Well that sucked.
Despite a stupendous first-half performance by the Knickerbockers, a combination of horrendous officiating, puzzling in-game strategy, and a lack of focus in the fourth quarter led to a demoralizing loss to the Celtics in Boston last night.
So what went right?
Amar’e. The man was an absolute beast (28 points, 11 rebounds) — taking over the game during the fourth quarter, and further solidifying his ownership and leadership of the franchise. Not only did he score at will against Kevin Garnett, but he made “Da Kid” work hard on the offensive end.
Defensive intensity. The Knicks came to play, period. They were active for virtually the entire game, and aside from a brief stretch in the third quarter, they kept a hand in the Celtics’ faces all night.
Reserves. New York’s bench deserves praise for their effort in Game 1, specifically Bill Walker, Ronny Turiaf, and — wait for it — Jared Jefferies. Walker played critical first-half minutes when Carmelo Anthony inexcusbaly picked up two personal fouls within 90 seconds of tip-off, Turiaf added 9 points and 4 rebounds in almost 30 minutes of burn, and Jefferies managed 9 boards in just 19 minutes. The Knicks will need these three — and a mostly invisible thus far Shawne Williams — to keep doing what they do if this series is to remain competitive.
So what went wrong?
‘Melo. I guess I’m in the minority that thinks Anthony just had a bad game. Early foul trouble foreshadowed that it might not be his night, but he still managed to score 12 points by the half. That’s where the good news ended though, as he’d finish the contest shooting 5-for-18, with more turnovers (5) than rebounds (4). Sure, the phantom offensive foul called against him with under a minute to go wasn’t his fault, but Anthony’s unwillingness to take the ball to the hole may be bad news for the Knicks if the trend continues. Perhaps ‘Melo’s 3-point shooting prowess late in the regular season has him thinking he’s a marksman. Memo to ‘Melo: You’re not. Get to the line, my friend. Get to the line.
Rebounding. As usual, the Knicks spent all night watching the beautiful arc of the Celtics’ shots flying through the air instead of finding an opponent to box out. Boston failed to capitalize on numerous second-chance opportunities, a fact that isn’t likely to repeat itself going forward. It may be time for General Manager Donnie Walsh to call Nike and get some Wide Receiver stickem for his players’ stone-hands.
Chauncey Billups. Not only was he having a mostly dreadful game — looking old, shooting poorly (3-for-11), unable to play uptempo — but Chauncey’s knee injury could cost him the rest of the series and signal the end of his brief Knick career. Flaws and all, Billups is/was an absolutely indispensable piece of the Knicks’ already thin puzzle.
Late-game coaching. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a D’Antoni supporter, even though I am not convinced that his system can ultimately win a NBA Championship. I stand by last night’s assertion that he is 99.9% likely to return as head coach next year, regardless of what happens with Walsh. That said, you cannot allow the opposition to score on an inbound Alley-oop. You just can’t. You also cannot gamble with your timeouts in a playoff scenario. Sure, MDA got burned by having to use a TO when Chauncey Billups went down, but still. Finally, when your on-fire franchise player is dominating the opposition during the entire fourth quarter, it is inexcusable that he doesn’t even touch the basketball on your final seven possessions. It doesn’t matter what the defense is doing.
THE OFFICIATING. If I were to write everything that I really think about how the referees blew last night’s game, David Stern might call my editor. Let’s just say if that Kevin Garnett didn’t commit an offensive foul against Tony Douglas — he did — than how can you call an offensive foul against Carmelo as he jostled for position with an equally physical Paul Piece.
What’s done is done. Billups may be lost, Carmelo has to look in the mirror, and the Knicks need to win Game 2 if they are to have a chance to push the series to six or seven games. In just over 24 hours, we are going to find out just how much heart this New York team has.
Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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