Fears of a seemingly inevitable implosion are fair at this point. Losing one game, on the road, to a veteran team facing elimination – well, that’s OK. Losing a second game in a row, on your homecourt – scary. Doing so after self-imposed blustering of what-if sweeps and opponent funerals. Unbearable.
Yes, despite the Knicks’ brazen boasts that tonight would be the end of Celtics’ series, it was quite the opposite. The Knicks are heading into the hostile home of an opponent they’ve let back into a seemingly done-and-dead series. A poor, stagnant offensive performance and too-little-too-late defensive boost put the Knicks in a hole too deep. There were several ill-fated attempts to come back – a few stops, followed by quick free throws or made baskets – but the Celtics had the assassin-like answer for each and everyone of these attempts. Now the Knicks must head up to Boston for Game 6 this Friday and try to steal one or else come back to New York facing the frightening prospects of becoming the first team to lose after leading a series 3-0.
The shocking part of this loss is the way the Knicks cooked their way to an early 11-0 lead. They came out with the clamps on a jumper-happy Boston offense and took advantage of the initial penetration opened up by Raymond Felton-Tyson Chandler pick-and-rolls. A Pablo Prigioni three-pointer, Felton curl and elbow jumper, Iman Shumpert driving layup, Carmelo Anthony blow-by for a dunk – the Knicks’ offense was diverse and seemingly well-oiled. An early regrouping from Boston changed all of that, though.
It began with Brandon Bass leaking out in transition and making smart cuts to the basket off the double-team attention given to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Bass scored nine of the Celtics’ first 11 points and seemed to open the whole thing up. Boston began exploiting mismatches with Garnett and Pierce, they quickened the tempo, moved the ball, and began to get the shots they wanted. Meanwhile, after ‘Melo briefly cooked the Celtics on jumpers and dribble drives, the Knicks got stagnant, plagued especially by a wildly inaccurate J.R. Smith forcing shot attempts.
After beginning 11-0, Boston out-scored the Knicks, 20-11 the rest of the quarter. New York led 22-20 after the first.
The Knicks’ opening quarter lineup (part of a long line of questionable calls from Mike Woodson) hurt them. Kenyon Martin more or less got abused by Garnett, while on offense, the trio of Jason Kidd, Prigioni, and Smith failed to create any flow or momentum. Chandler and Anthony were quickly brought into the game, but the Celtics had already figured out their own attack: a quicker pace, more rapid ball movement, and continually taking advantage of the Knicks’ slow double-teams and poor rotations thereafter.
The Knicks fought for awhile, though. While Anthony and Smith remained ineffective, Felton’s basket-bound barrels were successful, and Chandler fought admirably on the boards to keep possessions alive. However, a late surge by the Celtics, and a collective fart by the Knicks, turned a back-and-forth, one- or two-point game into a sizable lead for Boston.
A turnover by Smith and missed layup, missed layups from Felton and Anthony, a shot-clock violation, in addition to free throws, layup, and a Jason Terry three blew the lead up to seven at the end of the first half. Boston led 46-39.
Despite a far better offensive performance in the third quarter (or at least a better offensive game plan), the Celtics’ offense was just better. Some of it was the Knicks’ fault, as they sent more shaky double-teams and consequently missed rotations, leaving shooters open. Other times, however, no matter, the coverage, the Celtics found a way to beat it. This was especially the case in a few laughable, bang-your-head-against-wall, turn-around, fade-away jumpers from Paul Pierce along the baseline and beyond the arc. Even when the Knicks closed out hard on Jason Terry, the Celtics’ shots were falling. Terry and Pierce combined for 18 of Boston’s 24 third-quarter points.
For the Knicks, the combined ineptitude of Anthony and Smith (who was oddly checked in less than four minutes into the quarter) was unlike anything they’ve demonstrated during the season. No matter the shot, range, or coverage, neither player could find nylon. Instead, the Knicks’ offense came almost solely from the unstoppable dribble penetration of Raymond Felton. Felton, whose been arguably the Knicks’ best player in the series, continued his stellar play by repeatedly torching any Celtic covering him. Off Chandler picks or his own handles, Felton dashed his way to the basket for layups on all angles, earning himself eight points and a lob assist in the quarter.
However, the Knicks closed the quarter poorly again, having not gained any ground on the Celtics, and by leaving Jason Terry open for another three-pointer, which he sank. Boston led 69-60 going into the fourth quarter.
Things got worse before they even got marginally better. From the end of the third quarter to the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, the Knicks didn’t score a point. On field goal attempts alone, the Knicks’ play-by-play at the start of the quarter goes as follows:
Smith 3pt shot: missed, Kidd driving jump shot: missed, Anthony driving layup shot: missed, Smith step back jump shot: missed.
Meanwhile, six quick points for the Celtics, punctuated by a slam by Jeff Green put the Knicks’ in a 15-point hole. The Knicks’ comeback attempts in response were highlighted by suddenly staunch defense led by Shumpert. Though the Celtics’ own suddenly lackluster offense helped the Knicks’ cause, Shumpert played
aggressive nay, ferocious, tight defense on Pierce, prompting other Knicks to increase ball pressure and attack the glass hard. Though New York’s offense never untangled itself, they drew fouls, stopped the clock, and tried to trickle away the lead with free throws.
However, the attempts were for naught. Several times the Knicks chipped away at the lead, but the Celtics had answers. First, after cutting it to eight points, a Brandon Bass spinning layup and Terry three pushed it back to 13. Later, back-to-back Jeff Green three-pointers kept the Celtics lead at 12. Then, when the Knicks made it a five-point game from quick baskets by ‘Melo and Smith, Garnett answered with a mid-range jumper with less than a minute to go.
- There’s a lot of debate as to whether the Knicks’ funeral talk and wearing black to a game really affected anything. To me, it had a psychological effect on the Celtics and it relaxed New York too much. Trash-talking with such bravado doesn’t have a place in a 3-1 series, especially for a team that hasn’t gotten out of the first round in over a decade.
- Carmelo Anthony’s shot was astray after the first quarter, but his aggressiveness waned, too. At times, he forced, and other times, he was too reluctant to attack. Over the last two games, he’s a combined 18-59 from the field – 30.5%.
- Let’s quickly acknowledge Felton. 21 points, 10-19 FG, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 TOs. He’s been the best Knick in this series, but that’s not the formula for winning. He needs to be the second or third best player, and Anthony and Smith haven’t stepped up.
- And yeah, hey, maybe a little less J.R. Smith? Perhaps he was rusty, just out-of-rhythm, or really, plain sucky – either way, Smith just brutalized the Knicks during his time on the floor. His shots almost never came in any kind of flow, and his 0-11 start was bringing up sour memories of a John Starks performance I don’t need to go to any length to explain. His third basket – one of three – came in the final seconds with the game’s fat already sealed.
- There was a post-game near-scuffle. Jordan Crawford – he of the DNP-CD tonight – can go back to the hole he crawled from. Luckily, the incident didn’t amount to anything.
- Hey, the Knicks’ bench was a combined -38 tonight!
- Marcus Camby played 58 seconds and he tipped a shot in. #SilverLinings
- Shumpert, in my opinion, played his best defense of his season tonight. He looked quick on his feet, hands-y, strong getting over screens, bumping players on dribble drives, and while he finished with 3 steals, he nearly came up with about three or four others on 50-50 balls. #ShumpertLinings
That’s it for now. Game 6 in Boston on Friday will not be a sane time or place for me and many other Knicks fans, I imagine.