By John Schmeelk
» More Columns
That’s why the Celtics are champions and the Knicks aren’t.
Execution under pressure in the final two minutes is often the difference in playoff games, and that was never more evident than at the end of Game 1 on Sunday night.
The Knicks couldn’t find a way to get the ball to Amar’e Stoudemire, their only hot player in the second half. The Celtics ran a perfect out of bounds play to set up Kevin Garnett for an alley-oop dunk. Carmelo Anthony committed an offensive foul and forced a couple of bad threes. The Celtics ran a great pick and pop play with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to set up his open three. Toney Douglas took a bad three, and even though he hit it, that’s not the shot any fan wanted the Knicks to take.
There was miscommunication by the Knicks on their two most important defensive possessions of the game, allowing Garnett to get a wide open dunk and giving Ray Allen space for the game winning three. On the latter play, Anthony and Douglas seemed to have no idea whether to switch or to show and get back. They also had a foul to give that neither player gave.
Those are the little things that teams have to execute at the end of games to win in the playoffs. Applying the same principles under pressure that come so easily the first 40 minutes of the game is what separates champions from challengers. Of course, those things can be overcome if great players come up big when it counts the most. Stoudemire did his best to carry the team, but in the final two minutes he wasn’t afforded the opportunity. Chauncey Billups, Douglas nor Anthony could figure out a way to get it to him in the final two, which is pretty unbelievable. His fellow superstars did not pick up the slack.
In many ways, this game came down to Carmelo — and he came up horribly short. In the second half he shot 1-11 from the field and 0-5 from three-point land with two turnovers. In the last three minutes he committed an offensive foul (bad call, but it counts) and missed three shots from behind the arc. Two were unnecessary, early in the shot clock. His shot selection the entire second half was poor. Anthony played terribly and he is the primary reason the Knicks shot 32% in the second half and scored only 34 points.
If the Knicks want any chance to win this series, Carmelo has to play better.
Underdogs in playoff series have one or two opportunities to steal a game on the road. This was the Knicks’ chance — and if they didn’t make multiple mistakes down the stretch they would have. Complain about the bad offensive foul on Anthony all you want, and the non-call on the Garnett screen (illegal?) and trip on Toney Douglas, but the Knicks had their opportunities. And they blew it.
It might — in the end — cost them the series.
Moving forward, if Billups is out, this story gets very depressing very quickly. There are things the Knicks can do better, but this series isn’t going to get any easier. Six seeds that upset three seeds win games like that. The Knicks have one more chance to steal one in Boston on Tuesday night. If it’s close at the end they better take advantage.
You can follow me on twitter throughout the playoffs for everything Knicks and NBA Playoffs: twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk
What did you think of Game 1? Let Schmeelk know in the comments below!