BOSTON -- The reason it wasn't going to end Sunday was because Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were joined at long last by Jason Terry. And it wasn't going to finish in a sweep for the Knicks because they were depending too heavily on the unreliable J.R. Smith. All together now, Smith's dirty play wound up doing for the Celtics what they'd been unable to do all year -- it made Terry feel at home.
"Maybe that elbow -- who knows? -- changed everything for all of us," Boston coach Doc Rivers said after the Celtics earned another visit to New York with a 97-90 overtime win in Game 4 of their first-round series.
The elbow laid out Terry in the fourth quarter of Game 3. At that time, Terry was playing tight defense and trying to make an impact on a game the Celtics were never capable of winning. Smith threw an elbow that knocked Terry flat like an uppercut to his chin. He got up, chasing Smith before the referees interceded and ejected Smith. That was on Friday.
On Saturday at practice, before news arrived of Smith's suspension from Game 4, the Celtics heard the voice of Terry they had been waiting to hear. It was the voice his teammates had grown to depend upon in Dallas for eight seasons previously. "Definitely Jason Terry was angry that it happened," Rivers said of the knockdown by Smith. "He let his teammates know yesterday and today."
Terry scored Boston's last nine points in overtime, and the first of those shots was made as if he was two years younger in a Mavericks uniform. He pulled up after a full sprint in transition and drilled a three to give the Celtics a 91-88 advantage. Carmelo Anthony (10 of 35 for his 36 points) answered with his final jumper before Terry dribbled behind a Garnett screen to score from the elbow. When Anthony tried and failed to reply with a three, Terry flopped out of bounds after being nudged by Steve Novak in pursuit of the rebound. Two more free throws for Terry.
He was, by the way, talking and smiling the whole time, even as he laid in a breakaway pass from Garnett in the final happy seconds.
"Me, personally, I've let Kevin down," Terry explained after finishing with 18 points (7 of 10) with four assists and no turnovers in what was his most important game as a Celtic. As he explained his remorse, Terry sounded very much as if he expects 36-year-old Garnett to retire at the end of the season.
"I look at Kevin, see what he has to go through to get ready for a game," said Terry, who is 35 himself. "When you see that, you don't want to end it and let this be the last moment to play with a great like that. That gets you emotional and that's what drives you to just leave it all out on the court.
"I know what he sacrificed to come back here this year. He's the reason why I'm here. I just don't want to let him down: I don't want his last impression to be, 'OK, we got swept,' or, 'We didn't give our best effort.'
"He sat out these two weeks (at the end of the season). He's struggling right now. He's not 100 percent. We've just all got to look at that. Look at that and think about it. That's being the ultimate teammate."
Terry signed a three-year contract worth $15.7 million last summer with the hope of earning a second NBA championship. Having won a title alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd in Dallas in 2011, he was recruited by the Celtics to help Garnett and Pierce win another one in Boston. His shooting percentages were in line with the numbers of his previous three years in Dallas, so it wasn't as if he dropped off physically while averaging a 13-year low of 10.1 points this season.
"You just haven't seen the explosive games -- the 30 (point games)," he said. "It just hasn't been there, that impact like you know. It's an adjustment. I was in one situation for eight years. Change is always tough. I just failed to do it. But hey, I'm doing it now."
He was doing it because he was talking. This is a hard one to explain, because what difference should talking make? Nowitzki used to laugh about how Terry needed to talk -- and talk and talk and talk -- in order to play with confidence. When he came to Boston, Terry admits now, he felt it was not his place to be heard. This was the team of Garnett and Pierce. Then for the first half of the season, Rajon Rondo was trying to act like the team leader as he led the Celtics to a losing record. And so Terry, by his standards, kept his mouth shut.
"No question, you hit it right on," he said. "It's been an adjustment all season, and if you're not playing up to that level then how are you speaking out? You see what I'm saying?"
Who was he to open his mouth when he was disappointing his new teammates?
"So that's been my struggle," Terry said. "It's just how I'm cut. It's like you're not being yourself. 'Jet's not talking, he's not passionate' -- well I'm always passionate. But when I'm talking, it's serious. I'm not just shooting the breeze. I'm telling you what's happening, what's going on and how we can help the situation be better."
That's what he was talking about at practice Saturday. He was angry. He was assaulted and his team failed to score 80 points in any of the three losses -- himself having gone scoreless in Game 1 -- and on Saturday he acted as if he was talking trash at practice with Nowitzki and Kidd and Mark Cuban, even as his words were being heard by Garnett and Pierce and Rivers. When the game tipped off Sunday, Terry felt like he was back in Dallas. "I definitely did," he said.
From the opening minutes he was waving from the sideline at the fans to stand and yell as if Texas accents were yelling back his way. Less than a minute into his entrance, Terry was making his first jumper and then grinning to say something unpleasant to Anthony on his way up the court. He laughed openly and derisively when Kenyon Martin traveled during a simple handoff to Anthony. Terry faked a runner on his way to lobbing a surprise dunk for Garnett. He walked into the key in between free throws by Tyson Chandler and Anthony for no purpose other than irritation. When Raymond Felton was at the foul line, Terry stood behind him and waved at the fans to stand up and disrupt him.
They would need all of Terry's confidence and arrogance and shotmaking when the Knicks recovered from a 20-point deficit in the third quarter to seize an 84-82 lead with 1:18 left on a jumper by the sensational Felton, who scored 18 of his 27 points in the second half to push the Knicks' comeback. The Celtics had been unable to run plays smoothly down the stretch when Garnett bailed them out with a jumper to force the overtime. Garnett would finish with 13 points on only seven shots, but he added 17 rebounds, 6 assists and a block in 37 minutes. Terry shook his head at the memories of Garnett he plans to hold tight to for the rest of his life.
"If you watch and see what he has to do to get ready for a practice," Terry said as he was shaking his head again. "It's just -- I'm in there with him. But he still does it. He still gets a workout in. He was the last one to leave the gym yesterday. Come on, you can't tell me that guy doesn't care. It would be easy for him -- I'm down 3-0, I got a ring, I got all the respect. But that's just him. He's cut like that. I've learned a lot from him."
This series is probably going to end with a Game 5 win for the Knicks in New York on Wednesday. Smith will be back in uniform with his explosive scoring. Anthony isn't likely to miss 25 shots again. But then again, Terry isn't planning to shut up about the Celtics' plans to extend the series even further.
"I definitely felt a little more responsible towards being a leader and being more vocal," Terry said of his performance at practice Saturday, the day after he and his new team were knocked down like never before. "I don't know why it took so long, but adversity brings out the character."
So, I asked him, J.R. Smith did you a favor?
"Thank you," Terry said. "Yeah. No doubt."
He was on his way out of the locker room Sunday when a reporter mentioned to Garnett what Terry admitted a few minutes earlier: That he had let Garnett down this season. Terry hovered on the edge of the crowd of reporters and waited for the rest of the question to be delivered.
"Make sure you got that right, now," he yelled to Garnett. Then he continued out the door as if he owned the place. It was about time.