In Game 4, the Boston Celtics needed overtime, a millions rebounds (or 17) from Kevin Garnett and some heroics from Jason Terry—who briefly looked like the old JET once again—to dispatch the lackluster New York Knicks.
With New York's Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith serving a one-game suspension for elbowing Jason Terry (whom Smith has never heard of before, via Newsday's Al Iannazzone on Twitter) in the jaw, Carmelo Anthony shot 10-of-35 from the field and coughed up seven turnovers. There's no chance he repeats that ghastliness.
In Game 5, Smith will rejoin the Knicks at Madison Square Garden as they look to close out a playoff series at home for the first time since beating the Indiana Pacers in the 1999 conference semifinals.
And aside from Terry's nine-point overtime on Sunday afternoon, the Celtics still haven't figured out how to score. There's not much reason to think Boston can hold off the Knicks in Game 5, and the MSG crowd will be foaming at the mouth for a long-awaited playoff series win.
Game 5 Time: Wednesday, May 1, 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Series Record: 3-1 Knicks
Game 5 Key Storyline: J.R. Smith Strikes Back...Again
When asked what the outcome would have been if he had played in Game 4, J.R. Smith was unequivocal: "Oh yeah, it would've been over. I'd have been playing golf today" (per Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com). And he's probably right.
Without J.R., the Knicks could not find a true second scorer. Raymond Felton tried his best, dropping 27 points on 10-of-21 shooting (including 4-of-9 from downtown), but he lacks Smith's virtuosity.
Somewhat controversially, Mike Woodson kept Chris Copeland on the bench in favor of seven minutes for Steve Novak, who managed three points and a team-low minus-9 rating. It's probably worth mentioning here that the Knicks signed Novak to a four-year, $15-million contract prior to the season.
Because Copeland and Novak together would be a substantial defensive liability, Cope got the DNP even though he averaged 20.3 points per 36 minutes on 47.9 percent shooting (plus 42.1 percent from beyond the arc) during the regular season.
Regardless, with J.R. Swish returning to supplement Anthony, Boston will have to find a way to play better than they have in any game this series if they want to stave off elimination at MSG.
Series Star So Far: Carmelo Anthony
Based on Game 4, you might say that J.R. Smith has been the series star, as New York looked weak without him. But I'm not going to give him any distinction on the heels of his extremely unwise elbow shot (at least he's learned his lesson, sort of).
Carmelo scores 30-plus points even when he misses 25 shots. Anthony had a few clunkers on his way to winning the scoring title, including his 6-of-26 night in a January 7 loss to the Celtics.
So far, 'Melo is shooting a not-awful 40.7 percent from the field, but he's also pouring in 33 points per game. To be fair, he shot 36-of-78 (46.2 percent) in the first three games, and he will bounce back in Game 5 in front of a frenetic home crowd.
Simply put, he's the straw that stirs the drink.
Projected Starting Lineups
Celtics: Avery Bradley, PG; Paul Pierce, SG; Jeff Green, SF; Brandon Bass, PF; Kevin Garnett, C
Knicks: Pablo Prigioni, PG; Raymond Felton, SG; Iman Shumpert, SF; Carmelo Anthony, PF; Tyson Chandler, C
Celtics Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
Rajon Rondo (knee), out for season; Jared Sullinger (back), out for season
Knicks Injury Report
Amar'e Stoudemire (knee), doubtful
Celtics Will Win If...
They score at least 40 points in each half and limit the deficit in offensive rebounding.
After two terrible second halves at MSG, the C's played an encore in the first half of Game 3, with 31 points to frustrate their hometown crowd.
They have not scored 40 points in both halves of a game in the series and desperately need to establish some consistency in their attack. The Celtics have shot 40.9 percent as a team over the first four games, the second-worst mark to this point in the playoffs (interestingly, the Knicks are third-worst).
Jeff Green has been one of the few bright spots for Boston, averaging 20.8 points, 5.8 boards and 2.3 dimes per game. Paul Pierce has played fairly well, but his effectiveness may be limited on Wednesday after enduring a (literally) staggering 50 minutes of court time in Game 4.
As for the rebounding, the Knicks attempted 14 more field goals in Game 4, primarily because they grabbed 16 offensive boards to just three for the C's. They won't stand a chance if they get dominated like that again.
Boston's best shot might be a superhuman effort across the lineup to keep Kevin Garnett's career afloat.
There has been speculation that he could retire after this season, which would leave the Celtics with even more questions marks than they already have.
Knicks Will Win If...
They play strong defense down the stretch.
In two games at the Garden, the C's managed just 48 second-half points. Their offense was not just ineffectual, they were downright D-League. After eight points and eight turnovers in the fourth quarter of Game 1, Boston's offense scored just 23 points in the second half Game 2, tying an NBA playoff record for futility.
And yet again, J.R. Smith figures into the equation, only this time on defense. Smith's active hands and penchant for patrolling passing lanes helped to frustrate Boston's backcourt in the first three games. His return will be a boon for New York on both sides of the ball.
Iman Shumpert was the Knicks best player in Game 4, notching a double-double with a dozen points and the same number of rebounds. He swatted a pair of shots and snagged two steals, relishing the opportunity to flash his defense on a national stage. He's also been cleaning up the glass, averaging 7.3 rebounds in 26 minutes per game.
Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin have proved to be a dynamic duo down low, while Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni are pesky stoppers. Overall, the Celtics have not shown the offensive capability to beat the Knicks D, especially at the Garden. And they're not going to start now.
Wednesday's game will be played at an ecstatic Madison Square Garden. Every single alley-oop and three-pointer to the dome will send the decibel meter into the red. The Celtics won't go down without a fight, but they don't have enough to steal a road win.
While Boston avoided the indignity of a sweep on Sunday afternoon, it came with J.R. Smith out and Carmelo Anthony slogging through one of his worst games as a Knick. And the C's still went to overtime after blowing a 20-point third-quarter lead.
With Smith fresh as a daisy and Pierce wearied from Sunday, the Knicks will romp to victory on their home court and finally give New York City something to cheer about.
They'll head to the second round and face either the Indiana Pacers or Atlanta Hawks, but anything short of the conference finals will come as a disappointment following their 54-win regular season.
Prediction: Knicks 99, Celtics 85