Monday, April 18, 2011

Knicks miss golden opportunity at home court with second-half collapse

(photo courtesy of

The New York Knicks had a great chance at stealing Game 1 from the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. They had a 51-39 lead at halftime only to let the Celtics climb back in the second half, much like the third meeting of the season between the teams.

In that game, New York was ahead 51-37 at the half and got outscored 33-17 in the fourth quarter to lose by ten. The game was much closer in crunch time this time around, but Carmelo Anthony made sure the Knicks didn't win.

After a scoreless first quarter due to instant foul trouble, Anthony scored 12 in the second quarter, making four of his seven shots and looking like the efficient version of himself that finished the season strong. But a 1-for-11 shooting performance in the second half doomed the Knicks, as Anthony was launching long threes out of the rhythm of the offense.

He hit two three-pointers in three attempts in the second quarter, but made none of his next five attempts in the second half. In the Knicks final seven possessions, he had more missed shots and turnovers combined (four) than points (zero). The Knicks outplayed the Celtics for most of the game, yet came up empty.

The worst part about Anthony's late-game struggles? Amar'e Stoudemire was on fire, scoring 12 of the Knicks first 18 points in the quarter to give them an 82-78 lead. He was hitting mid-range jump shots, driving the basket aggressively and finishing around the hoop. His 360 reverse layup in between multiple Celtics may be one of the year's best shots, followed shortly thereafter by a posterizing dunk

After a turnover with 2:15 left, it's like Stoudemire wasn't even on the floor. He barely touched the ball as the offense started to run through the cold Anthony again and the Knicks couldn't atone for their defensive breakdowns that allowed Boston to make up an 85-82 deficit in the final 37 seconds.

An alley-oop off of a half-court inbounds pass in the playoffs is inexcusable. I know the Knicks were worried about leaving Ray Allen open for a three-pointer (more on this later) but you still have to defend the basket.

On the next possession, Anthony was called for an offensive foul. The refs claim they let the players play more in the playoffs, which they should, but this was one of Paul Pierce's better flop jobs. And he's well-known for flopping.

When two All-Stars are battling for position 15 feet from the basket, you don't call a foul when they're ripping their arms through each other to establish position. Anthony ripped his arm through Pierce, whose Academy Award-worthy performance drew the foul and set up the game-winning possession.

Toney Douglas was tripped by Kevin Garnett setting a screen, leaving Allen open for a three with 11 seconds left. I knew it was in before it reached the basket. It's hard to fault the competing Douglas, the Knicks' best perimeter defender and the man who put them up three, as replays show a blatant trip.

With no timeouts remaining, the Knicks had to push the ball the length of the court for chance to tie. Anthony demanded the ball off the inbounds, didn't get it and jogged down the court. When he finally got the ball 40 feet from the hoop with eight seconds left, getting to the basket for a tying two-pointer seemed out of the question.

Anthony was double-teamed and rather than pass to an open Toney Douglas at the top of the key for the win, pulled up for another awful 25-footer that fell way short. This came just 50 seconds after Anthony took a contested three-pointer with a new shot clock after an offensive rebound. Overall, a terrible playoff debut in a Knicks jersey for Anthony.

An even bigger issue for the Knicks is the health of the geriatric Chauncey Billups. Did Denver know something we didn't (besides his age) when they were so adamant about moving Billups? He had been healthy as a Nugget but as a Knick, he's already been hurt twice.

Billups' first injury cost the Knicks a few games of building chemistry, while this one threatens any hope they have of upsetting the Celtics. Billups isn't necessarily needed for late-game shots with Anthony and Stoudemire on the team but losing him will be a big blow to New York's depth at guard.

Douglas has filled in more than admirably for Billups in the past but lacks the same level of playoff experience. Billups played 35 minutes in Game 1 and is expected to miss Game 2, meaning those minutes will be distributed among Douglas, Landry Fields, Anthony Carter, Bill Walker and even Shawne Williams. I like all of those players, but an expanded role means their weaknesses will be further exposed.

To win Game 2, the Knicks will need a big game from Douglas, hot shooting from Walker and Williams and an efficient Anthony; a tall task against Boston's defense. Even an Anthony that recognizes when his shot is off and is willing to defer to the hot hand, especially when that hot hand is a fellow star in this league, would be nice.

When he's shooting well the ball should be in Anthony's hand at the end of games but when he's not, there's a reason the Knicks have two top scorers. Pass the ball, Melo. Even if it's to someone like Douglas, whose three-pointer with under 40 seconds left broke a tie and put the Knicks ahead.

The day Anthony learns to trust his teammates when they're open in key late-game situations is the day he will become a winner in the playoffs. I'm just not sure I see it happening overnight, which is tough news for Knicks fans who were hoping for a surprising playoff run in 2011.

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