Amare Stoudemire, take a bow. Raymond Felton, stand up straight and tall. Danilo Gallinari, you did your thing. New York Knicks, hold your heads high. Tonight was one of the better NBA games we’ll see this season, and we are all better for it. The Knicks have nothing to be ashamed of, but they were the hard-luck losers, two-tenths of a second from a victory that would have validated their strong start.
Too bad they didn’t have The Truth. I begged my television for Kevin Garnett to take the last shot. He’d been having his way with Stoudemire (on offense, at least) down the stretch, and he deserved the ball. But it’s not like Paul Pierce was shabby on this night, either. He entered the final play with 30 points, and he left it with 32.
Doc Rivers called for KG to set a high ball screen on Pierce’s man, and the Knicks switched the screen as the C’s suspected they would. Raymond Felton switched onto Garnett, and I again begged for Pierce to give him the ball. “Felton’s on KG, for fuck’s sake!” I screamed at the TV. But Pierce held a mismatch, too, and Stoudemire — for all his offensive exploits, and he was somewhere between sensational and literally unstoppable tonight — didn’t stand a chance.
Pierce dribbled to his right, then pulled up short, distancing himself from Stoudemire. I hate the Pierce isolation and everything it stands for, but he pulled into his wheelhouse and Stoudemire couldn’t do anything about it. Buckets. With 0.4 seconds, there wasn’t much else that could happen. Umm, or so I thought.
Pierce decided to take a victory lap for the New York fans, but before he did, Nate Robinson jumped on Pierce’s shoulders in celebration. I would describe the incident, but, well, down goes Nate Robinson:
The Knicks called timeout, and I suspected they would throw an alley-oop to one of their four million great athletes. After all, only 0.4 seconds remained in the game. There wasn’t time for anything else. Instead, Amare set a pick for Danilo Gallinari, who was just a decoy. Amare flashed to the ball, and launched a 25-footer for the win. All net, but it was too late.
I re-watched the play after the game had ended. I was convinced an Amare three-pointer couldn’t possibly have been Mike D’Antoni’s main target. After all, well, this was Amare Stoudemire. He was phenomenal all night, but three-point shooting isn’t his forte. And there were only 0.4 seconds left. That’s time for a catch-and-shoot if you’re Eddie House. Not so much if you’re a power forward/center. But in re-watching it, Gallinari was either A) painfully soft coming off Amare’s initial screen, or B) a decoy. He sure as hell looked like a decoy to me. That play, unless my eyes lied to me, was actually designed for a Stoudemire three. D’Antoni, you’re better than that. Maybe next time, you should outsource all your late-game play calls to Doc Rivers.
While the referees huddled to decide whether the three counted or not, Paul Pierce stood at halfcourt bowing to the New York threes. This wasn’t quite a rivalry again, this Celtics-Knicks battle, but it meant something. And it felt good.
There was a lot of other stuff that occurred. Pierce can’t be stopped by anyone wearing a New York Knickerbockers jersey. Kevin Garnett buckled down on Stoudemire late, crowding his jump shots. Garnett also posted up immediately in front of the hoop, bullying Stoudemire for good position. As good as Amare was throughout the game, KG was better down the stretch, and that might have been the difference. Or the difference might have been Paul Pierce’s late-game help defense, when he jumped in front of a cutting Stoudemire to force a contested shot rather than an easy dunk. It’s easy to overlook plays like those, but they make an enormous impact. In a game like tonight’s, when the teams traded buckets all fourth quarter, Pierce’s defensive stand — which forced a Stoudemire miss — allowed the C’s to win.
Rajon Rondo played poorly, and even worse than that, he hurt himself. He returned to the game after a vicious-looking ankle twist, but looked hobbled when he did. It’s hard to say a player plays poorly in a 14-assist night, but Rondo was careless with the ball. He passed up a couple wide open layups. He let Raymond Felton go bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S.
At one point, Doc Rivers looked to yell something at Rondo. Rondo, stubborn as usual, screamed right back. KG intervened and looked like he told Rondo to shut up, but there was some beefing on the Celtics sideline. Probably nothing to worry about, but it was there. And methinks it was because Rondo looked mostly disinterested. By the way, for those counting at home, Rondo is now bothered by his feet, ankle, and hamstring. Anyone want to join me in requesting that he sit out tomorrow’s game?
Ray Allen did his normal thing, including nailing a late-game, wide-open three-pointer. Semih Erden will have nightmares of Amare Stoudemire for the rest of the season. Nate Robinson was a difference-maker, and probably deserves more ink than this one sentence. Glen Davis did Glen Davis things. And Marquis Daniels, who was sometimes utilized as power forward in an intriguing small lineup, wasn’t bad, though he wasn’t good. A normal Daniels night.
For the Knicks, Stoudemire and Felton’s play speaks for itself. But Gallinari is their X-Factor. One gets the feeling Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton are maxed out. Those two are playing outrageously efficient basketball, but how much better can they play? Same with Wilson Chandler. He’s improving, but he’s not going to get much better than he’s playing right now. But Gallo? With that shooting stroke? With that ability to draw fouls, and take it to the rack, and be a matchup difficulty for almost any wing in the league? He has a chance to be a superstar, and if he ever figures it out, THAT’S when the Knicks will take the leap to true contender.
Tonight, MSG was rocking (after halftime, at least), Spike Lee was taunting, and Amare Stoudemire was being superhuman. The Knicks are competitive again, and our lives are all better because of it.
But it was the Celtics who reminded, “Hey, New York: we still own the Atlantic Division, no matter how much you’ve improved.”