Late in the third quarter, with his Celtics down 20 points, David Nikiel of Citigroup’s institutional equity sales in Boston bought a half dozen pals each a $12.25 shot of Crown Royal whiskey to toast the end of an inspired run.
“The Celtics went down big,” the 30-year-old said high above courtside in TD Garden’s Club Lounge.
In a Game 6 that included a fourth-quarter comeback and fans’ resolve to stay “Boston Strong” in the wake of the deadly April 15 marathon bombings, the Celtics failed to take the New York Knicks to a seventh game, ending their season with an 88-80 loss.
The Knicks moved on to face the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the National Basketball Association playoffs starting tomorrow, the first time New York has moved beyond the opening round since 2000.
Carmelo Anthony had 21 points for the Knicks, who won the first three games in the best-of-seven series and then lost two straight before wrapping up the victory last night.
The highlight for last night’s home crowd was a fourth-quarter surge by the Celtics that whittled a 26-point Knicks lead to four. Some of the 18,624 in the sold-out crowd said it underscored the hope and pride their NBA franchise generated in the weeks following the terror attacks.
“They’re like the city,” said Mike Kubik, 52, senior vice president of Coverys, a Boston insurance firm. “They showed a lot of heart.”
The Knicks started the game with a 21-5 run that included three 3-pointers by Pablo Prigioni, and never trailed. They led 24-10 after one quarter, built that margin to 18 points in the second period and were up 39-27 at halftime.
New York had a 67-47 lead entering the fourth quarter and built the lead to 26 points with nine minutes, 48 seconds left before the Celtics used a 20-0 run to pull within 75-69 with 5:44 left. Boston twice got within four points before Anthony scored five straight points to give the Knicks a comfortable margin.
Maggie Thibault, 54, of Manchester, New Hampshire, looked beyond the loss to what the game meant as an antidote to the grief brought on by the bombings.
“It was an excellent night,” she said. “Nobody was held back, we were all here together and it’s heartwarming.”
Doris Charette turned the trip to the game from her home in Pascoag, Rhode Island, into a symbol of defiance.
“We’re not going to let anybody tell us how to live and how we’re going to celebrate,” she said.
Boston Marathon jackets could be seen sprinkled throughout the Garden, which is less than two miles from the finish line where the bombs went off, killing three and injuring more than 260 people.
Stan Luniewicz, 60, of Walpole, Massachusetts, in his blue and yellow windbreaker, ran his 29th race this year and said he finished two minutes ahead of the explosions.
“Something like this helps big time,” he said of Game 6.
The city’s other professional sports teams have served a similar role. In the first Bruins home hockey game after the bombings, fans broke into an a cappella version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that left some in attendance teary. In the first Red Sox home game after the marathon attacks, designated hitter David Ortiz declared to thunderous applause, “This is our (expletive) city!”
The Knicks-Celtics game was one of four NBA contests last night. The Pacers completed a 4-2 series win with an 81-73 victory at the Atlanta Hawks; Kevin Durant had 27 points as the Oklahoma City Thunder won 103-94 at the Houston Rockets to capture their series by four games to two, and the Memphis Grizzlies also won 4-2, defeating the visiting Los Angeles Clippers 118-105.
Pre-game festivities in Boston last night relied heavily on the themes of grit and determination by an aging Celtics squad. A video shown on the scoreboard that drew loud applause and hoots and screeches proclaimed, “Quitting is not in Boston’s DNA.”
The video featured clips of the Red Sox comeback victory against the New York Yankees in 2004 when Boston was down 0-3 and then rallied to win the pennant and World Series.
Fans were also reminded in the video of the Knicks wearing black street clothes before Game 5 to signify the Celtics’ impending death in the series.
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Brenden Joseph, 25, a doorman at Sullivan’s Tap, one of the many barrooms and pubs whose business was lifted by the Celtics’ success in extending their season with wins in Games 4 and 5. Joseph said the Knicks’ wardrobe message only succeeded in galvanizing Boston’s will.
Crowds filtered onto Causeway Street outside the Garden hours before the game, some making their way into establishments such as The Four’s, where manager Jim Taggart, 48, juggled a full house of 390 diners and a one-hour waiting list.
“Sports helps the healing process,” he said of the Celtics’ influence in the wake of tragedy. “It’s a way for people to be together, to talk about other things for a bit.”
Hawking “Boston Strong” t-shirts on the sidewalk was Damon Ely, 20, who lives just outside the city in the town of Brookline, his family’s house a 10-minute walk from the marathon course. “I watched it many times,” he said.
With a portion of sales going to help the bombing victims, most customers simply say, when paying, “I’m glad I can help,” he said.
Back inside TD Garden, Jane Cavicchi, 53, of Grafton, Massachusetts, stayed hopeful until the final buzzer.
“They did their best,” she said.
At the end of the Celtics’ overtime win at home last weekend in Game 4, Cavicchi encountered a Knicks fan clad in the team’s orange and blue who complimented the Celtics, saying, “After all you’ve been through, you deserved to win.”
Cavicchi was so touched by his thoughtfulness, she said, she bought him a beer.