While the New York Knicks put up a game fight in their 87-85 Game One loss to the Boston Celtics, too many players failed to rise to the playoff occasion. Comparatively, while the Celtics were sluggish and lethargic over the first half, many players made enough critical plays down the stretch to secure a Celtics win.
Let’s take a look then at Game One’s heroes and goats, saving the good guys for last.
Aside from a small flurry in the second quarter, and some success on transition screen/rolls in the second half, Anthony was a total non-factor—5-18 FG, 4 AST, 5 TO, 15 PTS. He took himself out of the game early with two early fouls in the game’s first two minutes, and shot the Knicks out of the game late with a John Starksian performance.
His second half numbers were especially egregious—1-11 FG, 2 AST, 2 TO, 3 PTS. Anthony’s proclivity for one-on-one basketball plays right into Boston’s overload defensive hands, which combined with strong individual defense neutralized Anthony.
‘Melo isolated Pierce five times in the second half, missing four shots and getting ripped with 1:30 to go. He also isolated Green once and Allen once, missing both shots.
‘Melo was blocked by Jermaine O’Neal on a rub cut to the basket, missed both his catch-and-shoot opportunities, and committed an offensive foul by discarding Paul Pierce with his left arm late in the game.
His only made basket came on a transition put back (he was 1-2 in transition, missing a layup), and his other point came on an early screen/roll where he was fouled (and only made 1-2 attempts).
The worst part is that, despite being a very talented passer, ‘Melo massages the ball before entering into any offensive move. This allows defenses to load up their help, and prevents teammates who rely on timing and execution to have any chance of succeeding. Look, for example, at how Landry Fields has turned from a role-playing savant to an afterthought in two short months.
And it isn’t as if ‘Melo made up for his poor play with championship defense, not when he was completely unaware of Pierce cutting behind a baseline screen, closing out late, sloppy, and fouling him on a three-pointer.
Looking at ‘Melo’s body of work in the clutch, we see him getting stripped by Pierce, committing an offensive foul, and jacking up a 30 footer with time left on the clock.
Just as in Denver, ‘Melo still hasn’t shown the ability to adapt his game when faced with a difficult defense, to make snappy decisions, and to not check out mentally in crucial situations.
Billups launched four too-quick shots (of which he only made one), hit only one of his seven shots in the second half, and is another isolation enabler. Shame, because the few times Billups was aggressive in screen/rolls usually led to successful Knicks possessions.
The Knicks defensive rebounders
Of the 36 live-ball rebounding opportunities off of missed Celtics shots, the Knicks allowed Boston to grab 15 of them. Stoudemire, Turiaf, and Williams were destroyed on the boards, and the Knicks guards and wings seldom dropped down to help.
Davis deserves a goat horn for running his mouth and not backing it up—1-8 FG. Davis has too much movement in his lower body when he shoots which hurts his jump shot and has caused him to be increasingly ineffective as the season has come along. Also, while Davis was rarely matched up with Amar’e Stoudemire, he was part of a unit that allowed Amar’e to score 28 points on 12-18 shooting.
Give the refs half a goat horn. While the call on ‘Melo was the absolutely correct one, how could they swallow their tongues on Kevin Garnett’s hip check on Ray Allen’s clutch triple? Knicks fans have a right to be upset on that particular double standard though the Knicks had plenty of chances to not put themselves in that situation.
After an innocuous first half, Allen saved the Celtics with his sweet second-half shooting. Not only did he rattle in his threes—3-5 3FG—but he hit several difficult shots in traffic at the basket. And of course, his trifecta with 12 seconds to go was the difference in the game. Winning players find ways to make shots late in games. Whereas Anthony played like a loser, Allen is a consummate winner.
Shades of Rasheed Wallace, O’Neal’s Game One performance was perhaps his best game of the season. He provided timely help defense blocking four shots, drew a charge, and hit all six of his short jumpers. He also, surprisingly, set several solid screens that freed up Allen for jumpers. If his man defense was only average-at-best, he was a key component to the Celtics bottling up Anthony.
The Celtics offensive rebounders
Garnett, O’Neal, and Rondo dominated the Knicks on the glass. When they couldn’t grab rebounds outright, Garnett and O’Neal were backtapping loose balls to teammates, and the Celtics’ guards were more active in securing long offensive rebounds while the Knicks were racing up the floor in transition. In the second half, the Celtics appeared to grab all the "50-50" balls that were available.
Give Stoudemire half a hero’s halo. Operating out of the high post, Stoudemire dominated the Celtics in isolations where he was too quick for Garnett, O’Neal, or Davis to handle. Amar’e was also able to get open looks curling off screens, was active on defense blocking a pair of shots, and thoroughly outplayed Garnett in his individual matchup. He still doesn’t box out on the defensive glass though, which was a key factor in the Celtics securing 15 offensive rebounds.
He can’t run an offense or play positional defense, but he has a habit of hitting pressure shots in pressure situations. Before Allen’s three, Douglas’ step-back triple of his own stood to be the difference maker.
Rivers made all the correct adjustments down the stretch. His play calling late in the fourth generated five points off sideline-out-of-bounds plays with mere seconds ticking off the clock. When Jared Jeffries was bothering Rondo’s inbounds passing, he correctly substituted Allen as the inbounder, trusting that Allen would still be able to set the necessary screen then curl around a second screen from his inbound position rather than the corner.
Rivers’ also ran more plays for Allen, had Rondo cut more after making his entry passes rather than standing along the perimeter, and never overreacted to Anthony’s presence by double teaming. Most importantly, he roused the club from a first half slumber and had the Celtics executing in the second half.
Sprint screen/fade with the screener receiving a brush screen on the wing
The play call of the game. In the second quarter, D’Antoni had ‘Melo sprint to the top of the key to set a screen for Billups. While Pierce had to show for a tick on Billups, ‘Melo continued around a Stoudemire screen at the elbow and found himself wide open for a triple.
Rivers used the very same play on Allen’s game winner. With Pierce at the top of the key with the ball, Allen sprinted to the top to set a screen for Pierce. Douglas had to show for a split second on Pierce while Garnett drifted to the elbow. Allen continued off of Garnett, Douglas wound up trailing and screened off by Garnett, Turiaf’s show was soft, and Allen wound up with a wide open look which he calmly sank.
The Knicks have proven time and again that they can go toe-to-toe with the Celtics, while Boston’s resolve under pressure has always kept the Knicks a step behind. Still, the two teams are very evenly matched and have shown a proclivity towards playing nail-biting contests with each other. Regardless of who eventually wins or loses, if the series continues its recent trends, basketball junkies will be treated to a wonderful show of exciting, competitive basketball for five, possibly even six more games.