Leaning heavily on one star in particular, the Knicks overcome their Boston tormenters
The New York Knicks have struggled against virtually everyone in the N.B.A. over the past four seasons, but no team has dominated them like the Boston Celtics.
In the course of making regular playoff runs and capturing an N.B.A. title, the Celtics of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce racked up wins against the Knicks in 20 of the teams' last 22 meetings. Even after New York acquired Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, Boston still swept the Knicks in the opening round of the playoffs last spring.
So after the Knicks stormed out to a 17-point lead in the first half of Sunday's season opener against Boston at Madison Square Garden, it came as no surprise to anyone when Boston battled back to take a 10-point lead as the fourth quarter began. It all looked familiar, as the Knicks started breaking down defensively and a standing around on offense. The only thing missing from the picture was Isiah Thomas looking on morosely from the newly renovated courtside tunnel.
But this time, the end of the game was very different. The Knicks prevailed, 106-104, thanks to some late-game play on both ends of the court that would have been almost unimaginable from them a year ago.
The offensive difference Sunday was Carmelo Anthony, who seemed to channel his idol Bernard King en route to 17 fourth-quarter points and 37 for the game. Anthony made his shots at a high percentage (10-for-17), and forced the Celtics to foul him and send him to the free-throw line, where he converted 13 of 15, including a pair with 16 seconds left that proved to be the final margin. Boston rarely doubled Anthony, thanks in large part to the presence at the other forward spot of Stoudemire, whose efficient 8-for-11 shooting gave the Knicks another 21 points. It is the presence of the scorers that will consistently lift one another: defenses cannot key on either one too much, because both of them can take over games.
It's a good thing, too, because the Knicks seemed to have stalled, after creating offense early on with passing and movement without the basketball. By the third quarter, the Knicks were mostly standing around. They got away with it, because of Anthony and Stoudemire.
Anthony in particular gives the Knicks a trump card over the Celtics, who have in the recent past dominated New York with Pierce, Garnett or Allen overwhelming them offensively. But with Pierce out due to injury, the incredible Rajon Rondo far more of a passing than shooting threat (though he did convert an unusual 11 of 19 shots Sunday), and both Allen and Garnett struggling to get good shots, Boston had no answer for Anthony.
After Garnett hit a 20-footer to put Boston up 102-100 with 3:08 left, Garnett and Allen missed four shots combined, in ugly fashion, while Allen provided a crucial turnover with 36 seconds left.
A couple of factors to consider here. For one thing, the Knicks did a masterful job keeping Allen from getting open looks for the entire game. In a game with Pierce out, the fact that the Knicks managed to keep Ray Allen to just three three-point attempts meant that offense needed to come from unconventional places, or not at all. For another, none of the attempts from Garnett came from closer than about 14 feet out. Not coincidentally, new Knicks center Tyson Chandler had six blocked shots.
But for right now, defending well in crunch time and asking its superstars to win in isolation sets is about what the Knicks can expect to do for the near future. The team still is without point guard Baron Davis due to a back injury, and should be for some time. Opening-day starter Toney Douglas reinforced the idea that he cannot run the offense yet, if ever, and he managed to take nearly as many shots (19) and Anthony and Stoudemire combined (28) while making just eight of them.
Iman Shumpert, the rookie defensive prodigy who Mike D'Antoni considered starting in Douglas' place Sunday, will be out 2-4 weeks weeks after straining the Medial Collateral Ligament in his knee in a third-quarter collision with Boston' Chris Wilcox. That means veteran Mike Bibby will get more minutes, with little in his recent play to indicate that he'll do any better managing the team’s play.
In fact, D'Antoni has repeatedly discussed the idea of allowing Anthony to run the team as a point-forward, which is probably just fine, since the offense will consist of Anthony either passing to Stoudemire so he can isolate his defender, or for Anthony doing the scoring himself. That limited sort of game plan doesn't really call for a point guard, and at least on Sunday, it was good enough for the Knicks to beat a team that has, in recent years, in a different league from them.