BOSTON - Carmelo Anthony wasn't at his best Friday night, but he broke out late and the Knicks broke through a major hurdle for the franchise.
The Knicks had their 26-point fourth-quarter lead trimmed to four, but Anthony wouldn't let Boston get any closer. He scored his team's next seven points as the Knicks beat the Celtics, 88-80, and moved into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.
The second-seeded Knicks won the first-round series, 4-2, and will open their Eastern Conference semifinal series against No. 3 Indiana Sunday at the Garden.
Anthony, playing with a sore left shoulder, finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists. He shot just 7-for-23 from the field, but all that matters is that he got the Knicks out of the first round. They hadn't won a series since the 2000 Eastern Conference semifinals. It also was only the second time in Anthony's 10-year career that he reached the second round.
"This is a big relief for myself, for us as a team, for the organization to make that next step,'' Anthony said. "Getting out of the first round is something I've been looking forward to since I came to New York. Something the organization was looking forward to. Something the city of New York was looking forward to. We was able to accomplish that.''
The Knicks failed to close out Boston in Games 4 and 5 after taking a 3-0 lead in the series, but they appeared to be coasting into the second round Friday night. But after Iman Shumpert's putback slam gave the Knicks a 75-49 lead with 9:49 left, it got a little too close for comfort as the Celtics scored 20 straight points in a 24-2 run that made it 77-73 with 4:06 remaining.
But Anthony, who hurt his shoulder when Kevin Garnett yanked his arm in Game 5, took over from there. He made two foul shots, and after Avery Bradley's steal and layup, Anthony drilled a pull-up jumper and hit a three-pointer for the first time since Game 3 to make it 84-75 with 1:43 left. He had missed 19 straight threes before that.
"Nineteen, damn,'' he said.
Anthony also blocked Paul Pierce's layup, leading to a three-point play by J.R Smith and an 87-75 lead with 1:21 left.
"I had one thing on my mind,'' Anthony said. "Do whatever it takes to win this basketball game, do whatever it takes to win this basketball series.''
Iman Shumpert scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds. His steal and fast-break layup with 5:06 left ended a 20-0 Celtics run. Pablo Prigioni had 14 points and helped get the Knicks off to a fast start with three three-pointers in the first quarter.
Jeff Green led Boston with 21 points. Garnett had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Pierce scored 14 points but shot 4-for-18 and had five turnovers.
After all the trash-talking and pushing and shoving, the Knicks were enjoying the beating they were laying on the Celtics. Shumpert, whose defense was huge in this series, mocked Jason Terry by spreading his arms and running down the court as if in flight.
It turns out the Knicks were celebrating too soon, though, especially when their big lead was down to four with the clock winding down to four minutes.
"There was definitely a moment during the run, Shump and I were on the bench at the time, where I thought, 'What are you doing, fellas?' '' Tyson Chandler said.
"I just think we got a little comfortable with that big lead,'' Mike Woodson said. "It seemed like nothing went right for us for like four, five minutes. We were able to gather ourselves and get it done.''
The Knicks got it done with Anthony seizing the moment. The pain in his shoulder worsened when Bradley ran into it during the game, but Anthony played through the pain and put the game and series away with his big finish.
"It's still there. It's a little sore,'' Anthony said. "The more it gets beat up, the sorer it gets, but that's not something I come into the game thinking about. Just certain things that I do out there on the court, I can feel it . . . But I'm fine. I'll be fine, I'll be ready come Sunday.''
So will the rest of the Knicks.
"It's a major step for our organization,'' Woodson said. "It's just one step. I'm looking at the big picture. We're only in this thing for one thing, and that's to try and win a title. We took a major step, but we still got a long way to go.''