BOSTON – When the lineup sheets came in, it looked like the Knicks were playing a prank. Everyone from Ron Baker to the Kuz was starting Wednesday night with Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah sidelined.
Surely, this will be a walk in the park, the crowd whispered out loud. When Melo looked like he was just there to enjoy the scenery, it seemed like the Celtics would eventually run away with it. Yet in the end, they fell to the Knicks 117-106.
It was a thorny awakening, as Derrick Rose and the Knicks’ deep bench players were getting their chance to sparkle. They lit up the rainy night sky. Mindaugas Kuzminskas—try typing that five times fast—had 17 points as the starting four while Willy Hernangomez brought 17 points and 11 boards off the bench. The Knicks ended up out-rebounding the Celtics 55-32, the worst rebounding differential for the Cs since November 5, 2014 against the Raptors per Basketball Index.
“It was crazy. They played small and they still outrebounded us by 20 or something,” Jae Crowder said.
“The punked us,” Isaiah Thomas said. “They were the harder playing team on both ends of the floor. We aren’t going to beat anybody the way they man handled us.”
With that Knicks lineup walking out for the tip, the Celtics were faced with the decision of locking in and burying them, or coasting on their presumed superior talent. “It’s a game we should have won,” Jaylen Brown said. “We underestimated our opponent.”
“The more desperate team, the better team tonight, the more aggressive team – they won,” Brad Stevens said. “They were small tonight, so it’s not like that should’ve been a big excuse from a size standpoint, not that you should ever get rebounded by 24.”
The desperation stemmed from a tumultuous week for the franchise that hit an apex when Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson had a overwhelmingly publicized sit-down about his future. Meanwhile, unilaterally minted sixth man Courtney Lee was caught in a social media firestorm when his post of a shot of Jim Carrey from Dumb and Dumber was interpreted as him complaining about his role.
Lee told me after the game that his mistake was to put up a photo without a caption, and that he was just criticizing the team as a whole for its failure to step up to the plate.
“It was a big win for us to come in here and try to put everything to the side despite of what has been surrounding the team,” Melo said. “Focus in on playing basketball and winning, more importantly winning on the road. The way that we came together as a unit, as a group, and everybody played a big part in this victory today.”
It was a miserable night for Al Horford, whose 10 assists were tainted by a disheartening 2/14 shooting performance. On a night where many prophesized how many threes Jared Sullinger would miss in his season debut, that curse spent one more night in Boston.
Meanwhile, Derrick Rose spent the second half flying to the rim. He tied a season high with 30 points. He dethroned the King in the Fourth, beating him 12-8 in the fourth quarter as Thomas shot just 2/9. Thomas came into the fourth with 31 points on 10/16 shooting, but that coordination and continuity that Avery Bradley provides was just missing Wednesday. Thomas at least was able to walk away with one nifty pass through the legs of Marshall Plumlee.
The situation became dire enough for Brad Stevens to break the glass case in which Jordan Mickey lies dormant. It was Mickey’s third appearance since November 18, and he had a wild six minutes featuring a coast-to-coast play in which he stole the ball, flew down the floor, and was promptly pick pocketed.
Carmelo Anthony was in quite a few trade ideas this week, which sparked a media firestorm. Perhaps the conversation on him joining the Celtics could be put to rest, after he turned in a hideous performance that was the only dark spot on the Knicks’ shining night. Melo’s lack of defensive awareness and offensive approach that could only be described as masochistic slog made him look like the worst player on the floor at times. Maybe it’s just Ron Bakers’ time.
Avery Bradley was declared out for the game just before tip. After returning from an Achilles injury on Monday, it turned out he wasn’t ready to play just yet.
“So he was really sore,” Stevens said. “Went through our walk-through and then came out to the court and did some stuff and was more sore today than he has been. So I think he’s – I don’t anticipate – I think he did treatment the whole game and I can see him missing a little bit more time.
“I just think maybe he came back a little bit too early, whatever the case may be, but he was more sore today than he’s been. But nothing structurally bad. Just still a pulled Achilles.”
The Celtics will need him back, as the 6’3 shooting guard has been their best rebounder this season. It’s no coincidence they had their worst rebounding performance ever under Stevens with him out. Stevens will have to dig deep into his roster to find some sort of solution.