Licenses to kill are a funny thing. On one hand, those who hold them are empowered to eliminate threats at will without fear of consequence. On the other, meting out the ultimate justice requires patience, discretion and steely professionalism. And so it was yesterday at the World’s Most Famous Arena, where Carmelo Anthony played the role of spy, marksman and superhero all rolled into one, vanquishing – if only temporarily – the evil Miami Heat in sometimes gut-wrenching, incessantly heart-stopping fashion. Of course, he wasn’t alone.
Truth be told, the Garden-faithful got this one right during the player introductions. First there were the not-quite-unbridled cheers for Anthony – and let’s be honest, the inciting commentary-at-large on ‘Melo since Game 3 convinced many to grab their pitchforks – followed immediately by a deafening roar for one Amar’e Stoudemire, whose near-miraculous return from the self-inflicted near-amputation of his left hand could not possibly have gone any better. In reality, it was STAT’s performance that keyed the Knicks’ victory. But more important than allocating credit, New York’s two oft-vilified “superstars” – just this once – should be equally praised for treating Gotham to what it has expected and pleaded for all along: unity.
In many ways, yesterday’s Game 4 was the perfect microcosm of this inexplicably wacky New York Knicks season. All the requisite elements were in play. There were indescribable highs and mind-numbing lows. There were
heroic surprising returns from injury and a horrific stretcher-ride off the floor. The future of the coach was at risk and then likely secured, all within a few minutes during the fourth quarter. Not surprisingly, there was also enough tension in the air to strain the structural integrity of the Garden itself. And in the end, the narrative was defined by a missed desperation-three by the opposition’s infamous mercenary, a shot, had it gone in, that would have assassinated the Knicks’ season.
Now the Knicks take their talents to South Beach, and though the odds that this series finds its way back to New York for a Game 6 may be long, Knicks fans can be proud of their highly paid action stars for a few days, particularly the guy with 007 stitched onto his jersey.
As for Game 5, maybe the Knicks can give new meaning to the words “You Only Live Twice.”
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- Stoudmire (20 points, 10 rebounds) isn’t a perfect basketball player. We know that. He doesn’t — either because he can’t or won’t — defend his or any other position. He rebounds occasionally, but for a player with his size, quickness and athleticism, you would think that he would be much better at it. He doesn’t possess a particularly impressive basketball IQ. (Just ask Mike D’Antoni.) But despite his flaws, there is just something about Amar’e that keeps us coming back for more. Wheras Anthony can be aloof, almost too cool for school, Stoudemire wears his heart on his sleeve. He makes you believe that he is trying and that he genuinely cares about the outcome. So kudos, Amar’e, for your performance yesterday. We all noticed those hustle plays, those seemingly countless And-1’s, and how emotionally invested you were. You could have sat this one out on account of the dozen gruesome stitches in your left hand, but instead you chose to play — despite the legitimate risk that you might have embarrassed himself out there and made what had been a bad situation heading into Game 4 even worse. Yes, ‘Melo carried the team, but without your “Willis Bleed” moment, the Knicks’ season is over yesterday. One other thing, Amar’e. Your play in Game 4 begs the question: How good could you be if both of your hands were wrapped?
- ‘Melo (41 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, just 1 turnover) was absolutely unconscious yesterday during the second half. He dropped scored 23 points after halftime (12 in the fourth quarter), including a 3-pointer over Shane Battier that made it 87-84 with 54 seconds to go. But oh, how things might have been different. After getting fouled on a 3-point-attempt with just 25.9 seconds on the clock, Anthony missed 2-of-3 free throws, extending the Knicks’ lead to just 88-84. That margin was then immediately cut to one by LeBron James on the ensuing Miami possession. Just imagine if Miami had won the game. Actually, don’t imagine that, it’s just far too scary to think about the back pages of New York’s tabloids in that scenario. In any case, Anthony routinely “does this” sort of thing so I guess no one should be surprised. As far as I am concerned, though, ‘Melo would take a lot less heat in this town if his production were not so schizophrenic from game to game. It just feels like it’s all or nothing with him, whereas James, for example, manages to contribute to his team’s efforts even when his shot isn’t falling.
- Thank you, Erik Spoelstra for deploying Battier on ‘Melo. Though LeBron has held Anthony to just 29% shooting during the series, comapred with 53% when Battier defends him, the Miami coach decided to outsmart himself yesterday during the second half. Yay!
- The Knicks probably managed to secure Mike Woodson a new contract. A sweep would have left everyone with a bad taste in their mouths, but now — given that Tyson Chandler was a shell of himself in Game 1, Iman Shumpert was lost to a season-ending knee injury in the same game, and Stoudemire was MIA due to MMA in Game 3 — it is far easier to make the case that Woodson should be judged more for the team’s performance after Mike D’Antoni’s
ousterresignation than the ultimate outcome of this series.
- Mike Bibby was reportedly seen leaving MSG with a game-ball tucked under his arm and a well-deserved game-ball ’twas! It’s just too bad that no one will ever get to admire his Game 4 trophy, what with him living in a crypt and all. Ol’ Man Bibby is going to have to play major minutes for what’s left of this series. Yesterday’s feel good story aide, that is not ideal going forward no matter how much Woodson loves his veteran presence.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- Poor Baron Davis. Boom Dizzle slipped while driving to the basket on a fastbreak midway through the third quarter — replays revealed Miami’s players recoiling at the injury, later diagnosed as a dislocated right patella. As fans chanted “Ba-ron Da-vis, Ba-ron Da-vis,” he acknowledged the Garden crowd with his fist in the air, but it’s hard to think that his career isn’t in now serious jeopardy. Crazy as it seems, Davis was actually being described as a savior back in January — before Linsanity struck — and though his play was uneven and mostly dreadful, you could tell that it wasn’t for lack of trying.
- Speaking of Jeremy Lin, I wouldn’t expect miracles in Game 5. He may suit up for limited minutes, but from what I have heard of his play thus far in practice, he isn’t nearly ready to make a legitimate impact right now, especially given the intensity of playoff basketball. Might that mean we will see some Toney Douglas? Well, we are in the “What Went Wrong” section aren’t we?
- Fouls are a part of the game — and the officiating was balanced yesterday — but seriously? Really? The zebras saw fit to call 55 personal fouls in Game 4, which works out roughly to one personal per every .06358 seconds. Come on now, this is the playoffs. As a matter of fact, if the officials are so intent on calling fouls, how about a technical or two on James and/or Dwyane Wade? I have never seen such blatant whining as is on display each and every time the whistle blows agaisnt Miami’s superstars.
- It’s not a game story unless J.R. Smith (7 points on 3-for-15 shooting, 1-for-8 from long-range) appears somewhere in this section. We’ve discussed this ad nauseum already, but he was positively Starksian out there yesterday afternoon. Yuck, I cannot spend another minute or waste another word on him. Oh, kinda like him for 20 points and a game-winner in Game 5, too.
- The Knicks bench could not beat the University of Kentucky right now. Steve Novak played just 15 minutes and managed to get all of two shot attempts off. He has taken just nine shots in the entire series! I realize that Miami has made a concerted effort to drape him with coverage, but that’s no excuse. Whether it’s Novak’s inability to get open or Woodson’s lack of imagination in getting him involved, the Knicks are missing a major offensive weapon despite being ravaged by injury to other key players. This makes no sense at all.
- Speaking of not enough shots, Chandler (2 points, 9 rebounds, 4 turnovers and another technical foul) also had but two attempts in Game 4. Sure, the Knicks don’t run any plays for the Big Fella, and that’s probably wise, but he is an effective finisher and was open a number of times yesterday. The man is 7’0 tall. He can dunk and stuff. He can demoralize the opposition with his ferocity around the rim. Memo to Knicks: fix this!
- The Knicks finally broke their ignominous streak 13 consecutive playoffs losses, now an NBA record!
- The aforementioned Shumpert, fresh off Wednesday’s successful surgery to repair ACL and meniscus tears in his knee, was in attendance yesterday. “It’s definitely going to set me back,” said Shumpert. “I’m not worried. I’ll figure it out. The biggest thing is just coming back healthy. Not trying to come back too early.”
- Rumor has it Mike D’Antoni was spotted in a New Orleans basement yesterday choosing which Knick player voodoo doll to play with next.
- New York Giants star wideouts Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nix sat courtside yesterday. Both were wearing knee braces, just in case.
- Up next for the Knicks: Game 5, Wednesday night in Miami (time TBD).
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Special thanks to Jonah Kaner (@TheKnicksWall) for the image above.