It was supposed to be different this time. The New York Knicks had finally shrugged off a decade of mediocrity. They were the No. 2 seed. They'd beaten the Miami Heat in the regular season. They finally dispatched their nemesis the Boston Celtics and Knicks-torturer Paul Pierce, albeit in a shakey, messier-than-it-should-have-been six-game series. They were going to face the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, and Carmelo Anthony would finally have a legitimate shot at the Finals for the first time with the Knicks.
And then, the Pacers bludgeoned them to death.
It was brutal, it was efficient, and it very easily could have been over even faster. The Pacers actually had a second-half lead in Game 2 in New York after dominating in Game 1, but their offense went through one of its dry spells, granting the Knicks some dignity. But by series' end, the truth was clear. The Pacers were the far better team.
Anthony said this week that that playoff loss, five months ago, still haunts him.
"I'm not over it. I'm not over it," Anthony said. "I might act like it's over but I'm not over it, not at all."
Anthony and the Knicks lost to the Pacers in the second round of the playoffs. Anthony nearly carried the Knicks to a win in Game 6, but struggled in the final quarter. He was famously denied at the rim on a dunk attempt by Indy's Roy Hibbert, which shifted momentum in the game.
"For me it's definitely motivation," Anthony said, echoing comments made by Tyson Chandler earlier this week. "But I don't need that to motivate me. I get up and I get going myself. I motivate myself. I know what happened last year and I won't forget that."
via Carmelo Anthony not over New York Knicks playoff loss Indiana Pacers - ESPN New York.
It's good that this sticks with him. He needs to project an air of motivation, of being pissed off, that he's ready to right the wrongs of last season. He needs to use it to fuel this season and be even better.
Unfortunately, Melo's a huge reason why the Pacers won that series.
Wait! Before you get your pitchforks, just wait a second! Melo actually played his game terrifically in that series. Via NBA.com, Anthony averaged 29 points and eight rebounds on 43 percent shooting, very much good enough for an All-Star player.
But the bigger problem is that the Knicks' entire system revolves around Anthony, and using him in the way he likes to be used in isolation sets at the extended elbow. Those sets are what a defense like Indiana wants you to run. They can drive you to help, bring effective doubles, screw with your spacing, and challenge you at the rim. And in the meantime, teammates aren't in rhythm, you're not sharing the ball. Having Anthony go in isolation, then a quick kickout for threes works great in the regular season, but the Pacers were able to disrupt both Anthony and the shooters enough to mess with the offense.
Via NBA.com, the Knicks were outscored by 3.5 points per 100 possessions with Anthony on the floor, and their offensive efficiency plummeted to 96.9 with him on the floor. Each of the starters had the same kind of numbers. This isn't saying that Anthony's play was why the Knicks' offense struggled. It's saying that if Anthony want to get revenge? He's got to promote a style of play that doesn't make him the sun, the moon, and the stars of the Knicks' world.
Otherwise, he's going to have more to get over next year. Because Chicago now joins Indiana as playoff defensive monsters.