 92-86 Celtics victory at Madison Square Garden. “I want it to be us. I really want to be part of that.’’

There have been a lot of epic moments in Celtics history. Winning this series would be another. The Celtics have no point guard, no center, and Wednesday night won with a rotation of seven players. They are offensively challenged. We keep waiting for the final curtain for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, but the Captain and KG are not ready to go home. Not yet.

Veterans of an aggregate 32 NBA seasons, Pierce and Garnett are ancient warriors giving it one last shot. They were immense Wednesday night. Pierce scored 16 points. Garnett had 16 points and 18 rebounds and clinched the game with a stake-driving jumper that made it 90-83 with 48 seconds remaining. The Big Two got some help from Jeff Green (two huge threes down the stretch) and Terry. In old Celtics fashion — think Russell, Heinsohn, Sanders, Havlicek, Sam Jones — the Celtics box score featured five players scoring between 16 and 18 points apiece.


That’s a balanced attack. This is what the Knicks don’t have. They have overrated ballhog Anthony pounding the ball, waiting to shoot, while four teammates stand and watch. It’s easy to defend.

The pressure mounts on Anthony (137 shots, six assists in the series). This is his 10th NBA playoff spring and in eight of his first nine attempts, he has seen his team eliminated in the first round. They said it couldn’t happen this year. But now the Knicks are on the threshold of NBA infamy. Anthony shot 18 for 59 in the two losses.

“We’re just not making shots,’’ said Anthony. “That’s it. They aren’t doing anything that they haven’t been doing. We’re good. We had two chances. Mentally, we’re in a great place. We’ll see what we’re made of.’’

The Knicks made fools of themselves before this game. Backup big man Kenyon Martin had told his teammates, “Wear black. We’re ending it Wednesday,’’ and the Knicks showed up at MSG looking like the Johnny Cash/Al Davis All-Stars. Then they looked like dopes. If you are going to talk the talk, you have to close out the Celtics at home. The Knicks couldn’t do it.


“We were going to a funeral, but it looks like we got buried,’’ said the Knicks’ inimitable J.R. Smith.

If the Celtics go on to win the next two games, it will be said that the turning point of this series came in the fourth quarter of Game 3 at TD Garden when Smith elbowed Terry in the face. The play irked Rivers and his team. With Smith suspended for Game 4, Terry scored 9 straight points in overtime in Boston’s Stayin’ Alive victory.

At practice Tuesday, Smith refused to acknowledge the existence of Terry (“Who?’’ said the New York sixth man when asked about Terry), but Terry made his presence felt in Game 5. A 3-pointer by Terry gave the Celtics a 69-60 lead at the end of three. It felt like Muhammad Ali standing over Ernie Terrell, shouting, “What’s my name?’’

Video of Game 5 will not be placed in a time capsule in Springfield to teach future generations the beauty of basketball. The Celtics missed their first five shots, committed three turnovers, trailed, 11-0, didn’t manage a basket for the first five minutes, shot 33 percent for the period, yet still trailed by only 2 points at the end of the quarter.

It didn’t matter. The Celtics held the Knicks to 17 points in the second quarter and took a 45-39 lead into halftime. It seemed fairly preposterous. You could feel everyone getting tight at Madison Square Garden.

The Celtics took a 75-60 lead when Green drove the lane the threw down a dunk with nine minutes left. When Knicks coach Mike Woodson called time, Madison Square Garden sounded like St. Patrick’s Cathedral.


There was a skirmish involving Jordan Crawford and Anthony after the final buzzer. Two teams tired of one another after five rollerball games.

The Celtics now have the attention of the basketball universe. If they win at home Friday night, they can force a Game 7 Sunday at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street.

This is shocking. This is great. It’s Mayday for the New York Knicks.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at