Give the New York Knicks, and particularly Anthony Carter, credit for a valiant comeback attempt late in their Game Four defeat. However, the Knicks were outclassed by a focused Boston Celtics team falling 101-89 as the Celtics earned the sweep.
The Knicks did a much better job on their off-ball screen coverage, with players fighting harder around curls and bigs showing better on those same screens. The Knicks also did a much better job communicating on Boston’s off-ball movement, and working through screens and not switching.
As a result, Ray Allen—5-13 FG, 14PTS—never really got untracked, and without the Knicks switching Carmelo Anthony’s big, quick body off Paul Pierce, he had a quiet day—5-18 FG, 13 PTS.
After two miserable performances mitigating one dazzling one, Anthony also deserves credit for a strong Game Four. While he had some trouble elevating over Pierce’s crowding defense, he abused Jeff Green and looked to attack the basket more than in any game in the series. He also made appropriate passes which would’ve been turned into more than three assists with a less motley supporting unit.
Anthony also had easily his best defensive game of the series, not taking the shortcuts he’d taken earlier in the series. Looking at ‘Melo’s final tally, we see two dream performances, and two nightmares. In the clutch, we see him making correct plays in Game Two, while being the main culprit in New York’s Game One loss.
Not an altogether damning performance, but certainly not good enough for Anthony to earn a place on basketball’s superstar pedestal. Perhaps Anthony will have a better postseason with a full year of acclimating to teammates and coaches? It’ll take 12 months to find out.
Why else did the Celtics win?
Amar’e Stoudemire was awful, shooting only 5-20 from the field and providing little other than offensive rebounds.
With Stoudemire hurting and Chauncey Billups out for the count, the Knicks lacked players who could create any sustainable offense.
Toney Douglas’ inability to make plays for teammates were exacerbated by Boston’s defense. Plus, Douglas’ inability to defend anybody straight up was picked apart by Rajon Rondo. Douglas pressures the ball decently and his quick hands and aggressive disposition can generate a steal here and there, but Douglas can’t stop opposing players from getting from point A to point B. He was often veering out of the way when Rondo attacked the hoop.
Ronny Turiaf and Jared Jeffries provided little and were benched for more offense-friendly lineups—despite Jeffries possibly having the third best series of any Knicks behind Anthony and Stoudemire.
New York‘s finest is searching the streets for Landry Fields‘ missing confidence—0-3 FG, 2 AST, 0 TO, 1 PT.
Bill Walker died on too many off-ball screens.
Shawne Williams isn’t able to consistently create his own offense, and he’s not a good defender or rebounder, traits that the Celtics picked apart in Game Four.
Only some Roger Mason shooting and Anthony Carter’s guts, heart, outlet passing, positional defense, shot-making, and on-target passing in the second half provided Anthony with any help.
It took Mike D’Antoni far too long in the series to give Carter extended burn, and after the hurting Rondo provided on Toney Douglas in Game Three, Carter should have been an early plan to limit some of Boston’s execution.
Also, by not playing Jeffries many minutes, Garnett was able to explode in the second half against Williams. Considering New York’s inability to make defensive plays, Stoudemire’s ineffectiveness, and D’Antoni imploring the Knicks to push the ball at any cost, it would’ve behooved the Knicks to put a defensive lineup on the floor, create stops, and score on the broken possessions and transition opportunities that could arise from good defense.
Meanwhile, on the Celtics side, Garnett scored in the post, on the perimeter, and harassed Stoudemire into a bogus performance. Combined with Jermaine O’Neal, the Celtics also provided exceptional interior help.
Glen Davis’ lower body abstained from kicking out on his jumpers. As a result, he was a weapon from the midrange—6-8 FG.
The Celtics primetime players made enough shots midway through the fourth to keep the Knicks at arm’s length. Eventually, the Knicks couldn’t sustain their good play.
And the Knicks had no answer for Rondo.
With the series over, attention now turns towards the future.
With Anthony on board, the Knicks have virtually fully transitioned away from a spread screen-roll offense into an isolation one. This mitigates the need for the Knicks to have floor-stretching big men to create spacing. As such, a defensive oriented center with height is a priority.
Landry Fields’ subtle talents don’t lend themselves to a team predicated on teammates isolating. Since he probably has the best trade value outside of Amar’e or ‘Melo, it might be in the Knicks’ best interests to swap him out.
Assuming Billups is brought back, the Knicks need a backup who can run an offense to keep Douglas as a two.
A two-way guard who can defend and create his own shot would be a wise pickup, as would more balanced players to bring off the bench, aside from the offensive or defensive niche fillers like Williams, Turiaf, and Jeffries.
However, the Knicks do have a talented core, which is much more difficult to obtain than a supporting cast. Assuming prudent offseason decisions, the Knicks have a much more exciting future than present.
The final piece to consider is the coach. This season was yet another postseason where D’Antoni’s teams were exposed for poor defensive play, and for trying to squeeze the most points out of an offense at the expense of the team’s defense.
D’Antoni also failed to acclimate Landry Fields into his new gameplan, failed to teach his young players how to defend, and was badly outcoached by Doc Rivers. Considering D’Antoni’s postseason track record, as the Knicks become a better team with higher expectations, it would be prudent to hold D’Antoni more accountable should the Knicks aspire to win a championship. D’Antoni’s tenements don’t hold up to the tenements of championship basketball.
As for Boston, the Miami Heat-Philadelphia Sixers series that’s ongoing is a mere formality, and the Celtics will, barring a cataclysmic upset, be squaring off with the Heat in the second round.
The struggles Pierce had with Anthony will be tenfold worse with LeBron James guarding him. Pierce doesn’t have the athleticism or speed to isolate LeBron, and James is much more belligerent in fighting through screens than Anthony.
Miami’s screen defense is also much more advanced than New York’s with Chris Bosh and especially Joel Anthony terrific screen defenders, and Bosh and Anthony should limit Garnett in the post.
What the Knicks series did show is that regardless of the circumstance, Boston’s collective grace under pressure can make up for any other deficiency, and Doc Rivers will find ways to put players in the best situations to succeed.
The Celtics are also proven, while the series would be Miami’s first under their current construction against an elite opponent in the postseason.
Plus, the Heat have no individual answer for Rondo, and won’t be able to hide Mike Bibby.
Either way, the showdown between the old guard Celtics, and a Heat team which relies on many of the same principles, will be riveting to watch. Considering the short time frame on Boston’s championship window, and the “Super Triplets” joining up squarely to beat teams like the Celtics, the implications of the series could be legacy-defining.