The final score on Friday night's Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals was Knicks 88, Celtics 80. The path to it was not nearly so simple.
With 9:48 to go in the fourth quarter of Game 6, it seemed like the funeral the Knicks were dressed for on Wednesday was finally happening in the TD Garden. The Knicks led the proud Celtics by 26, by a 75-49 margin, in front of a library-quiet crowd.
Just 2:42 later, the Knicks led by seven. An unfathomable 19-0 run came to pass. The Celtics gave those fans one more great moment in the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce era, and hope for a full resurrection from a 3-0 hole in the series.
But after taking the best punch of these NBA playoffs, the Knicks put the Celtics to rest for good, and won their first playoff series since 2000.
The Celtics narrowed the Knicks' lead to four points at 77-73 shortly after their run was finally answered, shaving the lead further with a layup by Avery Bradley and a pair of Jeff Green free throws. But the Knicks' primary scoring options came through in the final five minutes, with Carmelo Anthony scoring seven of his 21 points in the final stretch, and J.R. Smith converting an and-one to push the lead back into double digits with just over a minute remaining.
Anthony and Smith were not the Knicks' only heroes (Iman Shumpert had 17 points, Tyson Chandler had nine points and 12 rebounds), but they were their most important. And on this night, despite one last 15 and 10 from Garnett, they outdid Garnett and Pierce (14 points, but on 18 shots), in the arena where Garnett and Pierce had become the NBA's beasts of the northeast.
The Celtics' inability to score early was their eventual undoing: Boston had 10 points in the first quarter, and 27 in the first half; even a relatively good job on offense in the third period left the Celtics under 50 points entering the final quarter. And though their defense was able to silence the Knicks for the span of that improbable run, giving up open jumpers to Pablo Prigioni (14 points) and Raymond Felton (11 points) through the first three quarters proved as fatal as anything.
The Knicks move on to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where they meet the Indiana Pacers. The Celtics move on to a summer of uncertainty, with the futures of Garnett, Pierce, and injured star Rajon Rondo in flux.