Evan Turner ran the offense for the entire fourth quarter, scoring 21 points and grabbing 8 rebounds in a marathon finish where the Celtics closed out on a 13-4 run.
But it was birthday boy Jared Sullinger’s pair of laser outlets to a streaking Jae Crowder that got the Celtics back in the game. The 24-year-old showed the court vision of a wise old man, flinging bullets to Crowder like he had a GPS tag on him.
The sequence of events in the final minutes epitomized how good coaching and high energy can turn the tables quickly late in the game. As the Knicks’ offense rested back on Carmelo Anthony’s midrange game, the Celtics kept chipping away by getting quick transition buckets and winning every 50-50 ball.
The tide turned at the 2:30 mark, when Jae Crowder got his hand right in Carmelo Anthony’s face on an 20-footer. As Crowder raced down court in transition, Melo made a half-assed attempt to guard the outlet. That left Crowder open to catch a Jared Sullinger laser outlet and throw it down.
On the other end, Evan Turner jumped into the stands to save a Langston Galloway bad pass. Sullinger held off Lopez to catch the save, spun and threw another incredible full court bullet to a streaking Crowder for the layup.
"It’s like I have a hot second whether to throw it or not. It’s just one of those plays where you say, ‘[Blank] it,’ and you just throw it."
IT was one of the many great plays Turner made in his full 12-minute stint in the fourth quarter. "I didn't even know he did. Couldn't take him out," Stevens said. "I thought he was really valuable for us tonight because of their physicality. He can handle their physicality on the drive, off the pick and roll and make a play or finish and those type of things. I didn't even realize he played that."
After Melo bounced in an 18-footer, Stevens called timeout and set up one of his signature ATO plays. Isaiah Thomas drove in on a curl, only to find Sullinger trailing behind him for an easy layup. After Evan Turner nailed a pull-up from 15 feet, Anthony hit a turnaround to put the pressure on the Celtics to close it.
"I thought that, obviously we don’t win this game without him – and we probably don’t win the last New York game without him," Stevens said of Turner. "He’s been a – for whatever reason – he’s been very good in these particular games. He’s usually good anyways but these particular games he’s been very good."
Avery Bradley got the ball on the right wing and was able to attack the lane, scoring what would be the winning layup. Bradley caught a pindown booty screen from Jae Crowder that allowed him to catch the ball toward the top of the key with his back to the basket. Turner ran a fake cross screen that had Langston Galloway a step behind the Bradley drive.
Lance Thomas caught Bradley on the switch and defended the shot as well as possible. But Bradley took a cue from Isaiah and threw his shoulder into Thomas to get enough separation to hit the tough finger roll off the glass.
The Knicks tried to go iso with Melo on Crowder to end it, but Crowder wisely gave a take foul with 3.3 seconds to go. This forced the Knicks to inbound the ball to Melo from 27 feet out and brick a contested jumper over Smart.
"Yeah, when we had the time out with 21[seconds left] we just said, ‘They don’t have a timeout left and we have a foul to give,’ to Jae," Stevens said. "Because we knew Carmelo would have the ball and Jae did a great job of timing it appropriately.
"And then at the last shot we were in our little zone and Carmelo just posted up the top of our zone, which is a really good play because he can shoot over our guards. But Jae did a good job of distracting him and Marcus did a good job of forcing a very difficult shot."
As Jae Crowder pointed to the sky, the stadium rumbled with the shock and awe of yet another closeout for the Celtics. Stevens’ team has turned the tables since earlier in the year, when holding onto a lead seemed like an impossible task.
With the Celtics spending most of the first half fighting off deep post position, they got out running late. Sullinger played the crucial role in setting the pace.
"Second half we did a much better job, and Sully did a great job on the one play late where (Robin) Lopez ran out of time," Stevens said. "And then Sully’s outlets were big, big plays, because you can score without much time going off the clock and without a contest."
And that is exactly what the Celtics did, going on a 12-4 run in the final three minutes that left the Knicks catching their breath and relying on Anthony iso to bail them out. Although Melo did an admirable job getting off tough shots, the detrimental failed post-up to Lopez at the end was impossible to overcome.
The play call for Melo to waste the clock on a high post-up on Crowder begs the assumption that the Knicks coaching staff had no idea that the Celtics had a take foul available. The fact that they couldn’t execute an ATO play on the inbounds confirms this Knicks team is still playing at an elementary level. While Melo and Porzingis’ incredible talent can often bail them out, and Afflalo and Lopez can be key contributors at times, the Knicks look like a team that could use a total deconstruction.
But the Celtics are trending sharply upward. But just how far can they go, Isaiah?
"NBA Finals. Nah, nah, don't quote that. I don't know. We just really focus on the right now and focus on continuing to get better, and let the cards fall where they may."
Woops. Too late.