Boston, MA – After losing two straight times to the Boston Celtics, the New York Knicks avoided a monumental collapse in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal and ended a long drought of not winning a playoff series.
The Knicks nearly blew a 26-point fourth quarter lead, but held on for a 88-80 triumph Friday at TD Garden.
Prior to this year, the Knicks had lost in the first round of the playoffs four straight times and had five consecutive postseason series defeats going back to a conference semifinal win over the Miami Heat in seven games in 2000.
Carmelo Anthony scored 21 points and hit a couple of key shots down the stretch for the Knicks, who also received 17 points from Iman Shumpert.
"They stood up and they made big plays they needed to make to get the win. It was a total team effort on our part," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said.
Up next for the second-seeded Knicks will be No. 3 seed Indiana. The Pacers finished off Atlanta in six games Friday night with an 81-73 road victory. Game 1 of that series will be Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
"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 has been looking forward to, it's something that the city of New York has been looking forward to. And we were able to accomplish that."
New York won the first three games of the best-of-seven set before dropping the next two, but on Friday the Knicks never trailed and raced to a 21-5 lead.
They were up 75-49 with under 10 minutes left in the game before the Celtics scored 20 in a row and got as close as four, and had momentum with Anthony wincing in pain holding his left shoulder.
Avery Bradley's steal and dunk pulled Boston within 79-75 with 3 1/2 minutes left to send the home crowd into a frenzy.
The Knicks, though, pulled through. Anthony's pull-up jumper from the right elbow and his 3-pointer from the top of the arc created a nine-point margin.
No team in NBA history has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series, but after Wednesday's 92-86 triumph at Madison Square Garden, the Celtics seemed to have all the momentum.
They nearly pulled off the impossible Friday night.
"It was a microcosm of the year. I think we've been counted out four or five times this year. Each time we just fought back and it happened again," Boston coach Doc Rivers said.
Jeff Green totaled 21 points before fouling out for the Celtics, who also got 15 points and 10 rebounds from Kevin Garnett.
In what turned into a brutally physical game down the stretch, the Knicks saw their huge advantage whittle thanks to sloppy play and a couple of blocking foul calls that could have gone either way.
Shumpert's putback slam widened the gap to 75-49 with 9:49 left, but the Celtics surged and closed within single digits at 75-66 following a Paul Pierce 3-point play after he crashed into Raymond Felton.
Anthony came up noticeably in pain holding his shoulder when Bradley came up with a steal. The Knicks star forward injured the same shoulder back in the fourth quarter of Game 5.
Green made 1-of-2 at the foul line with 5:44 left to complete the 20-0 run, but Shumpert came up with a steal and layup to break the streak for a 77-69 difference with 5:06 remaining.
Anthony had missed 19 straight shots from beyond the arc before sealing the outcome for an 84-75 lead with 1:43 left.
"Basically we were just trying to grab some momentum and just fight," Garnett said. "We're at home we play very well here, we have a lot of energy, obviously our fans are the greatest. We were just trying to push for the last time. That's what it was. We all said we wanted to leave it out on the floor, and that's what we did."
Garnett made all three of his field goal attempts in the first quarter, but the rest of the Celtics were a combined 1-of-13. Buoyed by nine points from Pablo Prigioni, New York led 24-10 after 12 minutes.
Included in the period was an amazing 17-1 surge for the Knicks. That included a trio of 3-balls from Prigioni, the last of which was a big one from the left wing for a 21-5 cushion with 4:26 left in the period.
Kenyon Martin got an uncontested jam off a feed from Felton for a 32-14 margin with 6:46 left in the second. Consecutive 3-pointers from Green and Jason Terry, and a Terry made technical free throw had the deficit to 34-25 with 1:40 to go in the half.
Garnett then canned 1-of-2 from the charity stripe, but the Knicks pushed the lead back to 39-27 at the break thanks to a clutch 3-point play from Anthony with 4.5 seconds left. Anthony had the ball left of the lane, leaned into Brandon Bass and banked in a shot while being fouled.
Shumpert canned a 3-ball in the closing minute of the third for a 67-47 lead going to the fourth.
"We set the tone defensively from the start," Woodson said. "Our rotations were right on the money. Everything fell into place and I think we got too comfortable and they made the run. Nothing seemed to go right for us for four or five minutes."
J.R. Smith had 13 points and Felton had 11 with seven assists ... Pierce and Terry each scored 14 for the Celtics, who shot 38.1 percent ... Pierce shot 4- for-18 from the field ... The Knicks and Pacers split four meetings this season. They last met in the playoffs in 2000 with Indiana winning the East finals in six games.