Middle Kingdom Previews: Quest for the Golden Cupcake

USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks used to win basketball games...or so I've been told.

I'm pulling double-duty today - previewing Friday night's Knicks-Celtics tilt and preparing for my final few days as an English teacher in China. By this time next week I will be back in the ol' U-S-of-A...for good, if everything goes according to plan. It's difficult to describe the swirl of emotions and fears involved in leaving my adopted home of six years - friends, family, a job and a lifestyle I'd grown to accept, if not love - for my actual home, with no job waiting for me and a lifestyle which may or may not be all that I remember.

And all I asked from you, my dear Knickerbockers, was one itty-bitty favor: please close out the decrepit, offensively inept Boston Celtics as quickly and painlessly as possible, so that I could celebrate my last few days in the Middle Kingdom in relative peace. Could you handle that, Knicks? NOOOOOOOOO. Of course you couldn't! I don't even know why I asked you in the first place.

Can I be real here, Knicks fans? I mean really real, for realz, on the real tip? I am not writing this article to entertain or inform you. I'm writing this article because the last "Middle Kingdom Preview" I wrote was the preview for Game 3, which the Knicks won handily. I wrote two different kinds of articles leading up to Games 4 and 5, and the Knicks lost both games. So the Middle Kingdom Preview is back! Is that crazy? Well, if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then I am completely sane, because I'm doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results. MWAHAHAHAHA!

So here's where we stand: the Knicks are one win away from clinching their first playoff series win since the Clinton administration, while the Celtics are now two wins away becoming the first professional sports team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit since the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers beat the Boston Bruins in the NHL Eastern Conference second round.

(What's that? I'm not supposed to mention that Flyers-Bruins series? I'm supposed to jump over it and talk about the second-to-last time a pro sports team blew a 3-0 lead? Why? Is hockey not a professional sport? Are Philadelphia and Boston not American cities? Is a baseball playoff series more applicable to basketball than a hockey playoff series? My bad, national media...didn't get the memo.)

Game 5 was pretty much the equivalent of a bad acid flashback for Knicks fans, with Paul Pierce hitting circus shots, Kevin Garnett swishing mid-range jumpers and injuring Knicks at will. I must admit, when I saw KG yank Carmelo Anthony's arm, I thought of that line from Star Wars about Wookies ripping people's arms out of their sockets when they lose; but I would never degrade the proud Wookie race by comparing them to that bastard.

How can the Knicks turn the tide in Game 6? In planning for this game, I'd like Mike Woodson to take a deep breath and answer this question honestly: Who has been our best player in this series? Who is the one player the Celtics have not shown they can stop?

If Woody is being truly honest with himself here, he can't say anything besides "Raymond Felton." I'm sure this is pretty hard to accept; I myself have gone through six stages of "Our Best Player is a Penguin" awakening:

  1. Stage 1 (pre-Game 1): "I hope Ray doesn't screw anything up."
  2. Stage 2 (Game 1-2): "As good as Melo is playing, Ray has been right there with him."
  3. Stage 3 (after Game 3): "At this point, Ray has been better than Melo in all three games. But that can't last, can it?
  4. Stage 4 (after Game 4): "Oh my God, Ray is our best player right now. It's not even close."
  5. Stage 5 (during the 4th quarter of Game 5) "GIVE RAY THE FUCKING BALL!!!"
  6. Stage 6 (right now) "I, for one, welcome our new penguin overlords."

Let us all join together and celebrate Ray as the MVP of this series...I know first-round series don't have an 'official' MVP award, but I'm not an 'official' sportswriter, so it all works out. In honor of Ray I've decided to name this award The Golden Cupcake.

The Celtics have no answer for Felton - he has been getting high-percentage shots for himself by driving to the basket and for others by running a nearly unstoppable pick-and-roll. That, after all, is what good point guards do when they have the ball in their hands. The only team that has been able to slow Felton down has been the Knicks themselves, by taking the ball out of his hands via Melo isolation plays. And now all the Game 6 pre-game chatter revolves around Melo and his quest for redemption, not to mention revenge against Jordan Crawford. Let me just say that I believe (hope?) that Melo won't be so stupid as to attempt to take over the game (again) based on the words of some scrub that has only played 56 minutes in this series; and if he does, he should be benched. The same goes for you, J.R. Smith. This isn't some game against Detroit in December. This is back-to-the-wall time, and Woodson needs to treat it as such.

It should come as no surprise that the Knicks' three-point shooting has fallen of a cliff in the last two games (Games 1-3: 27-71, .380 3P%; Games 4 and 5: 12-52, .231 3P%). The Knicks aren't going to win many games with those kinds of shooting numbers, no matter who they play. In fact, they only managed to win one game this season shooting such a low percentage from downtown - Dec. 23, against Minnesota, the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA.

This doesn't seem like an opportune time for the Knicks to lose their best three-point shooter. How will the Knicks replace Steve Novak and his .425 three-point percentage? Guys who can shoot better than 42% from downtown don't just grow on trees. Pity poor Mike Woodson, trying to shuffle his lineups to compensate for the loss of Novak, praying to the basketball gods to send him a player who can shoot a comparable percentage - not 42.5%, of course but something similar, like 42.1%

Player Age G GS MP 3P 3PA 3P%
Chris Copeland 28 56 13 15.4 1.1 2.5 .421
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/3/2013.

It wouldn't be fair to accuse Mike Woodson of burying Cope after only one playoff game - he also played Cope a few minutes in the first half of Game 2, and then buried him. You know who else didn't play well through the first half of Game 2? Iman Shumpert....yeah, the same Iman Shumpert who was the Knicks' second-best player in Game 5. But whereas Shump was given a chance to get his bearings in what is essentially his first playoff series, Cope has played all of two minutes in the past three games. In case Woody has forgotten, the Knicks are a team with an unprecedented reliance on the three-point shot. Chris Copeland is their second-best three-point shooter. Things just aren't adding up here.

As I mentioned in my last article, only half-joking, "Novak" has become less of a real person and more of an actual, unique position in the Knicks offense. Woodson doesn't play Novak at forward so much as he plays a "Novak" in place of a forward, in order to boost the offense. A true novak must be able to:

  1. Shoot the 3
  2. Be tall
  3. Pretend to guard the other team's weakest forward
  4. ...did I mention shoot the 3?

Chris Copeland can play novak for the Knicks. Like I said, he's more of a power novak, in that he can do all the novak things, but will occasionally grab a rebound or stop his man from scoring.

Woodson has arrived at an impasse in Game 5. Somebody needs to start hitting some shots. I say unleash the power novak, unleash the penguin, and let him complete his quest for the golden cupcake.

Let's go Knicks! Stop jerking us around!

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