Having the wind knocked out of their sails in a heartbreaking home loss proved to be the worst possible preparation for the Knicks’ West Coast swing against the Lakers, Kings and Nuggets.
Facing Boston at home after two successive wins (likely to be the longest such streak of the season), the Knicks fell to a Kevin Garnett buzzer beater in overtime that cost them a victory they probably deserved. It was a cruel ending for Mike D’Antoni’s men who, after falling behind in the first quarter, rode the hot hands of Al Harrington and Nate Robinson (in his best performance of the season to date) to lead by five going into the fourth quarter. The Garden crowd began to come alive.
With Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett out of sorts, the Celtics scoring load fell on the shoulders of Paul Pierce who, with 33 points, revived his team as the Knicks struggled to score down the stretch. The lack of a reliable fourth quarter threat probably had some wishing Donnie Walsh had signed up Allen Iverson just days before.
Eddy Curry made his first home apperance since early 2008 and struggled thanks to his colleagues’ collective inability to throw him good entry passes into the post. In his 15 minutes on the court, Curry battled down low with Garnett and Kendrick Perkins and his frustration boiled over late in the fourth quarter when, battling for a rebound, he launched a cheapshot push-cum-punch that sent Rajan Rondo sprawling. The resulting flagrant foul caused a three-point swing that fuelled the Celtics’ hope.
With time running out in OT and the score tied at 105, David Lee rotated from KG to double team Pierce, denying Boston’s clutch shooter the opportunity to finish the game. Pierce passed to Garnett who, limping down the court, had an open shot from the top of the key thanks to Harrington’s failure to rotate onto him. Garnett was 3 of 14 for the game but didn’t think twice about taking the shot. He sank the jumper as time expired to inflict a cruel loss on the Knicks, their seventh home defeat in 8 games.
Knowing how brittle this Knicks team can be, the body blow delivered by Garnett had fans immediately fearing the worse for the next game, a road clash with the defedning champion Lakers. To make matters worse, a traffic gridlock meant the team arrived at Staples just 55 minutes before tip-off. In spite of this disruption, the Knicks were competitive for the first half. Sadly, they disintegrated in the third quarter, surrendering 17 points without reply and trailing at one stage by 25 points, before fighting back to semi-respectability after Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant had left the game in the fourth, eventually losing 100-90.
Outrebounded 60 to 36, the Knicks had no answer to a superior Lakers team. Bryant scored 34 points in an efficient 14-for-20 performance from the field. Gasol added 11 points and 16 boards. All five Lakers starters scored in double figures. In contrast, the all-to-familiar shooting woes from Wilson Chandler (5 for 20) and Chris Duhon (2 for 9 including 0 for 5 from beyond the arc) contributed to the Knicks predictable downfall.
One night later, facing a Sacramento Kings team without their star scorer Kevin Martin, the Knicks – in theory, at least, had their best opportunity to earn a W. In typical Knicks fashion, they failed to take it. Playing their fourth game in five days, the Knicks produced a thoroughly listless performance in which they were lit up from downtown and at the rim by the unheralded Donte Greene.
Outscored 19-6 in the opening minutes, the Knicks were unable to make a serious run. They were ragged and, at times, downright lazy. Starting the second half with a 10 point deficit, Nate Robinson allowed Greene to go back door for two and then drain an uncontested three on the Kings’ next possession. Mike D’Antoni immediately called for time and chewed out Robinson like a father who’d just found out his son had disgraced his family name. The Knicks lost 111-97 with a whimper.
I’m willing to bet NBA neutrals allergic to defence really enjoyed the final game of the Knicks’ West Coast road trip in Denver. It was a high-scoring D-free affair and D’Antoni’s men showed great heart in hanging in the game as Carmelo Anthony let fly with a 50-point barrage (a career high) and Chauncey Billups added a further 32.
Buoyed by Al Harrington’s 41 points off the bench and a 23 and 10 effort from David Lee, the Knicks repeatedly dragged themselves back into the game thanks, in part, to some dubious ticky-tack fouls called on Melo and Kenyon Martin. They led 111-110 with three and a half minutes to go and, even when they fell behind by eight points, fought back in the final seconds and gave themselves a chance to send the game to overtime.
With four seconds remaining, JR Smith missed one of two free throws. The score stood at 128-125. With no timeouts, there was nothing D’Antoni could do except to rely on his players. Characteristically, they struggled to inbound the ball, advanced it up the court in a panicked fashion and ultimately failed to get a shot off before the buzzer. Comparing this haphazard and futile play with Melo’s ice-cold execution down the stretch shows exactly what the Knicks are missing. Anthony may lack the flash of Lebron but he has matured into NBA’s purest hoops classicist, always making the right passes and shots. It was a pleasure to watch him at his best.
As for the Knicks, their performance against the Nuggets highlights their plight. Even when they play close to their best, they still lose. Whether they go with rookies or with experience, they still lose. In a week that yielded four defeats from four games in which they fell to a miserable 3 and 13, the fact that the team’s futility can’t lead to a high pick in the 2010 draft once again instilled depression into the team’s long-suffering fans.