Man oh man, did that hurt. I feel what Bridgeloan felt in the game thread. I've got feverish joint aches, a gurgling tummy, and a head swollen with pent-up tears. It's a privilege to feel this awful, though, as silly as that sounds. We''ll take pain over apathy at this time of year, right? So there's your "Welcome to the Playoffs. You'll feel things" prelude. Now, let's recap the painful game that was.
New York played a pretty splendid first half. (Kinda wish this was a 14-half series.) They scrambled like madmen defensively, deflecting passes, contesting inside shots, and helping one another at a playoff level. Ronny Turiaf set the tone on that front, roaming the entire paint and swatting damn near everybody without fouling. New York's offense struggled in the first quarter, as Carmelo Anthony took to the bench with two early fouls. A few buckets from Amar'e Stoudemire and a big boost off the bench from Bill Walker were enough to supplement the Knick defense, and they were down just one after twelve slow, somewhat sloppy minutes.
The second quarter was just marvelous. Though they gave up second chances, the Knicks held Boston to just fifteen points in the period by maintaining the same level of disruption around the basket and allowing the Celtics to miss jumpers. Meanwhile, the offense shifted into gear and ran wild. Anthony returned to the game with sniper rifle (figuratively) in hand, draining several deep, reckless jumpers right off the bench. The team-wide ball movement hummed along wonderfully, and the Knicks pushed their lead to twelve at halftime.
We've seen New York play dominant first halves and lose, though. Hell, we've seen them do that against the Celtics more than once. Everybody and their pet iguana was praying the Knicks would turn over a new leaf in the postseason and stick it out for 48 minutes, but they very much did not. Not in this game. Suddenly, Boston became hot from outside, and anything they missed got put back by Jermaine O'Neal and friends. The Knicks, as they do, went completely stagnant on offense. After all the snappy passing earlier, everybody decided it'd be a great idea to pick their belly buttons. Guys stood around, stared at one another, then heaved bad shots when time ran out. Melo's perfectly capable of thriving even in that format, but he apparently ran his luck out in the first half and couldn't hit a thing after the break. Nothing we haven't seen before, really.
They stayed in it, though. The upset momentarily looked plausible when Toney Douglas, manning the point after Chauncey Billups hurt his knee, drained a cold-blooded three to put the Knicks up three with 37 seconds to go. Unfortunately, that was the end for the Knicks. They lost Kevin Garnett on an inbound alley-oop. Carmelo Anthony got whistled for a push-off. Ray Allen drilled a three-pointer while Douglas struggled to recover. Without any timeouts, Melo got the ball with time winding down and missed a heavily contested three-pointer to lose the game. 1-0, Celtics.
Take the jump for elaboration on the above.
- To get it out of the way, there were some questionable calls and non-calls down the stretch. Whatever Melo did to Paul Pierce was probably a foul, but no less a foul than Jermaine O'Neal's violence on the play that injured Billups or Kevin Garnett's trip of Toney Douglas before the Ray Allen three. If you're going to call one iffy foul, it'd be nice to call the others. It's not worth whining about, though. The refs didn't lose the Knicks this game, and you can be certain New York will get some calls when the series moves to MSG. I'm past it.
- Amar'e Stoudemire did some absolutely absurd things in this game. Overall, it was a pretty great evening: 28 points on 18 shots, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks, and slightly less hideous defense than we're used to. Those numbers fail to capture Amar'e's sheer will in the fourth quarter, though. In an early fourth quarter stretch, Stoudemire put in a spinning, double-clutching, up-and-under layup in traffic, blocked a shot, (committed a questionable charge), and put one DOWN on Jermaine O'Neal and Kevin Garnett. (Yeah, he traveled. Whatevz.) Sadly, Amar'e didn't have the opportunity to make plays in the final minutes. By some combination of Knick design, Boston defense, and poor execution, Stoudemire didn't take any of the final shots. He hardly saw the ball.
- And then there's Melo. When he received the ball with a few seconds left and a chance to tie or win, I was all like "wow, it would be VERY Melo to sink the big shot after sucking the whole second half", but he didn't. It ended up being a pair of quarters in which Anthony hit just one field goal (a put-back) and scored just three points. He was cookin' soup from outside in the first half, but it didn't feel sustainable and wasn't. Anthony attacked the basket only in spurts, and seemed hesitant to do so as the game progressed, perhaps because of several plays in which he was stripped and didn't get the calls he felt he deserved. 5-18 on the night, 2-8 from downtown, and just 15 points. He defended Paul Pierce decently, but got a bit lost when screens and switching took place. Nothing unusual there. I'm verrrrrry intrigued to see how he responds to this in game two.
- Chauncey Billups played a very bad game of basketball. Just awful. And it only got worse when he succumbed to a left knee strain in crunch time (I'm aware that that rings of "The food is terrible! And such small portions!"). Save for a couple of made jumpers, (one of which came immediately after I grumbled something about Billups playing like Chris Duhon) Chauncey was pretty much useless. He missed a number of those shots Knick fans have come to despise: chancy pull-ups in transition and off-balance forces more geared toward drawing a foul than finding the net. Billups didn't do much as a distributor, either, posting just 4 assists to 3 turnovers and working fruitlessly off the ball when Toney Douglas was in the game. I hope that Chauncey's injury isn't bad enough to keep him out of any games because he's Chauncey Billups and he's going to play better, but he hurt the Knicks in this one.
- Both Ronny Turiaf and Jared Jeffries played great defensive games. Though they got outworked on the defensive boards far too much, the two got their hands up, made deflections, and stopped folks at the rim quite a bit. The major discrepancy between the two was that Turiaf, as he occasionally does, proved effective as a screen-setter and basket-cutter. Running my beloved pick-and-roll with Stoudemire on the elbow as a distraction, Turiaf made great catches en route to the rim and either finished, got fouled, or both. Jeffries ran some of the same plays, but fucked up the finishes enough that the guards stopped looking his way and the Celtics felt comfortable helping off of him. During those offensive droughts, I would have liked to see Turiaf take to the floor. Having a guy out there whose screens do more than just drag an extra defender toward the ballhandler would have been nice. Jared did the things he does well, though, including five offensive rebounds.
- A lot of the above was written in a car. I don't suggest blogging in a moving vehicle. "Everything hurts" applies even more now.
- Speaking of people doing what they do, how about that shot by Toney Douglas? Apparently that gift for late-game, fuck-the-playbook-I-got-this threes off screens extends to the playoffs. I almost broke my hand celebrating that thing. Toney didn't do all that much else except struggle to defend Ray Allen.
- And hey, he didn't do a damn thing on offense, but Landry Fields was excellent against Allen in the first half. After Fields failed to get himself going offensively in the third quarter, he didn't see many more minutes, but his off-ball pursuit kept Allen to just three shot attempts before halftime.
- Overall, the defensive strategy on Rajon Rondo was to give him a ton of space, as you'd expect. Billups did most of the work, with moments of Douglas, Carter, and Jeffries sprinkled in (even a glimpse of zone, if my eyes didn't deceive me). To his credit, the little creep actually hit some jumpers. It seemed like most of his effective distributing came in transition, but that's also just my naked eye impression. The Knicks doubled off Rondo (usually on to Garnett) quite a bit early, but seemed to stray away from that later on, perhaps because there were less straightforward back-down sequences for KG.
- Not a good night for Glen Davis. Big Baby was the recipient of Amar'e Stoudemire's Malik Rose Memorial Chair Pull (he fell down, but managed not to commit a turnover) and got splatted on by Amar'e soon thereafter.
- Anthony Carter didn't hit his shots (1-4), but put in some pretty solid minutes as a help defender and antsy ballhandler.
- Shawne Williams didn't do much besides hit a biiiiiig corner three at the end of the third quarter (timely poopin'!). I guess it's weird to call anything "big" when the entire effort was ill-fated, but...ya know.
- No Shelden Williams. I don't remember seeing anything about it, but I guess that ankle's still bugging him?
- I expect to see the guards hanging back for rebounds a bit more in the next game. The Knicks mostly sucked at boxing out, but there were a number of occasions in which big men had inside position, but long rebounds caromed out to the free throw line, where Rajon Rondo et al were waiting. Boston was the league's worst offensive rebounding team in the regular season, but they pulled down 15 tonight.
Actually, I'm gonna cut myself off there because I need some sleep. We'll get into some things the Knicks need to improve on for game two (as well as, I'm sure, lots of links to smart things written by smart people) tomorrow afternoon. Tonight was heartbreaking. The Knicks had a golden chance to start things off on an unforeseen high note, but they got vastly out-executed in the game's most important moments. That said, they proved that they can compete on the road in the postseason and did so with very little help from two of their best players. THAT said, this is the playoffs, and there's really no time for back-patting. We know they can hang. Now they need to actually finish the job and get a win in game two. It's doable, even in Boston. We don't have to have to feel pain like this on Tuesday night.
There should be updates on the Billups injury tomorrow, so look out for those as well. Good night to all.