To be fair to the Knicks, they've played some fine games against the Celtics over the last few years, but I agree with DHP's comment from the game thread: The Celtics games that stand out are the rough, rowdy ones that end in heartbreak, and that's what this one was. The Knicks played some lovely stretches and held a couple decent-sized leads in the first half, but from halftime forward, they cracked in the face of increased pressure and a lot of touching. That's been typical of this year's Knicks: They're irascible, and they don't know how to channel their rage. Trap them, crowd them, and push them around a little bit and they'll plummet into petulant, haphazard play.
New York's collapse manifested in a couple different ways. Carmelo Anthony stood out as the sort of mascot of all the fussing and fighting. He'd been cold since tip-off, but his early troubles were characterized more by the inhospitality of the Boston defense and the rim and the refs than by any errors in approach. He attacked and attacked, but couldn't get even the best of looks to fall out of crowds. As Melo's done all year, he stayed composed through the poor shooting and tossed some terrific passes in transition and out of half-court doubles.
In the second half, Melo just lost his Funyuns. On defense, he got repeatedly switched onto Kevin Garnett (sneak preview of New York's other major second half downfall!) and accepted Garnett's invitation to wrestle. Grappling turned into shoving, which turned into barking, which turned into Melo playing with an irrepressible bloodlust that produced a couple made threes, but mostly bullish isolation and overzealous defense that bore no fruit. Just lots of bricks and slappy fouls. I don't blame Melo for wanting to throttle Garnett (and it sounds like he had that in mind after the game), nor would I be complaining had those pull-up threes dropped and the fouls gone uncalled, but Melo let fury commandeer his play and it drove him right out of the game (then to the door of the Celtic's locker room, then to their bus, then probably to Kevin Garnett's house later tonight. Melo wants a scalp). I want to know what Garnett said, because it must have been something truly odious to draw that kind of reaction from Melo.
Melo wasn't the only Knick sputtering on offense, he was just the most prominent one. J.R. Smith shot just 7-18 and the Knick point guards struggled to distribute out of Boston's relentless traps. Thirteen turnovers and no more than six shot attempts for any non-Melo, non-J.R. Knick describe New York's utter inability to generate good looks for one another. The guys who can create shots did so (and missed them) and the rest of 'em watched. That includes Tyson Chandler (4-6, pretty much nothing doing after the first quarter) and Amar'e Stoudemire (4-6), who both spent relatively long stints rolling to the rim unfed.
The Knicks managed to stay in the game despite pissing away one possession after another. They needed big stops to keep pace with Boston, but got very few. Pretty much every time down, the Celtics ran one pick to initiate a switch (I originally wrote "force", but the Knicks don't need to be forced to switch), then waited for the Knicks to bolster the switch with help so they could find an open man. I've said this a few times, but if Mike Woodson dislikes Melo on Garnett (or Chandler on Paul Pierce, or anybody on anybody they're not supposed to be guarding) so much that he compels Jason Kidd to double every time, then why allow that switch in the first place? I swear I saw some hedging/trapping on picks early in the game. Whatever it was, New York defended splendidly in the first quarter and not at all thereafter. Some of that was just guys getting beat (hi, Steve), much of it was the Knicks' own delusions of interchangeability foiling them once again.
'Twas a bummer of a game, and so typically Knicks-Celtics-y in its bummerment, right down to Pierce's step-back jumper and subsequent taunts of the MSG crowd. I loathe that simpering louse with every molecule of my being. I hate the Celtics.
Some other quick notes and details about individuals I didn't discuss much:
- I saw Amar'e play some great help D early, but he got caught helping away from Brandon Bass a few too many times late in the game. Offensively, I thought he improved a bit. He continued to have trouble driving baseline-- promising drives keep ending with him getting trapped under the rim-- but made up for it with a terrific first step and driving dunk up the middle. Hit his first normal-looking jumper of the season, too.
- So many Tyson Tap-Outs. Sad that a 17-rebound night ended up meaning nothing.
- Steve Novak hit all three of his threes, including one from like a furlong out, but gave up even more than that in the other direction. Every Celtic that ever met Novak-- Jeff Green in particular-- attacked him and most got at least a foul out of it.
- Bad, bad game for Pablo Prigioni. He was like 1 for 13 in decision-making out of the pick-and-roll, with the one being a wide open driving layup and the other dozen being standstill, out-of-rhythm threes and passes forced into the teeth of the defense.
- J.R. ended a rough night against Avery Bradley with Bradley headbutting him directly face. He missed one of two free throws with a headband stretched askew over the wound (Dr. Hinds's cure-all!), then got eleven stitches above his eye after the game.
- Unless this stuff with Melo waiting outside the Celtics' locker room/bus after the game is going to end with him getting suspended (which I doubt), I don't care. Kind of embarrassing for him, but whatever.
- I still hate how much he doubles off his man on defense, but Jason Kidd hit his threes (2-3) and did his darnedest to throw useful set-up passes through limited available avenues.
- On that note, Amar'e stayed on the floor with Melo and Chandler until the final seconds, which was both a bold offensive decision by Woodson (which failed) and an invitation for some defensive trouble. Not sure the fourth quarter of a close game against the Celtics is a good time to be futzing with the four-out spread pick-and-roll that's been serving the Knicks offense so well. I'm all for bits of Melo-Amar'e-Chandler experimentation, but that didn't turn out well on either end.
- Pablo got a technical! He got pissed at a bad call and gave the pelota a little kick. J.R. calmed him down. Even when I'm irritated with these Knicks, I love these Knicks.
- Co-opting an opponent's celebration is a perfectly legitimate move, Avery Bradley, but you should know that the "three to the head" celebration typically follows a three-pointer.
- Ronnie Brewer hit a three.
Well, I was kinda irate when I started this recap. Now I'm just grumpy and tired and have a headache. I hate losing to the Celtics because I hate the Celtics and it almost always goes down this way. Even putting the Celtics aside, New York's habit of falling apart against physical teams is something they badly need to fix. Like, now, because they've got the Pacers and Bulls next on the schedule.