Recap: Celtics 97, Knicks 90

Knicks Celtics
The Knicks squandered a chance to sweep the Boston Celtics, losing 97-90 in overtime. The Knicks lead the series 3 games to 1.

1st Quarter: The Knicks just did not have any offense going to open the game. In a game where JR Smith’s absence was blamed for many of the Knicks’ faults, the lack of offense in the early going had little to do with the lack of JR. The Celtics came into this game with more energy and actually looked like a competent offensive team, hitting a bunch of outside jumpers. After the Knicks went down 12-5 early, it seemed they began to press a little bit, with a myriad of  uncharacteristic turnovers. Not helping was Carmelo Anthony’s 0-6 start, a trend that would continue later in the first half. The loss of JR began to hurt the Knicks at this point, as Melo began forcing jumpers left and right, feeling a need to score more without the Knicks’ second scorer. The Knicks offense became very one dimensional; when Melo made consecutive shots to end the quarter including a banker and-one with just seconds left in the quarter, the Knicks were only down 5. The score, 22-17 Boston, was certainly a fortunate score considering how badly they played offensively. Thumbs to Steve Novak, forced to play first quarter minutes, for a pump fake so good, two Celtics fell for it (he unfortunately missed the shot, however).

2nd Quarter: The game really got out of hand for the Knicks in the 2nd quarter. This was the first time the Knicks tangibly missed JR Smith, as the Knicks started the quarter a questionable lineup of Prigioni-Kidd-Richardson(?)-Novak-Martin. Why Chris Copeland was not playing in the 2nd quarter is beyond me. The Celtics pushed their lead to double digits with this lineup before Woodson reinserted Melo to try to right the ship. Except Melo did the opposite. The offense stalled more than ever with Melo taking contested jumper after contested jumper, missing most of them and complaining for foul calls. He even had five turnovers, an unusual development for the Knicks superstar.  The Knicks had some beef with the refs, especially on one particular play where Chandler got an and-one put back and the refs called the foul before the shot and a technical on Woodson (a 4 point swing), but the real problem was the uncharacteristic offense. The Knicks somehow stayed within striking distance, despite the ineptitude on the offense end, until the last few minutes. The Knicks ended the half as poor as they could, with Pierce hitting contested threes and Green running all over the Knicks in transition. A steal by Bradley on the inbound leading to a Pierce three and the Celtics were suddenly up 19 at half.

3rd Quarter: The Knicks played much better defense in the third quarter, even before they made a run. At least it seemed that way. Maybe it was because the Celtics were hitting an unsustainable number of jumpers (for them) in the first half. Melo shot a little better in the third and the Knicks cut the lead slightly. They probably could have cut the lead more if Pablo Prigioni took some of the wide open threes the Celtics were giving him. Doc Rivers is a great coach, and it seems the Celtics were taking advantage of Pabl’s hesitation to shoot. Still, Prigioni was very valuable in moving the ball and defensively. Notably, Prigioni stole the ball on the inbounds before getting fouled hard by Jason Terry (initially ruled a flagrant). The Knicks got the better of some rough calls to put the Celtics (particularly KG and Bass) to put the Celtics in foul trouble. The foul trouble allowed the Knicks to go small, really small when Melo left the game. The lineup of Felton-Prigioni-Kidd-Shumpert-Martin went on a huge run with Felton as the catalyst, scoring 16 in the quarter on 5-8 shooting including a buzzer beating three to put the Knicks within 3 going into the final quarter.

4th Quarter: The Knicks stuck with the four guard lineup to begin the fourth and it continued to pay off when Prigioni got a steal and an easy layup which he inexplicably passed up to try and draw an and-one and subsequently got blocked. The offense stalled again before Melo was reinserted. And when Melo came back in, the Knicks stopped moving the ball… again. The Knicks grinded out some tough defense, led by Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert (who had a banner game with excellent defense and twelve rebounds), enough to overcome the offensive ineptitude. The Knicks tied the game on an Iman Shumpert three (on a great Melo pass) and a Melo driving layup with 3:33 remaining. The last three minutes were filled with bad shooting and isolations for both teams. While the Celtics couldn’t buy a shot, the Knicks ran isolation after isolation. Carmelo Anthony, a normally clutch player, missed about 5 or 6 clutch shots, a few of which were wide open. He even missed consecutive free throws at one point. When the Knicks finally ran a pick and roll, Felton nailed a twenty foot jumper to give the Knicks their first lead. But it was short-lived as KG missed a clutch 17 footer. After Melo and Pierce traded misses, the game went into overtime.

Overtime: The overtime period was very apropos of what the story of this game will be. After the teams traded buckets for the first three minutes, Jason Terry took over the game. While the Knicks ran some horrible offensive sets, Terry scored 9 points in 2 minutes. It was certainly some retribution for Terry, who has basically contributed nothing all season and was the player who took the elbow from JR Smith that made Game 4 competitive. The Celtics won the game 97-90 to stay alive and force game 5 in MSG.

Raymond Felton deserves praise for his outstanding performance. While the Knicks were without their second best scorer and their best scorer was having an all-time bad performance (more on that later), Felton stepped up and carried the Knicks back in the game. He has been outstanding the entire series, and is realistically the difference between these two teams.Also deserving credit goes to Iman Shumpert who played an excellent game, especially late. I find myself disappointed that Shumpert never gets a chance to play in crunch time, and sometimes find myself wondering if he should play late in games over Jason Kidd, who contributed very little today. Shump certianly backed that up. Tyson Chandler also looked much better defensively in this game; he needs to get more involved in the offense however.

Now onto the story of this game: Carmelo Anthony. Obviously, this game does not define his legacy, but Melo certainly gave his critics some great material to work without. Melo could not hit an outside shot the entire night and consistently stalled the offense. It is one thing to struggle shooting, but many of his shots were outside the flow of the offense. Anthony seemed to be psyching himself out or something, whether it was due to the chance to sweep or absence of JR Smith, remains unclear. He even had 7 turnovers, something that puts him in an infamous category. Since 1985-86, no player has ever had 35 or more field goal attempts with 10 or less makes and 7 or more turnovers. It is not bashing Melo to say this game was historically bad. From a purely statistical standpoint, it was.

So, yeah, the Celtics picked up a win and extended the series.It took Melo having his worst game this season and JR being suspended for them to do it, but the Celtics beat the Knicks. It’s too early to assume the Knicks will win game 5; the Knicks offense has been off the entire season. However, it is just as unreasonable to suggest that the Celtics are suddenly “back”. You don’t want to give a team like the Celtics new life, but nothing nothing that happened today suggests the Celtics can beat the Knicks three games in a row. If the Knicks play like this again on Wednesday, then we might have a series. For now, let’s just call this game an outlier.