Demoralizing. The word’s five syllables roll off the tongue sounding exactly like what they mean. As far as regular season losses go, this one is flat out demoralizing. Coming off two pretty bad losses to some pretty bad teams, the Knicks looked like a team that almost didn’t respect their opponents. Tonight, they knew what they were up against and they responded admirably early on, playing up to their competition and leading after the first three quarters, including a 51-37 halftime edge. But after Carmelo Anthony—who fought through foul trouble all night and still managed a team high 22 points—cut the outer edge of his eye open on a collision with Rajon Rondo, the Knicks looked like lost puppies. With five fouls on him for much of the fourth quarter, Anthony was reduced to defending Rondo on the perimeter instead of his man, Paul Pierce. This is an understandable strategic move, but putting Billups or Fields on Pierce in turn makes very, very little sense. The Celtics captain went on to absolutely destroy New York in the final quarter, and with Amar’e Stoudemire continuously trying to attack the strength of Boston’s defense on the other end, the Knicks had no chance against one of the league’s best teams.
* We’ll begin with the game’s true bright spot: Ronny Turiaf. The big man got the start and played extremely well on the offensive end (11 points). Defensively he actually did a pretty good job on Kevin Garnett—who dominated New York all night with a game high 24 points on 10-15 shooting—and had four blocks. I like him playing with the starters, especially when the other options are Jeffries and Shelden Williams. He brings nice energy to the team and lights a fire on the defensive end that nobody else seems to have.
* Chauncey had 21 points (including some big shots down the stretch. One of them resulting in a four point play), but five crucial turnovers. He also proved completely incapable of keeping Rondo in front of him which is fine, but not if his four teammates aren’t going to make any effort in their help.
* One of the game’s crucial plays came at the end of the third quarter when, with the clock winding down, Delonte West snuck his hand in to get a steal resulting in a clear path foul. West made one of two free throws and on the quarter’s final play, Glen Davis was able to sneak free (only the Knicks could allow this to happen) and get a lay up at the buzzer. The play cut their lead to six and swung momentum entirely in Boston’s direction.
* After the Celtics cut the lead to two in the middle of the fourth quarter, the Knicks responded with a Billups three, a Toney Douglas floater, and two Carmelo free throws. It looked like they were mentally capable of taking Boston’s best punch and retaliating, but there was just too much to overcome when it mattered. Carmelo wasn’t able to be as aggressive on either end as he’d like to be and the team played like they were in his dilemma collectively. A lot of standing around and watching Amar’e take on Boston’s front line.
* Apart from Garnett, the Knicks held all Boston’s players in single figures through the first half. For 24 minutes, the defense was arguably the best its been since the trade, but in the second half, especially the final six minutes, everything collapsed.
* I have a beef to pick with Amar’e Stoudemire (16 points and 11 rebounds). Two crucial fourth quarter hustle plays went Boston’s way simply because Amar’e didn’t want it as much as they did. The first coming when a loose ball, bouncing towards the Knicks’ bench was pursued by a jogging Stoudemire. Rondo came out of nowhere at full speed and tipped the ball off Amar’e’s hand out of bounds. The next came when a loose ball was rolling towards mid-court with Garnett and Stoudemire the two closest players in position to make a play on it. Amar’e had a slight step as the two dove to the court, but instead of corralling it safely as he should’ve, Garnett was able to wrap his arms around Amar’e from behind and get both hands on the ball. The result was a jump ball which Garnett then won. Both plays are indicative of how far New York needs to come if they want to become a championship caliber squad. Hard work overcomes talent in this league.
* Apart from two first half three-pointers by Roger Mason, the Knicks got absolutely nothing from their bench. Toney Douglas, Shawne Williams and Jared Jeffries were all non-existent, combining for a 2-11 shooting night.
* As far as possible playoff match-ups go, let’s hope the Boston Celtics aren’t seeded to meet us come the first round. Ray Allen had a terrible shooting night, Paul Pierce was awful through three quarters, and the team defense was late on several weak side rotations, resulting in Ronny Turiaf layups and Carmelo Anthony dunks. Still, Boston won by 10.