Nothing comes easy in the playoffs, and the Knicks found that out in spades over the course of six games against the Boston Celtics. It was smooth sailing in the first three games until New York found themselves in an absolute dogfight from games 4-6. As nerve-wracking as these battles were for Knicks fans, the adversity the team had to endure can only help them since this round to the championship will not get any easier.
THREE QUARTER FOCUS: For the game’s first 36 minutes, the Knicks played like a squad determined to make amends for their putrid effort in game 5. The defense was absolutely stifling in the first half, causing the Celtics commit 11 turnovers off 6 blocks and 8 steals. While Carmelo Anthony was still struggling to shoot the ball, he was getting mostly good shots and not forcing the issue as others stepped up. Pablo Prigioni was the first half X-factor in nailing three treys. At one point, the Knicks lead 21-5. After one, it was a 24-10 cushion in favor of NY.
There was a 5-minute scoring drought in the second that allowed the Celtics to pull within nine, but a Melo three-point play off a pullup bank shot pushed the lead back to 39-27 at halftime.
The third quarter was a clinic with the Knicks hitting five three-pointers. The catalyst here was Iman Shumpert, who swished two of them and helped the ball movement immensely with his scoring. He did an appropriate “jet taunt” aimed at Jason Terry following the last one that pushed the lead to 67-47. Outside of a Raymond Felton tech for complaining, it was a near-flawless 12 minutes.
THE NEAR-COLLAPSE: The fourth quarter was one of the most absurd things I’ve seen all year from the Knicks. They continued attacking the rim and got the lead up to 75-49 off a Shumpert putback dunk just a few minutes in the quarter. You’d think it was a wrap on but once again, the Knicks showed a complete lack of killer instinct and let Boston go on a completely inexcusable 20-0 run (yes, you read that right), that allowed them to get within four points (77-73). Not only did the Knicks commit four sloppy turnovers, but they weren’t getting set on defense and shying away from the big moments on the offensive end. Felton and JR appeared unsure of themselves and everything went back to Melo isolations. To our superstar’s credit, Melo was able to hit some clutch free throws and a pullup jumper to get the lead back to six (81-75). However, putting Iman Shumpert back into the starting lineup is what stopped the bleeding as he got another steal taht lead to a fast break layup.
Melo’s three-pointer, followed by a block on Paul Pierce and JR three-point play, finally iced the game with a little under two minutes remaining.
THE POSITIVES: Iman Shumpert was the MVP of this game as far as the Knicks are concerned. He was all over Paul Pierce (4/18, 14 points), and contributed 17 points on 6/9 shooting. Shump was two-way player last night and never got flustered during that 20-0 run. Tyson Chandler’s been hurting the whole series, but he’s made gradual progress returning to form and did well on the rebounding and defensive front (9 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks). He got his team a few needed offensive rebounds down the stretch, and did a good job on Kevin Garnett (15 points, 10 rebounds) late in the fourth despite being burned on post moves a few times.
Felton didn’t have a monster game (11 points on 5/14 shooting), but he was very consistent in moving the ball (7 assists) and driving to the lane. My only issue with him was the complaining. He runs this offensive ship and has to stay focused with the game of the line.
THE GAUNTLET ONLY GETS WORSE: If the Knicks thought the defense of the Celtics was rough, they’re in for absolute hell when they take on the Indiana Pacers tomorrow. Roy Hibbert and David West will be all over anyone that comes into the lane. The Knicks, specifically Carmelo Anthony, need to ready themselves mentally for the pounding and inevitable missed calls inside. The whining only turns the refs against them, so that needs to be hammered home by Coach Woodson.
The Knicks also need to realize that no lead is safe. Every tem that’s made it this far in the season is dangerous. When you get in position to have your foot on someone’s neck in a game, you don’t let up — you break it. Death blows kill confidence and prevent 20-0 runs.
MELO: This is the one player I’m worried about in this Indiana series. Melo’s nursing a shoulder injury and since this Celtics series wasn’t wrapped up quickly, the Knicks get right back into a dogfight tomorrow. Along with the physical issues, Melo’s been struggling with his shot over the last three games. If the Knicks have any hope of getting off to a good start, they need their leading scorer to at the very least have a decent game.
With all that said, the Knicks have accomplished another season goal of getting out of the first round of the playoffs. After a 13-year drought, that’s cause enough celebration (and relief).