In closing down Madison Square Garden one day after the succumbed in Washington, the Knicks allowed those next fall to at least return hopeful that it was injuries as much as unfamiliarity and inferiority that pushed the Knicks’ streak without a playoff victory to a decade.
From where the Garden president, , sat courtside, his insistence that be acquired at any cost — no matter what alternative scheme the team’s president, , had devised — was no doubt justified.
“I would think that with him and Carmelo going forward, the Knicks are in good shape,” Coach said of the forward cornerstones after the Celtics let the Knicks cut their deficit from 23 points to 4 before pulling away to .
Curiously, D’Antoni avoided the use of a personal pronoun. Maybe he knows something about Walsh’s cloudy status and by extension his own. More likely, he was echoing Stoudemire, who upon signing last summer declared that “the Knicks are back,” then went about the gritty business of restoring them as a credible franchise.
But the cold, hard facts presented the case that the Knicks — notwithstanding injuries to Chauncey Billups and Stoudemire — didn’t prove much else against the Celtics, who themselves may not survive the second round.
This former championship team of self-assured veteran stars made wonderfully whole by outexecuted and outcoached the Knicks down the stretch at TD Garden in Boston and blew them out at the hostile Garden in Midtown Manhattan. The Celtics were more organized on the fast break and vastly superior in the halfcourt, and when they needed a defensive stop they certainly knew how to get one.
“I wouldn’t say they are a role model for us but definitely a blueprint for how you can get it done together,” said the Knicks reserve forward Bill Walker, who was acquired from the Celtics last season. Asked to elaborate, he said, “Just playing for each other, man, not worrying about the stats, just the one that matters most.”
About that time, Anthony sat at his dressing stall, a blue towel draped over his shoulders, bent slightly forward with his hands clasped together. On the carpet in front of him was a box score that made the statistical case that he had done all he could: .
Yet here he was, eliminated again in the first round for the seventh time in eight N.B.A seasons, and perhaps entertaining a stray thought or two about the consequences of getting what he wished for when he leveraged his way off a Denver team lacking only a fourth-quarter closer. Or someone like him.
On the brighter side, if there was something Anthony could take away from his close encounter with the Celtics, it was that once had a similar playoff track record. In 12 years in Minnesota, Garnett went beyond the first round once.
But if Anthony is to grow as a player and as a teammate, he should remember how Garnett demonstrated the number of ways a star of true championship character can beat you. with a jump hook and proceeded to dive on a loose ball he had slapped away from Jared Jeffries.
When Anthony finally made his way to the interview room Sunday, he talked about what a “crazy year” it had been, referring to the trade he forced from Denver that essentially turned the Knicks into a three-man team.
The consequences of the roster purge were never Anthony’s problem until injuries struck Billups and Stoudemire, and he wound up playing with a cast from the West Fourth Street playground.
Still, he contended that the Knicks “proved to a lot of people, short-handed or not, that we are going to compete on a night-in, night-out basis.” Really? If they proved anything by going 14-18 after the trade, playoffs included, it was that there is much more work to be done. If Dolan has a shred of sense, he will beg Walsh to stick around to do it.
While Stoudemire answered every question about his commitment to the process of building a serious playoff team, including playing hurt, Anthony has not. For all the flattery, he remains an exceptionally talented enigma, struggling with the expectations of being the leading man on a stage as big as Broadway, much as did during his early days with the Yankees.
At the end of Game 1, Anthony forced a 3-point shot while double-teamed with his team down by 2 and Toney Douglas wide open. Two nights later, having taken a news media roasting, he seemed relieved to follow the coach’s script to pass to the offensively inept Jeffries in a similar endgame situation.
The losses in Boston were painful but apparently enough to obscure how far the Knicks were from being a cohesive team, much less a contender. For Dolan’s corporate purposes, they were close enough to make the season a smashing success. In the immortal words of a former president, mission accomplished.