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Celtics 101, Knicks 99: “Another blown lead”

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Argh.

NBA: New York Knicks at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The love of my life has cancer. We’re waiting on official word after weeks of tests and surgeries, but from what we’ve heard it’s all but official. That’s the bad news. The maybe encouraging news is that there were a few different cancers it could have been and early signs point it to it being the less-lethal one. What a weird place to find oneself: in March we were playfully arguing whether we want to live till 75 or 85 together. Now we’re grateful for good cancer.

Not too long ago the Knicks’ goals were simple: stand on your own two feet. Be respectable. No pressure to win anything significant — just don’t embarrass yourselves, or your fans. Via that former framework, last night’s 101-99 loss to the Boston Celtics was a moral victory. The C’s have reached three of the past four Eastern conference finals, and even though this year’s team wasn’t viewed as a top title contender, they were undoubtedly light years ahead of the Knicks. No shame in a hard-fought loss to a superior foe.

But that was then. This is now, and now the Knicks are fighting for playoff positioning. The loss drops them a game behind Boston for the seventh seed and homecourt in the play-in tournament; New York is also now just a game ahead of Indiana for ninth, and tied in the loss column.

You may find analogizing basketball to life inappropriate. I get that. But I make sense of my life with analogies, and basketball and the Knicks in particular give me a frame of reference that helps me make sense of this senseless flesh-and-meat roundabout. You’ll have to forgive the brevity of this recap. My mind and my heart are a million fragments right now. I’m going to fast-forward to the last minute of the game, because honestly if you want to know what came before it just think back to pretty much any loss over the past few weeks. Julius Randle was fine, RJ Barrett had pro’ly his best-shooting night as a pro, the other starters were meh, the bench was mostly OK and the Knicks had the lead in the fourth against a more highly-regarded team.

With a minute left the Knicks trailed 93-90. Randle probed and kicked out to Barrett, who hit from deep to tie the game; RJ was 6-of-6 from distance. On Boston’s possession the Knicks refused to let Jayson Tatum beat them, choosing instead to leave Marcus Smart open. It’s called playing the percentages. It’s what smart managers to do with ballgames.

And yet, the moment the pass swung to Smart I knew 10000% he’d hit that shot, and he did. Smart has a bit of what Jason Kidd did when he played. The first 46 minutes of a game, if J-Kidd wanted to pull up from deep that was a win for the defense. But when he lined up a three in the last two minutes, that was a different matter entirely.

You knew yet another near-W was locked in as an L, but drama demands its little loose ends and doomed details. Alec Burks tried to take the ball right at Jaylen Brown, a good defender who is stronger than Burks and jumps much higher; it did not end well for Burks. Elfrid Payton hit a 3-pointer with six seconds left to pull the Knicks within three and give them one last gasp, one Tatum snuffed out with a pair of free throws.

Notes:

  • Smart through the first three quarters: three points, missed six of seven shots. Smart in the fourth: 14 points, made three of four shots, including a couple of threes.
  • The Knicks maybe could have won the game early if they’d only kept the Celtics off the offensive glass. The C’s rebounded 13 of their own misses in the first half vs. just two for the Knicks.
  • One of Immanuel Quickley’s strengths is that he’s a rookie who carries himself like a veteran. One place he may wanna cut back on that is the complaining about fouls not being called. Just ‘cuz you don’t see yourself as a rookie doesn’t mean the refs don’t.
  • Randle is front-rimming a lot of his misses lately. Dude looks exhausted. In the first half he banked in a 3-pointer and when the camera flashed to his face he looked so drained I just wanted to infuse a blanket with melatonin and wrap him up in it. Not the same situation at all, but remember Mike D’Antoni’s treatment of Amar’e Stoudemire in 2011? And how he rode Jeremy Lin “like freaking Secretariat”? And how neither player was ever the same? I know Tom Thibodeau is in a tough spot. Expectations have accelerated and changed. But please don’t kill Randle this year, max him out and soon realize you wore all the tread off his tires just to make the playoffs.
  • No Kemba Walker for the Celtics. Romeo Langford started instead. Walker had on a Jimi Hendrix hoodie. I recently ordered three hoodies online that are about as thick as a Fruit Roll-Up. I wonder how nice Kemba’s hoodies must feel.
  • Playoff preview: Boston spent stretches leaving Langford to defend Nerlens Noel down low. Is that something to try and exploit? Or does that play right into the defense’s hands?

Quoth alleyhoop_20: “Another blown lead.” The tough games keep coming; hopefully the blown leads stop. Next contest is Friday when the Knicks host Memphis. As good a time as any to turn things around. Losing five of six games always sucks. But the context around this team is so far removed from what we’re used to. And in this year’s standings, which are tighter than those old jeans your ego thinks you’ll someday fit into, it only takes a win or two to move on up. Peace, loves.