By Al Iannazzone
---- — NEW YORK — The Knicks will have J.R. Smith for Game 5 and will be back in the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden. But they still could be entering dangerous territory.
They gave the Celtics hope and a few more days to breathe by not completing the sweep of their first-round series Sunday in Boston. If the Knicks, who are up 3-1, don’t knock off the veteran Celtics on Wednesday night, the series changes dramatically. The Knicks have the right mentality going into Game 5, though.
“Finish the job,” Tyson Chandler said.
“We have to be confident going back home,” Carmelo Anthony said. “The Garden will be rocking Wednesday. We’ll be prepared for it.”
The Knicks, who didn’t practice yesterday, have won 12 straight at the Garden and by an average of 15 points. Three of those wins have come against Boston, including two in this series.
No NBA team has come back from a 3-0 deficit and won a series. But closeout games are the toughest to get, and the Knicks know Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will fight to bring the series back to Boston for Game 6.
But Anthony wants to win so badly, for his own and the Knicks’ playoff legacies. The Knicks haven’t won a playoff series since 2000 and Anthony has made it past the first round just once in nine years.
He desperately tried to shoot the Knicks into the second round Sunday, and put too much of the game on his shoulders. Anthony scored 36 points, but shot 10-for-35 — 0-for-7 from three — and missed two foul shots with the score tied and 1:50 left in regulation in the 97-90 overtime loss.
Anthony will have some help Wednesday with Smith returning from his one-game suspension for throwing an elbow at Jason Terry in Game 3. But like Anthony on Sunday, Smith has had plenty of games and moments when he shoots too much, forces things and his teammates stand around and watch instead of being involved.
With Anthony coming off a poor shooting game and Smith perhaps feeling responsible for the Knicks losing Game 4, they might want to try to take on too much and win the game — and series — by themselves.
Mike Woodson might have to address this possibility with his two top scorers before the tip for Game 4. They have a total of eight assists in the series.
“We’re motivated as a team,” Chandler said. “(Smith) is motivated, I’m sure. He’ll come back and do his thing. Hopefully, we’ll finish the job.”
Anthony has been the best player in the series, but the Celtics are making it tough for him.
He is taking 28.3 shots per game, averaging 33 points and hitting 40.7 percent of his attempts. In his last eight regular-season games, Anthony averaged 36.9 points and shot 53.8 percent.
The Celtics probably will continue to be physical with Anthony, and try and throw him off his game. But if the Celtics are successful in frustrating Anthony, the Knicks have to find other ways to win.
They have a major advantage at point guard. Raymond Felton has dominated Boston with his shooting and getting in the paint and making plays. The craftiness and court intelligence of Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni also have been huge for the Knicks.
The Knicks have more depth, have defended better and used their size to beat the shorter Celtics — especially when Garnett is on the bench — on the boards.
“We’re going back home with a lot of confidence,” Anthony said.
By losing Game 4, the Knicks have given their fans a chance to be there to celebrate their first series victory in 13 years. They just want to make sure they don’t give the Celtics a couple of more days to breathe.