By Steve Kallas
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This could very well wind up being the what-could-have-been series for the New York Knicks. Given little to no chance to beat the slumping Celtics (a pedestrian 15-12 in regular season games since the Kendrick Perkins trade; a poor 6-7 in their last 13 regular season games), the Knicks had a good chance late in both games to win, yet came away empty.
Down 2-0 and coming back to the Garden for (finally) a meaningful playoff game, it certainly doesn’t look like the Knicks can beat the Celtics four out of the next five.
The Celtics know how to win in the playoffs; the Knicks, especially when former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups is not on the floor, don’t. It’s as simple as that.
But the first two games of this series says as much about the inability of the Celtics, in this writer’s opinion, to win an NBA title, as it does about the Knicks and what they have to learn to do to become a championship contender.
LET’S GO RIGHT TO THE END OF GAME 2
With the great Marv Albert correctly asking on air “who chose up these sides?” (Carmelo and four guys against the vaunted Celtics), the Knicks actually got an amazing offensive play from defense-oriented Jared Jeffries to take the lead by one with 19.3 seconds left. The oft-criticized Jeffries made a nice move to the basket, surprisingly scoring a scoop shot around (over?) Kevin Garnett (we will talk about basketball IQ later, but why doesn’t Garnett put Jeffries, a poor foul shooter (42% on 8-19 since coming back to the Knicks, 41% for the season), on the line in a huge pressure situation there?). Jeffries was 5-7 from the field for 10 points in the game.
After KG makes a tough jump hook over Jeffries to give Boston the lead by one, you know the Celtics are going to make Carmelo (42 points, 17 rebounds in an amazing performance – for 47 minutes and 55.9 seconds) give up the ball by doubling him. Carmelo does make the right play by throwing it down to a wide-open Jeffries right under the basket – if Jeffries catches and jumps immediately, he has a wide-open dunk. Kevin Garnett, coming down from the foul line (where he was guarding Bill Walker), would have been late if Jeffries acts immediately. But, rather than spring to the basket using the left side of his body to shield anybody coming to him as he dunks and/or lays it in, Jeffries, inexplicably opens up his body, unable to shield himself from Garnett and attempts to make an ill-fated pass to the 0-11 Walker. Garnett makes a great play, steals the ball and calls timeout with 4.1 seconds left.
Game over, right?
Well, it shouldn’t have been.
THE LAST 4.1 SECONDS
After the timeout, the Celtics inbound the ball at half-court with 4.1 seconds left. This is intro-to-basketball stuff. Rec league players know that you try to force a five-second inbounds violation, then you try to steal the inbounds pass, then you foul immediately. With 4.1 seconds left and down one, there is literally nothing else to do.
So, what happens? Well, for some reason, Carmelo Anthony isn’t right up on Delonte West. West intelligently runs into the backcourt to get the inbounds pass from half-court. Carmelo, inexplicably, doesn’t guard him closely and then looks over his right shoulder at the Knick bench, where coach Mike D’Antoni is wildly waving his arms, presumably telling Carmelo to foul West (West is actually 10-15 feet away from Carmelo to Carmelo’s left). It takes Carmelo 3.5 seconds (a basketball eternity) to catch West and foul him, leaving only .6 seconds left in the game.
West makes both free throws (despite what you may have heard from the “experts,” once you make the first you have to make the second) and the best the Knicks can do is an attempted 75-foot heave from Bill Walker that goes about 60 feet. Game over.
While Delonte West was credited with making an intelligent play (by simply running into the backcourt to get the inbounds pass), he actually could have made an even smarter play. Had he simply received the pass and dribbled away from Carmelo and the Knicks (instead of circling around towards them), he would have easily run out the clock with no possible way for the Knicks to foul him.
That would have been even more embarrassing to Carmelo and the Knicks coaching staff than what actually happened – which, from a basketball IQ perspective, was embarrassing enough.
Again, it’s intro-to-basketball stuff. Carmelo had to go wherever West went – in the front court, in the backcourt, in the mezzanine. It doesn’t matter. You have to be close enough for the long shot steal or the immediate foul. There’s no excuse for not being there.
It’s hard to believe that superstar Carmelo Anthony, who had played the game of his life (but don’t even think about comparing it to Walt Frazier on May 8, 1970), couldn’t understand the obvious. But he couldn’t. After the game, he was quoted (according to Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News) as saying, “A lot of us thought the ball was coming in the frontcourt. He threw it in the backcourt. It took a lot of time off the clock.”
Well, that’s a scary comment. Who cares where the ball is thrown in? You’ve got to get your man, stay as close as possible and steal the ball or foul. Immediately, if not sooner. Basketball 101.
While Mike D’Antoni is getting hammered by the New York media (and rightfully so on some counts), Doc Rivers said it best: “We were lucky to win.” If Carmelo Anthony has to look to the Knick bench to be told what to do down one with four seconds left, well, that’s a problem. Now and in the future.
BUT WHERE DOES ALL THIS LEAVE THE CELTICS?
It says here it leaves them in trouble. They haven’t played particularly well, they seem to be winning on memory and they certainly look like a team that can’t beat the Chicago Bulls or whichever team comes out of the West (if they get so far as to play either of those teams).
The real question now is can they beat the Heat? And the answer isn’t as clear as it once was. So far they have no Shaq (who can still be a force in the middle no matter what you hear from certain “experts”). They have no Perkins, a loss that many said at the time of the trade could end Boston’s championship dreams. Jeff Green hasn’t worked out despite being a guy who could really help the Celtics. Is Nenad Krstic healthy?
But the Heat have the same problems as the Knicks: no big man, no point guard (that’s with the Knicks’ injured point guard). Unlike the Knicks, however, the Heat have two superstars who can defend. While it didn’t look like the Heat could beat the Celtics prior to the end of the regular season, it sure looks like they could beat the Celtics now. In any event, there seem to be too many obstacles for the Celtics to go all the way.
While it doesn’t look like the Knicks can beat the Celtics, it could have been different.
Hopefully, this learning experience will help the Knicks in years to come.
Do you think the Knicks still have a shot? Let Kallas know in the comments below…