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Celtics 92, Knicks 86: "Don't do this to me."



Odds are the Knicks are going to win this series, three being bigger than two and so forth. I understand that. I will say, though, that: 1. It does not feel that way in my tummy even a little. 2. I want to go back to Friday and headbutt the grin off my own face.

Okay. Recap. Okay. The Knicks started this game 11-0. For real. Let's just get that out of the way because it practically didn't happen, like a crippling tumble down a mile-long ski slope that, by the way, began with a back flip. Carmelo Anthony started hot, the Celtics couldn't hit a jumper, and things felt great for a couple minutes. It did happen, but it really didn't.

What did happen: Melo and J.R. Smith operated primarily in isolation and went unseasonably frigid. Melo shot 3-17 after his 5-7 start and J.R. went 3-14 overall, with all three of those makes coming when the game was all but buried. And as we've seen before, those horrid lines didn't just include bad shots, but good ones, too. Even before Kevin Garnett tried to yank his arm out of the socket, Melo missed everything from lay-ups to contested turn-arounds to jumpers off the catch. And hooooly shit, J.R. Fresh off a suspension and some words that certainly got posted on a Boston bulletin board and/or tattooed onto every Celtic's soft palate, Smith joined the action looking dazed as ever. And he, too, took plenty of good shots to go with the bad ones. The rim didn't discriminate. Nothing at all dropped, and we can just go ahead and extend that to the rest of the jump-shooters. When a team can afford not to double Melo, the three-point looks typically aren't ideal, but even that fails to tell the story. The 5-22 number on the evening reflects misses on open looks, misses on contested looks, and a whole lot of passed-up looks as well.

So, that presented a problem to Mike Woodson, who typically commits a lot of his team's possessions to isolation and expects open jumpers to radiate out of said isolation. The clear alternative was the pick-and-roll-- Raymond Felton, one of the few beating hearts in a white uniform, got so many buckets out of it-- but Woodson could only summon those out of his Knicks in fits and starts. One of those fits came in the mid-third, and it momentarily gave the Knicks life via a series of Felton layups, but that was a mere island in a sea of fetid goop. Blame Woodson's lack of creativity and rotational sense, blame the Celtics' consistently stout defense, blame the players' easy yielding to said defense, and blame plain old missed jumpers. The Knick offense faltered in every regard, and the second-half stylistic turnaround from Games 1 and 2 never arrived in earnest.

And of course, because they exist only to torment us, the Celtics made all kinds of black magic on the other end. Typically, the Knicks' formula for winning a game in which they shoot poorly is to grab offensive rebounds and force turnovers so they can take extra shots. New York did that-- especially in the second half-- but fell victim to what felt like a whole tool belt of dagger jumpers. A group that couldn't hit anything in the first three games got big, deep buckets-- many of them contested-- from Pierce, Garnett, Jeff Green, and Jason Terry. The Knicks made their share of defensive errors, to be sure. They failed to pick guys up in transition, committed foolish fouls, blew rotations off the ball (J.R. in particular), got beat to the rim by guys who aren't supposed to be able to do that (that's Brandon Bass, Melo. Brandon Bass.), and relaxed on too many of their own deflections and busted sets. I still saw a lot of great individual defense-- both Felton and Shumpert did marvelous work on Pierce and Tyson Chandler stifled Garnett when allowed to do so-- that went to waste, and a lot of generally acceptable defense fall short. The goddamn Celtics shot 11-22 from downtown.

So, here we sit. 3-2. All the Knicks must do to end this series is play like themselves, if only just on offense, for one game-- shit, even half a game. All they must do to complete a historic collapse is play unlike themselves while the Celtics hit jumpers in consecutive games. That just happened, so it's certainly possible. I don't know what to expect in Game 6, nor do I know what to expect in Game 7 (besides me retch-weeping myself to sleep for a couple nights) if it comes to that. This is uncharted territory-- a little eddy of advantageous standing and turning momentum. It's a strange spot to be in. If you know where this is headed...well, you understand this team a lot better than I do. All I know is, like I and a lot of you mentioned in the thread, this series is now beating me up the way I initially thought it would, then stupidstupidstupidly thought it wouldn't after a few early wins.

I also know that the next day or two is going to suck. The way the Knicks fumbled Game 4, the way they strutted into Game 5, the way certain notorious individuals have faltered, and this bullshit will all color the narrative surrounding a 3-2 situation that mostly boils down to simple basketball stuff: Mike Woodson's lost his grip on the team's offensive identity in the last two games, or maybe he steered it in the wrong direction. Scorers have been unable to execute simple plays. Certain Celtics have found the touch. I don't expect you'll find a lot of that if you open a newspaper or turn on the TV tomorrow, and that is mostly New York's own fault. I just hope the Knicks are past that nonsense and ready to hew themselves back into form at practice tomorrow.

All we can do is wait and search for answers while the Knicks do the same. For the moment, I think we could use one of these:


And one of these. Stare deep into its eyes:


More tomorrow.