When the Knicks went up 3-0 on the Celtics on Friday night, they gave themselves four straight chances to knock off their long-time nemesis, the current incarnation of which perhaps for good. Two of those chances have come, and the Knicks have whiffed twice.
After the Knicks lost Game 4, there was a lot of confidence among the Knicks and their fans that it was just a blip and things would be over soon. This likely was borne from the spinning of some of Game 4′s negatives into positives for the future. Thoughts like:
Carmelo was terrible, the Celtics hit a bunch of shots, J.R. Smith didn’t play, and the Celtics barely won. That won’t happen again.
Well Game 5 happened, and the Knicks are soon boarding a bus or plane or train and heading up to Boston for a Game 6 in which every available morsel of pressure is squarely on them. They’re heading back to the TD Garden, a place that is going to be completely engulfed in emotion, because many of the bad habits that reared their head in Game 4 showed up again last night.
It’s simultaneously laughable and concerning when remembering that the Knicks started Game 5 on an 11-0 run. At some point during the fourth quarter, the Celtics took a 75-60 lead. Doing some simple math, the Celtics outscored the Knicks 75-49 from the opening run to that point. That’s a 26-point swing. Big runs happen in basketball all the time, however, they usually do not come from teams like the 2012-13 Boston Celtics, a team who employed a total of seven human beings to play basketball last night, two of whom were Terrence Williams and Avery Bradley.
Credit to the Celtics, sure. Paul Pierce got hot in the third quarter (but went just 6-of-19 from the field overall, wow this is depressing), Jason Terry pretended it was 2007 and made a boatload of threes, Kevin Garnett protected the rim well, yep, all that stuff.
Except the Knicks are just as much to blame for the fact that there’s a trip back to Boston than anything the Celtics did in Game 5. Many of the check marks you usually look for in a Knicks win were there. They turned the ball over just 13 times and won the turnover battle. They won the offensive rebounding battle and out-attempted their opponent, 81 field goal attempts to 70.
But they lost because they allowed a poor shooting team to shoot 46% from the field and 50% from deep. That happened because the help defense, switching and rotations were generally a step and a half late. They lost because they shot 22% from behind the arc themselves, which happened despite many of the looks from Smith and Anthony being clean ones. Outside of Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert, every Knick appeared either catatonic, flummoxed or nervous. That includes the dude on the sideline with the oversized, 8th Avenue value-store suit and the goatee.
The Knicks fell behind because they weren’t defending, but also because they were unimaginative on offense. The insistence on isolations for Anthony and Smith got them in trouble, but they seemingly snapped out of it, momentarily, in the third quarter when they started running a lot of pick-and-rolls with Felton as the main ball-handler. The sped-up tempo in the half court allowed Felton to get into the lane to create havoc. But as the defense lagged, so did the offensive creativity, and the ball stopped moving and the shots kept clanking. Why did the pick-and-rolls stop? Where was Pablo Prigioni in the second half?
That isn’t to say that the Knicks didn’t get any good looks. They got plenty, especially Anthony and Smith. It’s worth speculating whether or not the shots weren’t going because both were squeezing the ball just a bit too tight. Maybe Friday’s Game 6 will give us a clearer picture into that, when the pressure will be increasing by the minute. In Smith’s case, given the pre-game crap talk and all, I think it’s a fair assessment. In Melo’s case I simply don’t know, but it hasn’t looked very good the past two games. Anthony has missed his last 15 3-point attempts. You can call this a slump if you want, but I’d like to see the last time he missed 15 straight from downtown.
The Knicks aren’t going to win games if Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith shoot this poorly. They also aren’t going to win if they allow these Boston Celtics to shoot 46%, if they let guys like Brandon Bass and Jason Terry combine for nearly 40 points. That’s nonsense.
There is a very good chance the Knicks win this series. We’re still a long way to go until we get into full-blown panic mode (actually we’re one bad half away, but nevermind). The Knicks didn’t lose three or four in a row this year often at all, Anthony and Smith are due to get hot, and the Celtics can’t shoot this well for two more full games, right?