For anyone wondering why you trade half of the current Denver Nuggets starting line-up, draft picks, money, Spike Lee’s hat collection and a Kardashian to be named later for Carmelo Anthony – that’s why. To see him drop 42 points and 17 rebounds on a Boston Celtics team that is quite clearly the class of the Eastern Conference, all the while carrying four of the most out-of-place scrubs you’ve ever seen on his back.
Jared Jefferies, Bill Walker, Toney Douglas and Roger Mason Jr. – that’s who went to war with Anthony in the biggest New York Knicks basketball game of the decade. And they were everything you would expect them to be, only less. With every good decision, every step forward, they made it a point to take at minimum two steps back.
Walker steals the ball twice? Walker misses 11 shots. Douglas hits five shots? Douglas misses 11 shots. Jeffries makes a clutch basket? Jefferies fumbles the ball away on the team’s final real possession.
It was painful to watch. You had four guys that would come off the bench for the local Rucker Park JV squad trotting out with one of the premiere talents in the world, and doing their absolute best to inadvertently sabotage him every single time the ball touched their hands.
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You looked at Anthony after the game, and you felt nothing but pity for the guy. He was the last man standing of the bootleg New York Big Three that was supposed to take over the world, and he had done everything in his power to will his team to a victory. He didn’t whine about Chauncey Billups not even bothering to suit up for the game. He didn’t say anything about Amare Stoudemire running to the locker room before halftime due to back spasms. He just went out and played.
He played like a man that was worth every single thing that the Knicks gave up to acquire him, times ten. He scored with ease, flair and at least two men draped on him at all times. He fell away from the basket, he drove towards it – he literally did everything.
Only it wasn’t enough. And ironically, the player who was worth an entire team to the Knicks, ended up falling to the group which as a whole has always been stronger than the sum of its parts.
The Celtics beat the Knicks in the closing seconds, again. This time it was Kevin Garnett who hit the dagger 5-foot jumper with a slightly more than 13 seconds left on the clock. In the last game, it was Ray Allen. During the regular season, it was Paul Pierce. The Celtics simply have too many options, too much versatility and just enough players not named Jared Jefferies, Bill Walker, Toney Douglas or Roger Mason Jr. to lose to this particular Knicks squad.
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Now, the Knicks will travel back home to New York down 0-2 in the best-of-seven series, needing to win four of their next five outings to move on to the second round. Needless to say, the smart money isn’t on them achieving that feat.
Anthony left everything he had on the floor on Tuesday night, and in the end, it didn’t amount to anything in the way of results. The Knicks finished this game the same way they had finished the last one, and the same way they had finished their games against the Celtics during the regular season – with losses.
“I couldn’t have been more proud of the team,” Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game.
Amazingly enough, over the past two outings, his injury-riddled bunch of misfits had lost by an aggregate five points to the team that represented their conference in the NBA Finals last year.
Unfortunately, whether they lost the last two games to the Celtics by five or by fifty, it doesn’t change the fact that Knicks are in a hole that they won’t be able to climb out of.
You have to wonder if at some point, while watching the game, James Dolan didn’t just close his eyes and grimace at the quandary that he, and every other NBA head honcho always seemed to face. He had given up everything but the Statue of Liberty to acquire Anthony, believing that he would be the final piece to a championship puzzle centered around the Two and a Half Men attack of Stoudemire, Anthony and Billups. The Miami Heat, Celtics and a number of contenders over the past few years had made similar investments.
Now, with one and a half of those pieces gone, he was watching his squad fall to a versatile, healthy team – knowing full well that the media would shred him to pieces for the scrubs that D’Antoni was forced to put on the floor on Tuesday night.
The truth is, though, any other championship team would have looked like exactly the same as the Knicks did if two of their key stars went out. If LeBron James and Chris Bosh got injured, the Heatles would surround Dwyane Wade with the superstar-caliber likes of Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mario Chalmers. If Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom got injured, Kobe Bryant would be passing the ball to Shannon Brown, Matt Barnes and Derek Fisher.
Teams in the professional ranks are built around centerpieces, and when the centerpieces are removed, the respective teams are exposed. New York is no exception. You can’t blame them for the dead weight they surrounded Anthony with on Tuesday night, they were just the victims of bad circumstances.
There is no great symbolic tale to take away from this for the Knicks, no moral victories. They understand that In the end, the whole of the Celtics was greater than the sum of Anthony’s brilliance and their spare parts last night. Period, exclamation mark.
There is always the next game to make things right. Or the next season.
In the NBA, you're always the it team until you're not anymore, until you are again. And nobody, nobody knows that better than the Knicks.