By John Schmeelk
» More Columns
The Knicks are trailing the Celtics two games to none, and strangely, I couldn’t be prouder of the team. Sure, there’s anger about another tight loss, and there are things to complain about, but all Knicks fans should appreciate something: In a road game where the Knicks were missing two of their three best players, they were one possession away from winning.
This group of players, inferior to the Celtics in just about every way, played their hearts out. As Marv Albert so eloquently put it, it was Carmelo Anthony and a bunch of guys. I saw more grit, mental toughness, effort and hustle than I’ve ever seen from this group of players.
Everyone out there complaining about Mike D’Antoni and Jared Jeffries needs to take a reality pill. Consider the players that were on the court with Carmelo Anthony in the 4th quarter: Bill Walker; who was out of the rotation for a good part of the season and shot 0-11, Roger Mason Jr.; someone who has been on the bench just about as much as Herb Williams this year, Jared Jeffries; the worst offensive player in basketball who was cut loose by the Rockets midseason and finally, Toney Douglas; a streaky player that was getting schooled by Rondo all night, and couldn’t find his shot from the field (5-16). Can you imagine how bad Landry Fields must have been not to be able to crack that lineup? The Knicks had no business being in the game, let alone winning it.
Yet, the Knicks had the ball with a chance to win. In the final seconds Jeffries, who by some act of God scored on the previous possession (and played a great game), telegraphed a pass that was stolen by Kevin Garnett. Is that who you want with the ball with the game on the line? Of course not. But the Celtics knew that too, which is why they left him to double team Carmelo Anthony the last few minutes of the game. They forced the ball to Jeffries. Anthony made the right play, but the players around him were not good enough to take advantage.
Here are the things to complain about: Mike D’Antoni didn’t make enough offense/defense substitutions at the end of the game, leaving the Knicks with Jared Jeffries on the floor on offense. Similarly, I would have subbed in Ronny Turiaf to defend Garnett on the Celtics final offensive possession. Anthony made as boneheaded decision as I’ve ever seen not fouling Delonte West immediately when the Celtics inbounded with four seconds left. Once again the Celtics showed what championship teams do, and out-executed the Knicks in the final possessions. In the playoffs, a loss is a loss and in most cases there are no moral victories but there is still a lot of series left to play.
Look at the good. The Knicks stayed in the game because of their effort, defense and rebounding. They nearly out-rebounded Boston by 20, after losing the battle of the boards by double digits on Sunday. They played harder and tougher than Boston in this game, and that’s very meaningful. Anthony played his butt off, carrying the team on his back, and then made the right play by finding the open man once the Celtics finally began running double teams at him (they should have started earlier). If he passes like that with Amar’e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups on the floor, the Knicks will be extremely dangerous. Carmelo Anthony cannot be given enough credit for the game he played. As bad as he was in Game 1, he was eight times as good in Game 2. He was an absolute beast and as unstoppable as any player in the league.
It might sound stupid, but I actually feel better about this series today than I did yesterday. The Knicks played two poor games and were still one possession away from winning both games in Boston. That’s frustrating, but it portends well for the future. If Stoudemire gets healthy, even with Billups out, the Knicks can still win this series. If they don’t get back, you shrug your shoulders and deal with losing in the first round of the playoffs. It happens.
Something is wrong with the Celtics right now. They look a lot like the team that struggled down the stretch of the regular season. They haven’t flipped the switch. Maybe it’s broken. The Knicks still have time to take advantage. This series isn’t over yet.
What can the Knicks to do beat the Celtics when the series comes to The Garden? Comment below.