This image pretty much sums up how things went for the Knickerbockers against the Celtics last night — Carmelo unable to escape Boston’s suffocation, and Mike D’Antoni left to helplessly watch his inept and/or inferior club get annihilated by the opposition.
When I sat down this morning to sum up my thoughts and impressions about yet another Knick debacle, I realized that everything I wanted to say had already been articulately presented elsewhere — specifically by @bandwagonknick of bandwagonknick.com. So if you’re not already following him on Twitter, or you haven’t already bookmarked his site, you’re missing out on some really great content.
The Celtics flexed their muscles, simplified their offense, and took it right at the Knicks from the beginning in Game 3, like a championship team should. The Knicks hoped they could stand up to the Celtics the way they did the first two games, riding an incredible wave of energy from a hyped up MSG crowd watching their first playoff game in seven years.
Instead, the Knicks were severely lacking in the energy, talent, and muscle departments. Not only did they have to play with a sub-optimal Amare Stoudemire (pulled back muscle), but the entire Knick team may as well have been playing with pulled muscles. They looked a bit overwhelmed by the moment, and even when they regained their bearings after a rough start, they couldn’t get critical breaks or overcome the talent and experience deficit that finally imposed itself on a game in this series…
…The coaches had a real dilemma once it became apparent that Amare’s offensive contributions were going to be limited, if not irrelevant: should they play him so that he could at least draw attention on offense and free up opportunities for his teammates, at the risk of his defense hurting the team even more? I think Amare had to at least play in the first half to see if he could loosen up with some game action and make an impact, but in the second half, I might have been tempted to sit him and go with Shawne Williams instead…
…Carmelo came down significantly from this 42 point effort in Game 2, and nobody should have been surprised. The Celtics were caught off guard in Game 2 by the unusual lineups the Knicks ran out with the absence of Stoudemire and Billups, but with two days of preparation, they were able to gear their defense in Game 3 toward limiting Melo’s opportunities. The most successful adjustment the Celtics made was to keep Rondo closer to Melo on several possessions to limit his ability to get off three pointers and to disrupt his drives; when Melo attempted to post up, Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal kept an eye on him as well to limit his spins toward the basket…
On defense, Melo’s bad habits contributed to Amare being exposed — if Amare is moving poorly, Melo needs to fight harder through screens to close out on shooters instead of calling for a switch at the first opportunity. Two of Pierce’s jumpers were a result of the “quick wave” Melo is infamous for on defense…
…I mentioned in my notes prior to the start of the series that Douglas and Turiaf, in particular, would be two of the most crucial role players for the Knicks. They were both disappointing beyond even what i would have expected against a superior opponent like the Celtics… Turiaf continues to deal with various nagging injuries that limit him to one or two good games in succession before his body betrays him, and that may be what happened last night, as he picked up two fouls quickly and never came close to making the impact he did in Game 1.
As far as Fields, everyone knows his head is in a bad place now. Anthony’s arrival obviously affected his game, but in this playoff series, he is missing the simplest opportunities, and he’s pressing so badly he can’t even make free throws. Yet he remains the only wing that can really guard Ray Allen with some modicum of effectiveness with his length. He should still get some minutes off the bench, but he should not start in Game 4.
New Coach Next Year?: This is a discussion I have little appetite for on my best days, as I’ve always felt coaches get a little too much credit and blame for small things perceived to have seismic impact, when the execution of the players on the floor is far more impactful. But it seems to be all-consuming for many fans seeking a scapegoat for how things have progressed in this series — despite the fact that many picked the Celtics in five or six (at most), and that’s with a fully healthy Knick roster.
My position has always been that Coach D’Antoni can’t be fairly evaluated with all the changes and injuries that have made continuity with this roster a near impossibility for the last two months (and last three years), and that he should be retained for next year. And frankly, I find a lot of the nitpicking criticism of his tactical decisions overblown, inconsistent, and frequently rooted in misconceptions of his coaching style (If Doc Rivers’ sparkling playbook had been magically gifted to the Knick coaches in the closing seconds of Game 1 and 2, they still would have had to deal with the reality of multiple end-of-bench players on the floor). There are some legitimate discussions to be had about how this team will evolve in the off-season, and where/whether the coach fits in the long term vision, which I plan to eventually write about.
In the meantime, there’s a simple reality: the Celtics are a much better team, and speculating that things could be radically different if Corey Brewer were on this team or if Shelden Williams got more minutes doesn’t really do much to alter the facts on the ground. But I’ll acknowledge one reality: a Celtic sweep (which now looks very likely) does make it easier for Knick management to throw Walsh and D’Antoni out and start over with a different GM/coach combo in the name of “moving forward”. Again, i don’t think this is the wise path, but it does become a more distinct possibility which will gain traction and volume from the tabloids and drive by columnists. I can say I don’t care or don’t believe anything will happen, but the noise level will certainly rise in the next week, and bears watching.
Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images