Celtics narrow series gap to 3-2

SQUANDERED::Having been 3-0 up in the series, the aging Knicks roster now faces an unwanted trip back to Boston to face the resurgent Celtics again

AP, NEW YORK

Fri, May 03, 2013 - Page 19

The Boston Celtics moved to within two wins of an unprecedented NBA playoff series victory by beating the New York Knicks 92-86 on Wednesday, slicing their deficit in the series to 3-2 and with the contest to now shift back to Boston.

Kevin Garnett had 16 points and 18 rebounds to lead the Celtics, who are bidding to become the first team to come from 3-0 down to win a series 4-3.

“We’re still down. Our mentality has to be all-out,” Garnett said. “It can’t be anything [else].”

In Wednesday’s other games, Indiana had a comfortable home win over Atlanta to go up 3-2, while Houston won at Oklahoma City to also close their deficit to 3-2.

Houston played without starting point guard Jeremy Lin for the second straight game because of a bruised chest muscle.

Boston’s Brandon Bass added 17 points, steadying Boston as they shook off an 11-0 deficit and pulled away in the second half to again stop the Knicks sealing their first playoff series victory since 2000.

“We didn’t panic and that’s something we’ve done, but we didn’t,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “Once the game got back to that five, six area, our guys were good again.”

Carmelo Anthony scored 22 points, but was just eight 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 their aging roster needs before the second round.

“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.”

If Boston manage to square the series 3-3, 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.

“That would be wonderful, and someone’s going to do it and I want it to be us, 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.”

Indiana also hold a slim 3-2 advantage after a 106-83 home win over the Atlanta Hawks.

David West scored 24 points and Paul George had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Pacers, who have won all three home games in the best-of-seven series and are 5-0 at home this season against the Hawks.

They’ll go to Atlanta today with a chance to clinch the best-of-seven series, but the Hawks have won 13 straight at home against the Pacers, including both games in this series.

Atlanta were led by Josh Smith and Al Horford, who each had 14 points, and it was every bit as ugly as the Hawks’ first two double-digit losses in Indy.

Indiana took the lead for good midway through the second quarter and opened the third period on a 12-3 run to make it 62-46. The Pacers put it away when the Hawks lost their composure.

Houston also avoided elimination by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 107-100, with James Harden scoring 31 points and sinking seven three-pointers while fighting through flu-like symptoms.

Harden made the first seven threes he tried and Houston led by as many as 16 before fending off a rally that Oklahoma City helped stymie with their own strategy.

The Thunder, apparently doubting they could overcome an eight-point lead on their home court without Russell Westbrook, resorted to intentionally fouling Omer Asik — a 54 percent career foul shooter — with 5:33 to play.

Asik went eight for 12 from the line, extending Houston’s lead to 101-92 with 3:53 remaining before Oklahoma City gave up the tactic.

Kevin Durant finished with 36 points for Oklahoma City.