BOSTON - It wasn't easy, but the wait is finally over for the New York Knicks.
Despite a valiant comeback try by the Boston Celtics, both in the series and the game, the Knicks are in the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2000, thanks to an 88-80 Game 6 victory Friday night.
And while his coach, Mike Woodson, called winning a series "just another step," center Tyson Chandler said, "It's a small step but it's a giant step. This franchise has been struggling."
The Celtics staged a wild 20-0 spurt in the fourth quarter and were within four late before Carmelo Anthony sealed it with seven late points, including a 3-pointer that ended a personal run of 19 straight misses (over four games) from behind the arc.
"Those guys over there are warriors. We knew they weren't going to go out without a fight," said Anthony, who had 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Anthony's assist total was one less than he had in the first five games combined. His all-around game helped him advance past the first round for the second time in his career (he and the Denver Nuggets reached the West final in 2009).
Now, with the Celtics behind them, the second-seeded Knicks open the Eastern Conference semifinals at home against No. 3 Indiana Sunday.
"We'll go back and break down the Pacers tonight and have a game plan ready in place when the players come in tomorrow for practice," said Woodson. "We split with them during the regular season; they're a well-coached team, they're a very talented team. But we worked our butts off this year to host the first two rounds on our court in front of our wonderful fans."
The Celtics, who rallied from an 0-3 deficit and created designs on becoming the first NBA team ever to come back to win after being three games down, scored 20 points in just 3:37, after some of their fans had already headed for the exits, while others booed.
"It was a hell of a run," Woodson said, of an offensive eruption that came late in a series of little offense.
But the run came up short.
"It's a very deep breath we're taking right now," said J.R. Smith, who had 13 points and seven rebounds off the bench. "We got to get ready for Sunday. This was a great test for us."
Said Celtics coach Doc Rivers: "I'd just like to congratulate the Knicks. I thought Woody did a hell of a job throughout the series. They can beat anybody when they play right, I'll tell you that. They have a lot of firepower."
Iman Shumpert, New York's best player from start to finish in this game, had 17 points, including a steal and layup to end the 20-0 run. Pablo Prigioni added 14 points, going 4-for-6 on 3-pointers, in a balanced New York attack.
Jeff Green led the Celtics with 21 points before fouling out, while Kevin Garnett, playing over 41 minutes, had 15 points and 10 rebounds and Jason Terry 14 points.
The game might mark more than the end of the season for the Celtics, who did all they could without the injured Rajon Rondo. It could also mark the end of the Boston career of Paul Pierce. He has a year left on his contract at close to $15 million, but the team can buy him out for $5 million.
Last year, with the Celtics ahead 3-2 against Miami in the conference final, Pierce went 4-for-18 from the floor and scored nine points. Friday, he was 4-for-15, including 1-for-9 from 3-point range, and had 14 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five turnovers. Pierce was 1-for-10 in the first half.
Rivers had no idea after Friday's game who would be back and who wouldn't. He wouldn't even commit to himself returning for another year (he's under contract and is expected back). But Green, asked what he wants to see coming back, said, "If I had a wish, everybody would be back ... healthy, the way we started. Everybody healthy. Oh, man, we battled all season with injuries."
NOTES: Knicks 3-point specialist Steve Novak was out with back spasms. Without him, his teammates went 9-for-21 on threes. ... No. 1 Knicks fan Spike Lee, resplendent in Knicks orange, arrived about an hour before tipoff, sitting in the front row. ... Injured Knick Amar'e Stoudemire, who underwent right knee surgery on March 11 and hasn't played since, was on the floor working out before the teams came out. He isn't expected to play Sunday but could return later in the series. "I don't think he's at that stage yet of playing in a game," Woodson said. ... Recently retired former Knick and Celtic Rasheed Wallace was also out shooting around. ... The Elias Sports Bureau says the Celtics became the first team in NBA playoff history to be perfect from the foul line in two straight games: 19 of 19 and 17 of 17. They were 26-for-33 Friday night. ... Only the 1951 Knicks, the 1994 Nuggets and 2003 Trail Blazers rallied to force a Game 7 before the Celtics and Rockets both attempted to do it Friday night. The other 100 3-0 leaders entering this season won their series and did it in less than seven games. In fact, according to Elias, Boston and Houston are only the 11th and 12th teams to force a Game 6.