Can the Knicks get one for their pride? Or will the Celtics make another statement in the Garden? Either way, this series is over.
Posted by Matt Moore
The Narrative: Were the Knicks exposed in Game 3? Even without Billups, it certainly felt like it. The Celtics hit the gear we've been waiting for them to hit for months. They looked every bit the team that most thought would contend for the title in June, with or without Perkins. The Knicks? Well, they looked like a team that traded half their roster for a high-usage scorer with questionable defensive ability and never addressed their gaping, vaccumous hole at center. The Celtics are unlikely to play that well again. But the Knicks had two winnable games in Boston, and blew both of them. The Celtics woke up, and look like they're ready to end things quickly, quietly, and mercifully for the Knicks. This game feels more like a chance for the Celtics to make another statement than the Knicks' last stand.
The Hook: Amar'e Stoudemire is "iffy" for Game 4. Which means the Knicks have to run more, which they've completely forgotten how to do. A Mike D'Antoni team that doesn't know how to run the break? So it's basically a bad defensive team that doesn't do anything well offensively. Yeah, this should end well. Stoudemire wasn't very effective in Game 3; you could tell the back spasms were really hurting him. Without him, it means the Knicks' forwards have to step up. If you can name them, enjoy your tickets to the game. Shawne Williams, Bill Walker, Ronny Turiaf, Jared Jeffries? Yeah, this just isn't working out too well. Maybe Melo will score 100, though. That would be pretty cool. The Knicks might still lose, but hey, it would make for good headlines.
The Adjustment: Toney Douglas has to be more aggressive. In Game 3, Douglas pulled up on transition opportunities while his coach begged him to push. Against a better defensive team, you cannot operate in the half-court set and hope to win. Douglas has to be hyper-aggressive in every opportunity they're blessed with, and push the ball. If Douglas can't get it done, give Anthony Carter a try. Trying and failing is better than not trying at this point. The Knicks' half-court offense is entirely ISO sets at this point. The Knicks have to try and open that up by pushing the ball and getting some of their scorers some confidence, and firing up the crowd. The half-court set just means more plays Rondo can make and more Allen 3-pointers. The Knicks have to play to the team D'Antoni assembled ... or what is left of that team after James Dolan gutted it to get a scoring forward.
The X-Factor: Jermaine O'Neal. O'Neal has been huge in this series, which tells you a lot about where the Knicks' center rotation is at. O'Neal has had the mid-range going, has worked the glass, has defended at the rim, and has given the requisite hard fouls. If O'Neal keeps up this play, and stays healthy, this could be a huge factor in the playoffs going forward. And as long as he plays decently in Game 4, the Knicks will have lost the positional matchup at center. Again.
The Sticking Point: The Celtics are awake, now. And the gap between the two franchises, the two rosters, the two teams was evident in Game 3. How do the Knicks respond to that kind of face-kicking? The problem is that it doesn't matter, nor does the great atmosphere of the Garden. The Knicks could win Game 4 in a special combination of elements, but barring an outright miracle, this series isn't going further than five games. The Celtics struggled in the first two and the Knicks still couldn't get a win. Now, the Celtics are motivated and ready to contend for a title. And, after a frustrating couple months, the Knicks are the first team they're taking their frustrations out on. Even if the Knicks win, they don't win. The future's exceptionally bright for New York, and that's why the trade was made. But, right now, in this moment, they simply can't measure up.