The Knicks looked every bit like the second best team in the East that they were all season in getting out to a three games to none series lead against the Celtics, winning those games by 14, 16, and 17 points.
Maybe the success came too soon, and too easily.
After dropping Game 4 in Boston without a suspended J.R. Smith, the Knicks figured to close out the series at home on Wednesday. But their approach was less than professional in the days and hours leading up to Game 5, and that likely played a part in the Celtics getting the 92-86 victory to unexpectedly send the series back to Boston for a sixth game.
At Tuesday’s practice, J.R. Smith said that the series would have been over had he been available to play in Game 4. Kenyon Martin was equally cavalier heading into this one, and said that his guys should “wear black” because those are “funeral colors.”
Some Knicks players, including Smith and Iman Shumpert, did indeed dress in all black attire for their game night arrival to the arena.
There’s nothing wrong with trash talk or confidence, obviously, and it adds some additional entertainment value, especially in the playoffs. But the Knicks are not exactly a franchise steeped in recent tradition of playoff success. They won their first playoff game in 11 years last season in a five game first round loss to the Heat, and haven’t won a postseason series since 2000.
Smith started off 0-10 from the field, and the Knicks as a team finished 5-of-22 from three-point distance, an area where they were among the best in the league during the regular season. By contrast, the Celtics hit 11 of their 22 attempts from beyond the arc, with Jason Terry and Paul Pierce combining for nine of those, and Jeff Green hitting two huge ones down the stretch as the Knicks were battling back into it.
The Celtics wanted this game more than the Knicks, and it showed on the court. They played Pierce and Kevin Garnett heavier minutes than usual, and Boston was aggressive early in getting both Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin into first half foul trouble.
Offensively, the Celtics did much better, getting five of the players in their short seven man rotation to score at least 16 points each. But as is always the case with this team, the key run that won the game came on the strength of its defense.
With Boston clinging to a six point lead with just over three minutes remaining in the third, the Knicks were unable to find the basket. New York didn’t score for the next 6:17 of game time, and by then the Celtics had built their lead to 15 points.
The Knicks extended their defense and finally started hitting some shots, but it was too late. They got as close as five points with 1:05 remaining, but a ridiculously tough jumper from Garnett with Chandler all over him defensively found the bottom of the net, and effectively sealed the win for the Celtics.
New York won’t have many games where Carmelo Anthony and Smith combine to shoot 11-of-38 from the field, and are still the favorites to win the series over this depleted Celtics team. But they’ll need to have the right mindset the rest of the way in order to get that accomplished.