I lost a good friend this weekend. And I may never recover. I’ve lost a compatriot, an acquaintance, a piece of my life. I probably shouldn’t be taking it this seriously, but I work a 9-to-5 and have few things left in this world. Don’t judge me.
You shouldn’t feel bad, though, I knew it was coming. That this one with so much potential, with so much perceived left in the tank would eventually find a thankless demise was a foregone conclusion. The disappointing and tragic way it all went down? That was less good. This past Sunday, when the Celtics laid to rest the 2010-11 New York Knicks (before the Knicks could lay to rest their 10+ year playoff-win drought), we said farewell to our first playoff team. Please take a moment here to pay your respects. And for those of you wondering, I didn’t cry. It was just allergies…or eye sweat…or maybe I’m just operating at peak levels of hydration. Bro.
For those of you that read my stuff on here (or the stuff on my crappy website), you know that I am unabashed in my Knicks fanhood. Don’t get me wrong, I love the league with a passion that burns like your work’s break room toaster. But like almost everyone out there, I have partiality to the franchise I grew up watching. So when we as Knicks fans witnessed a tough-minded, experienced, cohesive Celtics team dispose of our ‘Bockers like month-old grease from the deep fryer (and complete their first series sweep since 1992), we couldn’t help but react. Maybe you dabbled in some mature beverages. Perhaps you found center in your Zen Garden. I proceeded to take part in a calorie max-out worthy of Joey Chestnut on Fourth of July morning (Stress Eating!). No competition here: I was the only one that walked away a loser (to the bathroom).
Though I hope by now we’re all over it, I do feel that we probably need a little closure. So I’m going to try to put together an exit counseling for each team as they hit their playoff dénouement (look it up). Why you ask? Why would I feel the need to celebrate those that have been ousted from the playoffs rather than those still in? Shouldn’t I be writing this about Derrick Rose? (I should be). Because to be honest, right now, I need it. And I’m selfish. So here goes:
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What Went Wrong: There is a long answer to this, but the short is answer is probably more appropriate. The Celtics. The Boston Celtics have all the things the Knicks are currently missing: team playoff experience, overall group chemistry and confident bench players. The Celts knew how to execute down the stretch in Games 1 & 2. They also knew that if they walked into MSG and put the beatdown on the boys, this team – with a grand total of 32 games together under their belt – would panic and then fold. Well, they panicked. And then like me, at every poker table ever, they folded. And that was the series.
And I know I’m not the first person to mention this, but all the injuries certainly didn’t help an inferior Knicks squad. After tanking late in Game 1, I honestly believe that a healthy Chauncey Billups wills the Knicks to a Game 2 victory – especially if ‘Melo is doing what he did that night. There’s a certain poise, a “lets just run the sets, even though there’s 1:12 left in the fourth quarter” gene that Chauncey brings to the table. It’s the underbelly of late-game execution, and Billups embodies it. It’s the difference between making a play late in a game, and making the right play late in a game. Chris Paul is probably the King of that realm right now, but Billups definitely owns a two-acre plot of land there. Toney Douglas has not yet been let inside the town gates. Unfortunately for Knicks fans, Boston has four guys who also own a complex on the grounds. Hippies.
Lessons We Learned: I think first and foremost, every team should learn that defense has to be an all-year job. While there are definite perks to playing solid, smart defense during the regular season (ya know, like winning more games), the best reason to do the D reaps its rewards come playoff time. Even though much of defense is comprised within the length/athleticism/energy world, there’s a huge piece that also plays into the communication/playing as a unit/knowing your assignments world. The Knicks brought a defensive intensity unbeknownst to them almost this entire year in this playoff series. But it wasn’t enough. They didn’t have enough good defense reps all year to play actual good playoff defense. That’s why Ray Allen comes off a screen uncontested in Game 1 for a wide-open game-winning three (that and Kevin Garnett’s size 15 jutting out illegally). In the regular season, energy is most of the battle on defense. In the playoffs, it’s only half.
The other big lesson we’ve learned from these Knicks and those Celtics is the importance of team continuity. Even with their late-season trade (which I’m starting to warm up to on the Celts side), Boston has a core of four All-Stars that have played together for the last bunch of years. Even as their skills and athleticism diminish, the continuity and chemistry from all this time logged together bridges that gap. Their execution down the stretch in games is crazy good. And between the two teams, that was the one, huge discrepancy. It wasn’t talent. It wasn’t their benches. It was that continuity. Boston had it. New York didn’t. Surprisingly, none of this was affected by the astounding number of black-and-white cookies I consumed during this series.
Where Do We Go From Here: Could this be the end of all Mike “No” D’Antoni jokes? Will I no longer be able to say my team’s coach looks shockingly like the Pringles guy? Does 2011 mark the final season of Donnie Walsh: “wheelin’ and dealin’?” There’s a ton of questions moving forward – like “who is going to coach and generally manage this team?” Another pretty good one is “who is going to play on this team?” Do we pick up Chauncey’s option, try to draft a big and pray for Chris Paul to take a pay cut in 2012? Do we do the same, but flip-mode with Dwight Howard? My feeling: don’t hold your breath on either. In the new CBA, it’s looking like there are going to be a number of restrictions limiting the Knicks from getting another max guy. Plus, they’re not going to have a whole lot of cap space moving forward (friends, please stop thinking about Tyson Chandler) to shell out for any big-time deals. So it’s hope for homeruns in the draft (we do draft well), look for value role players to surround ‘Melo and Amar’e, and pray that they get cohesive in time for a couple of good runs. In two years, the Knicks very well could be Boston, or the Knicks very well could be Atlanta. And I have no idea either way.
So there it is. Here lies the 2010-2011 New York Knicks. Swept in four by the Boston Celtics. Rest in peace. Until 2012 at least.
What must the Knicks do during this summer to get better?
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