The picture above features Steve Novak doing his (admittedly annoying, at least for opposing fans) discount double check celebration. Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley are looking somewhere in the vicinity of the basket, presumably watching the net erupt into flames a la my favorite Sega Genesis game, NBA Jam. Many Knicks fans are on their feet screaming, thrilled that their team is showing the form of a contender, or at least one of the top pretenders. Some Knicks fans are still in their seats looking grim, obviously too cool for school.
It’s easy to forget now, one day after Novak repeatedly drove a pick-ax into the Boston Celtics’ collective heart, that Novak actually missed the first three-pointer he attempted last night. He made the next, missed another, and then rattled off seven consecutive makes to effectively drive the Celtics directly to a road loss.
Novak hit four trifectas in the final frame. One of them put the Knicks ahead by 13 points. The former Marquette Golden Eagle erupted into the celebration pictured above, forgetting for a split second that he was not the NFL MVP but instead a designated three-point gunner who occasionally drills important shots to put opponents away. On this night, he wasn’t nearly done stomping on the Celtics even after channeling his inner Aaron Rodgers.
With three minutes remaining, two and a half minutes after Novak’s discount double check, the Celtics improbably pulled within six points. It fit the pattern these Celtics have created during the past two months — with the notable exception in Toronto last week, even Boston’s losses display fortitude and backbone and grit. They didn’t play their best, but the Celtics kept coming. Paul Pierce finished with 43 points on just 19 field goal attempts, Bradley is suddenly a long-distance assassin and the Celtics cut a 20-plus point deficit to 112-106 on two Pierce free throws.
But Novak didn’t much care about any of that. He caught a pass in the corner, up-faked the oncoming Rajon Rondo, took a sidestep to avoid him, and then splashed a three in the eyeballs of a charging Bradley. 115-106, Knicks. The Celtics scored again on the ensuing possession, which would have been wonderful if Rondo — defending the 6-foot-10 Novak because Boston was by then relying on a small lineup to counteract the Knicks — hadn’t fallen asleep in coverage. Novak, of course, seeing a basket the size of Glen Davis by then, cashed in on his final opportunity. 118-108, Knicks. Game all but over.
It was odd seeing the Celtics so curiously inept at (or disinterested in) closing out last night, but the Knicks’ small lineups forced the Celtics into tough matchups, especially on Novak. Four of his triples came with Bass defending — Bass is used to banging in the paint, not chasing pasty white boys around the perimeter. At other times Rondo, who tends to commit occasional lapses in off-ball defense which leave his man open at the arc, found himself guarding Novak, a nightmare matchup for Boston and ultimately the demise of their final comeback attempt.
Be upset with Boston’s defense. The Celtics deserve some scorn for their effort on that end last night. But the Knicks use some unorthodox lineups, and Novak was (one of) the beneficiary (-ies) of a Celtics defense which didn’t quite seem prepared to defend him.
The lesson to all:
Do not leave Steve Novak open, for he does not like to miss.