NEW YORK — Back in the series, now back to Boston.
The Celtics are two victories from NBA history, and from extending the Knicks’ postseason futility in a most improbable manner.
Kevin Garnett had 16 points and 18 rebounds and the Celtics stayed alive in the playoffs, cutting New York’s lead to 3-2 with a 92-86 victory Wednesday night.
The Celtics will host Game 6 on Friday night, needing two victories to become the first NBA team to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
“We’re still down. Our mentality has to be all-out,” Garnett said. “It can’t be anything (else).”
Brandon Bass added 17 points, steadying Boston as it shook off an 11-0 deficit and pulled away in the second half to stop the Knicks again from achieving their first playoff series victory since 2000.
“We didn’t panic and that’s something we’ve done, but we didn’t,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought once the game got back to that five, six area, our guys were good again.”
J.R. Smith, back from his one-game suspension for elbowing Jason Terry with the Knicks way ahead late in Game 3, missed his first 10 shots and finished 3 of 14 for 14 points.
Terry also scored 17 off the bench.
Jeff Green scored 18 points and Paul Pierce had 16 as he and Garnett, the two franchise stalwarts, extended this season — and perhaps their Celtics careers — at least one more game.
“Obviously being down 2-0 or 3-0 or whatever it was, we could have folded shop. Nobody in here is going to quit,” Terry said.
Carmelo Anthony scored 22 points but was just 8 of 24 in another dismal shooting night for the Knicks, who blew a big lead in this game and now the series. They face an unwanted trip back to Boston instead of the rest this aging roster could surely use before the second round.
If they get there.
“I think we’re fine,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “Sure we would’ve loved to close it out and move on, but nobody said it would be easy.”
The Knicks would host Game 7 on Sunday.
“I told you from Game 1 that this wasn’t going to be a breeze, it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, them guys were going to fight and they’re showing some fight right now,” Anthony said. “They threw a couple punches at us now and it’s time for us to do the same.”
The Celtics were the first of the eight NBA teams that have come from 3-1 down, beating Philadelphia in 1968, and put themselves on the short list of teams that have erased a 2-0 deficit the next year in the NBA Finals.
So perhaps it would be fitting if they were the first to overcome 3-0.
“I think so. I mean, I think that would be wonderful, and someone’s going to do it and I want it to be us, obviously, since that’s the situation we’re in,” Rivers said before the game. “Someone will do it, and I really want to be a part of that.”
He’s still got a chance.
The Knicks limited the Celtics to 75 points per game while winning the first three, and nearly came back to win Game 4 on Sunday even without Smith. So they felt good even after missing their first chance to wrap it up, when Anthony was 10 of 35 in an overtime loss.
Point guard Raymond Felton said the Knicks still feel in control of the series “for sure.”
“I mean, this is what playoff basketball is about. Yes, we wish we could have swept them, yes we wish we could have won that game tonight. Sometimes things don’t happen that way,” he added. “Things aren’t always pretty, things aren’t always the way you want them to be. We’ve just got to grind it out and go get a win.”
Though few of these players were here for the streak, the Knicks were perhaps a bit overconfident leading into the game for a franchise that lost an NBA-record 13 straight postseason games from 2001-12.
Smith said Tuesday he’d have been playing golf instead of practicing had he played in Game 4, and players wore black to the game Wednesday as if they were heading to the Celtics’ “funeral.”
The Celtics didn’t like it, with reserve Jordan Crawford exchanging words with Anthony and Raymond Felton after the final buzzer.
Forget the funeral. The Celtics are still very much alive.
“Well, we was going to a funeral, but it looks like we got buried,” Smith said. “Basketball is a very humbling game.”
Smith finally made a 3-pointer to end his drought, and then another cut what had been a 15-point Boston lead to 88-83 with 1:05 remaining. But Garnett made a jumper, then knocked down two free throws to clinch it.
The Knicks were just 5 of 22 from 3-point range, which looked worse until Smith hit three late ones.
The Sixth Man of the Year received a loud ovation when he went to check in during the first quarter, but heard a few boos by the third. They will likely be deafening on Friday, the kind usually reserved in Boston for a Lakers player.
By the time Anthony drove right into the middle of the lane for a dunk that made it 11-0, the Celtics already had three turnovers. But Bass made a pair of free throws and then a dunk to settle them down. He added five more points in the period as Boston climbed within 22-20 even though Pierce missed all six shots in a scoreless 12 minutes.
He made a 3-pointer shortly after returning from a break in the second, and another gave the Celtics their first lead at 34-33 with 5:46 remaining in the half. Then Garnett had two baskets in an 8-0 run that gave Boston a 42-37 advantage, and the Celtics walked off at halftime to mostly stunned silence within Madison Square Garden with a 45-39 lead.
The second halves had belonged to the Knicks in the series, but the Celtics remained steady in the third quarter, opening a 69-60 lead on Terry’s 3-pointer with 41 seconds left, and pushed it to 75-60 early in the fourth.
Notes: Woodson said the team will try to get Amare Stoudemire some contact in practice to see if he will be ready to play in the next round. Woodson said Stoudemire, who is recovering from right knee surgery, is “looking pretty good right now.” … Jason Kidd was honored before the game after winning the NBA’s Sportsmanship Award on Tuesday. He is the first player to win it in back-to-back years and joins Grant Hill as the only player to win it multiple times.