Boston. New York.
Even placing their names side-by-side feels like inserting two snarling bare-knuckle brawlers into a ring with no rules.
Their rivalry is forever a tinderbox — just waiting for a spark.
And now, after Wednesday night in Madison Square Garden, the Celtics-Knicks playoff series is ablaze, burning its way to TD Garden in Boston, where Game 6 Friday figures to be a battle.
The match was struck after Game 5. The Celtics won, 92-86, to trim New York’s lead in the series to 3-2 as Boston bids to be the first team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit.
It was seconds after the buzzer sounded that bad blood spilled over onto the court in the form of a heated altercation involving several members of both teams.
Celtics reserve guard Jordan Crawford verbally engaged Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. Tempers flared. Raymond Felton approached Crawford, who was being held back by D.J. White.
Felton had to be restrained by his teammates. Doc Rivers stepped in, ordering his players off the court. No punches were thrown. It was over almost as quickly as it began.
Though it was unclear, even with slow-motion video replays, what Crawford said, speculation ran wild online and in print as self-proclaimed lip readers suggested that Crawford made a derogatory comment about Anthony’s wife.
Kevin Garnett allegedly made an offensive remark about Anthony’s wife in a January game, prompting a postgame skirmish, with Anthony waiting for Garnett after the game.
Crawford’s verbal jab seemed to be in the same vein.
“PUNK’D!” screamed the back page of the New York Daily News with a picture of Crawford engaging Anthony. “Celtics scrub appears to take shot at Melo’s wife after Knicks’ Game 5 flop.”
The Daily News also had a biography box on an inside page, with the headline, “WHO IS THIS PUNK?”
On Thursday, Anthony’s wife, LaLa, tweeted a reponse pointed at Crawford from her verified account (@lala), “Try again. You on the bench for a reason.”
Crawford did not play in Game 5.
She also linked to an Instagram photo that stated, “Strong women only intimidate weak men.”
On his verified Twitter account, Crawford posted a denial.
“I would never talk trash about that mans Wife. I don’t [know] him,” he wrote. “All I did was respond!!”
After the game, Crawford told the Globe he didn’t say anything to Anthony, even though replays show otherwise.
“Nah, they was talking to me, baby,” Crawford told the Globe. “They was talking to me. Yeah, they like me. I think it’s that smile I keep carrying . . . ”
Crawford later added, “I was on the bench the whole game, I don’t know why they was talking to me. They gotta be upset, their [expletives] tightening up. Of course they upset.”
Anthony tried to downplay Crawford’s actions after the game.
“I’m not thinking about no Jordan Crawford, not at this point in time, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “I don’t even think he deserves for you to be typing [his name] right now.”
The Celtics did not make themselves available to the media Thursday, but the Knicks, who practiced, talked about the dust-up.
“Did he cross the line? Some people may say yes, some people may say no. Whatever. It’s all in the game, man,” Felton said. “We know what he was trying to do. He was trying to get us out of the game. Trying to get us away from what we need to do, focus on emotion, and that’s playing basketball.”
Said Knicks center Tyson Chandler: “If he did say any of those things, then he definitely crossed the line.”
Knicks coach Mike Woodson said he addressed his players about the incident, telling them to let it go.
“That should be left outside the game,” he said. “I don’t know what was said, but it doesn’t matter what was said. The bottom line is you’ve still got to play the game.”
In terms of trash-talking in general, Felton said he didn’t think it was a “low tactic.”
“No, it’s just something those guys like to do,” he said, referring to the Celtics. “It’s nothing.”
Rivers said after the game he felt the conflict was “much ado about nothing.” He later added, “We don’t need any of that crap. You know? We really don’t.”
The series had already started to ratchet up in intensity when the Knicks decided to wear all-black outfits to Game 5 to mimic a funeral for the Celtics.
“We were going to a funeral, but it look like we got buried,” Knicks guard J.R. Smith said after the loss.
Smith, who played terrible after returning from a one-game suspension for elbowing Jason Terry in the face, told reporters later he wouldn’t wear funeral attire again.
“No, I’m done with this black stuff,” he said.
All the dramatic hoopla has only amped up what figures to be a heated Game 6.
The Celtics played team basketball in Game 5 as well as they have in weeks, especially moving the ball to find open shooters when the Knicks tried to trap the ballhandler.
It’s what they have to do again to force a Game 7, Garnett said.
“We’ve got to trust each other at this point,” he said. “We have no other options. If we don’t, one-on-one basketball doesn’t work against this team. In order for us to be successful we have to lean on one another.”
And on the crowd, which should be fiery, as their team looks to keep its season alive for one more game once more.
“They’re going to be loud, they’re going to be emotional,” Paul Pierce said. “We can’t wait.”
Teams to erase a 3-0 series deficit:
The Celtics hope to be the first NBA team to overcome a 3-0 playoff series deficit. The Red Sox accomplished the feat in 2004, and the Bruins fell victim to such a comeback in 2010. The last three teams to do so won Game 7 on the road:
|Series||Won first 3 games||Won next 3 games||Turning point||Game 7|
|1942 Stanley Cup Finals||Red Wings||Maple Leafs||Detroit coach Jack Adams is suspended following Game 4 after attacking a referee. Ebbie Goodfellow takes over coaching duties for the rest of the series.||Maple Leafs win 3-1. After Syd Howe’s early goal puts Detroit ahead, the Maple Leafs score three third-period goals to claim the Stanley Cup.|
|1975 Stanley Cup Finals||Penguins||Islanders||Islanders coach Al Arbour inserts rookie goalie Glenn Resch to replace Billy Smith for Game 4. He stops 27 of 28 shots and starts the rest of the series.||Islanders win 1-0. Islanders captain Ed Westfall breaks a scoreless tie with 5:18 left in the third period.|
|2004 ALCS||Yankees||Red Sox||In Game 4, pinch runner Dave Roberts steals second base and scores when Bill Mueller singles off Mariano Rivera. It opens the door for David Ortiz’s heroics in extra innings.||Red Sox win 10-3. Boston jumps out to early 6-0 lead on a two-run homer by Ortiz and a grand slam by Johnny Damon. Derek Lowe allows one run in six innings on two days rest.|
|2010 NHL playoffs||Bruins||Flyers||Simon Gagne, playing in his first game back after suffering a broken toe, scores on Bruins backup goalie Tuukka Rask in overtime in Game 4.||Flyers win 4-3. Boston scores three first-period goals, but the Flyers capitalize on a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty when Gagne tallies the winning goal with 7:08 remaining.|