Autoflagellation and other Knicks-Celtics Game 5 Leftovers

Al Bello

Idle thoughts after a Game 5 defeat.

I couldn't sleep last night because I felt sick. My head pounded, my mouth tasted like acid, and my leg bones felt hot. That-- the hot leg bones, which feel to me like they might melt-- is the signature symptom of me giving waaaay too many fucks about the Knicks. It's shown up intermittently since I was very little. I've come up with ways to combat the post-loss feverishness (taking very hot showers, for instance), and over time, have adapted to avoid it entirely. I suspect that has more to do with me growing older and having more important shit to care about (surprisingly little still, but more) and the Knicks not being a terrible, constantly humiliating team anymore.

Which brings me to the Celtics. I reckon the Celtics are responsible for every moment in which I've felt physically ill about basketball since I became a human adult. New York's played and lost plenty close or important games over the last few years, but only the ones against Boston have made my tibias throb. The Celtics have a way of making me upset not just about the Knicks, but about myself. The series in 2011 coincided with genuine tragedy within my closest circle-- like, I missed Game 3 to travel to a funeral-- yet I found myself losing sleep over Kevin Garnett's moving screen on Toney Douglas and Jared Jeffries's blown look at the rim instead of the gaping maw of mortality that loomed over me during the day. That, in turn, made me feel very childish and guilty. Thankfully, present-day me isn't dealing with the context of real-life pain. Nope. Rather, I just lay in bed last night stewing in the Knicks' missed opportunities in Game 4, their eerie indifference in Game 5, and-- above all else-- the role that I, adult human, played in all of this by feeling happy and confident after Game 3. I became genuinely angry at myself because I'd thought of something I might tweet after the Knicks clinched while in the shower Wednesday morning. The Knicks got overconfident and relaxed because I got overconfident and relaxed.

All of this is to say: I have a problem with the Knicks. I have a graver problem with the Knicks and the Celtics. I take it from recent threads that a lot of you share these problems with me, and I appreciate that. It helps. We're a sick bunch.

Anywayyyyy, more lingering thoughts about last night and where the Knicks:

- The Celtics hit more threes than the Knicks did in Games 4 and 5. That is not a thing that should happen. It's been discouraging to watch New York's offensive style and balance unravel simply because Boston is comfortable single-covering Carmelo Anthony and knows how to stop a pick-and-roll. It's been similarly discouraging to watch Boston's ball-handlers-- who fell so deliciously victim to traps and jumped passing lanes in the first three games-- learn to expect pressure and bail out quickly to find shooters. Particularly on offense, it seems Mike Woodson has to make significant adjustments-- not just li'l tweaks-- in Game 6. The stuff that worked early has worn out. Doc Rivers made his adjustments and they worked wonderfully. I imagine some of the new approach should include getting the ball up the floor more quickly and encouraging Carmelo Anthony to establish himself as deep in the paint as promptly as possible. I hope it also includes having sharper back-up plans, because reverting to iso every time a pick-and-roll gets ruined hasn't worked so hot.

And make no mistake: The amount of iso the Knicks are running isn't normal or healthy. And again: It's not that New York is just handing off to Melo or J.R. Smith and falling asleep every time down. They're doing that too often, but the other problem is attempting initial action-- a basic high pick-and-roll, the double hand-off, or more unusual pick-and-rolls with Melo as the screener or screenee-- failing, then having no other option but to go iso. Play calls get busted for all kinds of reasons-- bad screens, bad spacing, just great defense-- and the Knicks need to be ready to do some other shit when that happens. It's going to happen. It helps to have time on the shot clock, which is why getting the ball up and getting to work early are important. I can't tell you how many times last night I saw Pablo Prigioni or Jason Kidd (it's not just Melo and J.R. who get stuck in one-one-one situations) reset at the perimeter, then glanced at the shot clock and realized HOLY SHIT they had five seconds to get the ball up. I've said this before, but: If you must fail, fail quickly so you can try something else.

So, in short: Quicker, cleaner sets that leave more time for secondary options. I think that's what the Knicks need to get Melo back in rhythm (and/or drawing double teams), get Tyson Chandler involved at least a little, and get themselves more, better three-point looks. Also, guys just need to shoot those threes when they're available.

- I think I understand Mike Woodson's reasoning for leaving J.R. Smith in the game instead of letting Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, Jason Kidd, an olive, or whomever take the minutes J.R. used to pollute the floor with his awfulness. I imagine the thinking was that the likelihood of J.R. suddenly heating up and changing the game was greater than the likelihood of any of those other guys pushing the Knicks over the edge. I thought J.R.'s sloppy defensive rotations, though, were just as problematic as all the missed shots. A lineup without J.R. may have forced more turnovers and given up fewer threes. I dunno.

- Oh, and J.R.'s sluggish outing may not have been a random event. Is it bad that, like Ross, I feel more optimistic about Game 6 after having seen that?

- For the second straight game, Shump and Felton made me smile in a very frowny game. I don't want to get too hung up and HEART and shit like that, but Felton just kept pestering Pierce and chugging to the rim at every opportunity and Shump looked genuinely furious at every team defensive lapse. He was also able to limit Pierce a bit in a game that saw Pierce got hot when given room. (Ask Jason Kidd.)

- I wish Kevin Garnett couldn't hit jumpers. His ability to spread the floor almost makes me want to switch Tyson Chandler off him so he can linger around the rim. Let's just put Felton on Garnett and see what happens, eh?

- Moments that would have been funny in retrospect had the Knicks won: 1. Pablo Prigioni ruining a fast break during the 11-0 opening run by simply refusing to shoot an open layup. 2. Kenyon Martin committing two cheap fouls on Garnett, then pummeling Garnett for the third and shouting "THAT'S A FOUL!".

- Both Martin and Chandler gave us a nice mix of fouls on questionable calls and fouls on questionable plays. I was particularly frustrated with Chandler's flying, half-assed slap at Brandon Bass's arm while he was making a layup. Foul trouble ended up not being much of an issue, since the Knicks never went without Chandler or Martin...

- ...except for the Marcus Camby minute! One rebound, 1-1 shooting! Dominance!

- I like the Knicks' full-court press in theory, but then I like it less when a Celtic dribbles coast to coast and gets directly to the basket. Gotta have that guy hanging back.

I don't know. I'm out of things to say. I'm ready to forget about Game 5. I'll get some post-practice notes up soon and Joe and Dylan will arrive at some point thereafter to say actual intelligent things about what happened last night.

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