Two days after blowing a golden opportunity to take a step closer to making the NBA playoffs, the New York Knicks were granted another gift. If there’s a team most unworthy of a miraculous turnaround, a last-minute sprint into the playoffs, it’s the New York Knicks. But there they were Sunday night: a 17-point lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers, cruising to a ninth straight win that would put them two games from the playoffs. Earlier that day, their eighth place targets, the Atlanta Hawks, had lost to the Toronto Raptors, bringing the Knicks that much closer to the postseason.
Of course, we all know what happened after; the Knicks crumbled at the hands of Jarrett Jack and an energized Cavaliers team, breaking their eight-game win streak, falling back three games of the Hawks.
It should’ve marked the end of the season for the Knicks, figuratively, as they prepared for a Western Conference road trip before coming home in April to face a playoff opponent each night for the remainder of the season. Instead, the Hawks lost again, and the Knicks had the opportunity to face a historically bad Los Angeles Lakers team (especially for for Lakers’ standards, considering the Clippers playoffs hopes) to get back within two games of the postseason.
Instead, the Knicks crashed and burned, embarrassing themselves on national TV as their regular season ended — figuratively — with an accentuated thud.
After building a quick lead in the early going (“Hey, this’ll be easy!”), the Knicks just collectively stopped playing any semblance of organized basketball. Their offense consisted of an array of jumpers off the dribble instead of attacking a bad defensive team in the paint. They stopped rotating or recovering, closing out or contesting. Nobody ran back on defense. Nobody tried. As the Lakers slowly built up to a double-digit lead, it became obvious that the Knicks’ malaise wasn’t simply a brief funk — this is how they were going to play tonight.
Carmelo Anthony hoisted arrhythmic or otherwise contested or ill-timed shots on his way to a 2-10 first half. Amar’e Stoudemire hoisted an unsightly 3-9 while accumulating a -20 in the first half. The Knicks’ bench scored 5 points to the Lakers’ 39 bench points. Still, the Knicks were only down eight when the halftime buzzer sounded; they were still in it.
Except that when both teams took the floor for 24 minutes of play, only the Lakers showed up, seemingly. During halftime the Knicks couldn’t muster the energy to fight back from eight points down against a 23-46 team in hopes of making the playoffs. The Lakers rang up 51 — FIFTY-ONE — points in the third quarter, building a 25-point lead that sent most everyone watching to sleep. It was a franchise record for LA. A team synonymous with NBA legends like Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant — they had never scored 51 points in a quarter before.
Yet there was the likes of Kendall Marshall, Nick Young, Kent Bazemore, and Chris Kaman, simply pouring in highly make-able shots over a completely disinterested Knicks team. A Knicks team fighting for a playoff spot. Even in the fourth quarter, when Carmelo Anthony visibly went to work, posting and toasting highly incapable Laker defenders (why didn’t he do this all night?), it was too late. As Knickerblogger’s Robert Silverman said, it was both noble and sad watching Anthony try to scoop up the pieces of what remained of the Knicks’ season.
Not anymore. The Knicks aren’t mathematically out of the playoffs yet, but they’ve essentially waved a white flag. Mike Woodson, 70 games later, still can’t figure out a productive lineup. Last night, Tyson Chandler couldn’t stop a front-court of Kaman, Jordan Hill, and Robert Sacre; Raymond Felton couldn’t keep up with Marshall or Bazemore as they darted whichever way they liked; Iman Shumpert couldn’t find the front of the rim.
If the Knicks still want to make some kind of miraculous run to the postseason, beating much higher quality opponents than they faced all during their win streak, that’s cool. I won’t be hoping for it. The Knicks fooled all of us once, but their message was clear last night in Los Angeles: it’s over.
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