Celtics prevail again in NY, sweep series
NEW YORK — The burning stare Kevin Garnett gave Toney Douglas was all Doc Rivers needed to see.
The play couldn’t have been more inconsequential. Paul Pierce had fouled Amar’e Stoudemire going to the basket. Garnett grabbed the ball as it came off the rim. The play was dead. Douglas came in from behind and poked the ball from Garnett’s grip — irritating but not exactly uncommon.
Garnett turned it into a staredown and eventually it became a small scene, players holding Garnett back, Garnett telling officials, “I ain’t say [nothing] to him!’’
Rivers just needed him to realize there were more important matters at hand. The Celtics not only had a three-games-to-none lead over the Knicks in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, but at that point they were up 19 points in the third quarter, working on turning the lights out on New York’s first playoff appearance in seven years.
The Knicks were desperate. And Rivers knew what a desperate team was willing to do to stay alive.
“You’re going to do whatever you can to try to distract the other team,’’ Rivers said. “I thought we fell into that a little bit.’’
Rivers screamed at Garnett, “No distractions!’’
The Celtics eventually were able to close out their first-round series with a 101-89 win that completed the franchise’s first sweep in 19 postseasons.
They had to duck the kitchen sink to do it.
The Celtics piled their lead as high as 23 when Garnett went to the line and hit a pair of free throws 1:48 into the third. The advantage may as well have been a house of cards.
The Knicks outscored them, 39-20, over the next 14:27, turning a blowout into a 4-point game, 84-80, when Anthony Carter knocked down a 23-footer with 7:35 left in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we dropped our guard a little bit,’’ Rivers said. “They were desperate. They had energy and we didn’t match it. I thought we lost a little bit of that. We lost our edge, and they had an edge.’’
Carmelo Anthony (32 points) was breaking loose for dunks, Stoudemire (19 points) was leaping over bodies trying to make plays, and Carter turned into an unlikely fire starter, scoring 7 of his 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Rivers had to get his team to dial back in.
“That’s all I was saying,’’ the coach said. “Keep our focus, no distractions.’’
So they dug in.
By the time Garnett hit a reverse layup, the Celtics were up, 99-86. Fans started filing out of Madison Square Garden. The Celtics started to breathe easy, knowing they had put their first playoff series behind them and given themselves six days of rest before their second-round series starts.
“You’ve just got to understand what’s at stake,’’ Pierce said. “Everybody understood what was at stake. You give a team some confidence — even with a 3-0 lead — to win a game, you never know what can happen. It was very important for us to win this game.’’
Garnett’s double-double (a team-high 26 points and 10 rebounds) fueled the Celtics as much as the 21 points and 12 assists by Rajon Rondo.
Compared with their explosions in Game 3, Ray Allen (14 points on 5-of-13 shooting) and Pierce (13 points, 5 for 18) were relatively quiet, but the bench shook off its series-long struggles and picked up the slack.
Glen Davis (14 points, five rebounds) had his best game of the series, waiting for Rondo to spot him so he could drill open jumpers.
“[The Knicks] had a great run, the crowd really got behind them,’’ Pierce said. “But in the fourth quarter, we really executed our offense and put the game out of reach.”
The Celtics controlled the glass (53-42) and thrived in the paint (38-34), but defensively they were ferocious.
The Knicks mustered just three field goals in the second quarter. They shot 34.1 percent on the afternoon.
Their desperation run was the only offense they could cobble together.
“Boston, today, is a better team than we are,’’ Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We have to get up to that level and it’s going to take some time.’’
Now the Celtics are waiting on the Heat to finish their series with the 76ers.
The Heat squandered their chance at a sweep yesterday, dropping Game 4 in Philadelphia. Rivers didn’t know the score until after the Celtics finished their matchup.
“My coaches held out on me,’’ Rivers said. “Maybe it was a good thing.’’
If Garnett couldn’t have any distractions, neither could Rivers.
“We came here with the focus of closing this thing out,’’ Garnett said. “We didn’t want to go back to Boston and play another game and give a team hope and all that.
“I thought we did a good job of just withstanding everything they threw at us and we finished it out.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.