To which the defiant knight responds: “ ’Tis but a scratch,” and insists, after the right arm disappears, “It’s just a flesh wound.”
As injuries, both unlucky and self-inflicted, mounted, the Knicks stood their ground but were short of arms, weary of legs and ultimately left behind by an athletically superior and more organized team with much grander visions than first-round survival.
When the series was mercifully over after , no one in the Knicks camp dared mimic the satirical knight by calling it a draw. Yet there was some degree of denial about what the truncated and turbulent 2011-12 season had been and what it seemed to presage for the next one.
“Next year looking for bigger and better things,” said Amar’e Stoudemire, who embodies the team’s predicament and prospects for dramatic improvement from its seventh-place finish in the Eastern Conference, which wrought the most unfavorable playoff matchup.
It is impossible to know how healthy or holistic Stoudemire — and in a larger sense the Knicks — will be next season.
In praising his opponents for winning Game 4 and dragging their battered torsos back to Miami, Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Knicks: “They really battled this entire series. They went through a tremendous amount of adversity.”
And there’s the rub. For all the Knicks underwent and withstood in a whirlwind season of unique and antithetical stages, they finished it with many of the subplots unresolved. For all the credit due the team’s front office for overhauling its roster and infusing it with talent and depth, how much of it is complementary or will even return remains to be seen.
On the TNT telecast Wednesday night, the former New York tormentor-turned-commentator Reggie Miller hedged on just about every Knicks platitude, including his admiration of the shot-making ability of . Conversely, Miller chided Anthony for being overweight, a mystifying and prevailing industry criticism for a soon-to-be 28-year-old player of Anthony’s stature.
Anthony seldom tires of shooting — his 35 points required 31 shots Wednesday night — but his series-long target practice was more related to the Knicks’ lack of options, including a creative point guard, and not unlike other high-volume N.B.A. shooters, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant among them.
The bigger issue is how Anthony gets those shots, too often in clear-outs, while his teammates stand around, checking their smartphones, and while the players guarding them happily conserve energy. Anthony can score repeatedly on anyone, but he must exhaust himself in doing so against a superior defender like LeBron James. Against quality teams, that invariably has a punitive effect on other parts of his game — most glaringly his jogging back on defense against the fast break.
“We have to find a way to get everybody involved, get everyone an opportunity,” said Tyson Chandler, who never had a positive impact on the series after beginning it with flulike symptoms. Intentional or not, that amounted to a challenge to Coach Mike Woodson, who presumably will have the interim tag removed and will have to do better next season integrating Anthony’s extraordinary solo skills into a more cohesive offense.
The return of should help. Then again, left unresolved is how effective and appreciative Anthony will be to have Lin resume his role as the appointed facilitator, creating shots for all, as well as for himself. We know how thrilled Anthony was when Mike D’Antoni tried to democratize the Knicks’ offense — granted, to the point of excess. How good Lin is or can be is also part of the great unknown and bound to have an impact on the karma with Anthony.
On Wednesday night Anthony vowed, “We’ll be much better as a unit — not just me and Amar’e, but as a team, as a group.”
For that to transcend wishful thinking, there needs to be some serious group therapy that allows Stoudemire to purge his frustration over not getting the ball — seven shots Wednesday night, or 24 fewer than Anthony — in more constructive ways than lashing out at the glass casing of a fire extinguisher.
Can Anthony exist with Lin and Stoudemire? Can Stoudemire find operating room with Chandler occupying the paint? The argument can be made that these problems exist more in the minds of players who seem well intentioned, but perception becomes reality, especially when it is played out on the back pages of the New York tabloids.
Beyond the core, the makeup of the supporting cast is anyone’s guess. The rookie guard Iman Shumpert is the athletic upside, a defensive stopper, but major knee surgery is likely to keep him sidelined for most of next season. As many as a half-dozen players may have played their final games as Knicks for a variety of reasons, including a daunting salary-cap conundrum.
These Knicks may have been the most scrutinized and celebrated seventh-place team in N.B.A. history, but progress was made in the implementation of a defensive philosophy through Woodson, Chandler and Shumpert, and in a one-game improvement over last season’s 4-0 sweep by Boston. The downside is that at the rate they are going, the Knicks will not make it through the first round with only scratches and flesh wounds until 2015.