Having spent serious time on the sidelines due to his knee injury and subsequent surgery, having Stoudemire back for a key playoff game was viewed as a huge boost for the Knicks, who had already lost home-court advantage to the Pacers.
"Stat" was thought to be that lift for the Knicks, but in short, he wasn't.
Stoudemire played only a handful of minutes—as expected, mind you—but it was the impact he had in those minutes that was, perhaps, most disappointing to see.
He wasn't rebounding well—giving up offensive boards that really should have dealt with on his first few possessions—and he wasn't a presence inside. Not that he got a great deal of opportunities to score, but even when he did, Stoudemire struggled with his short-game and didn't, at all, establish himself against the big men and strong defense of the Pacers.
Outside of his buzzer-beating heave that somehow managed to go in, Stoudemire finished with four points and two rebounds in nine minutes on 2-of-8 shooting.
Even with his unorthodox three-pointer, he only totaled seven points, which simply paled into comparison to Carmelo Anthony's 21-point night.
Now I'm not, for a minute, trying to hate on Stoudemire here.
I'm not trying to suggest that this was a pathetic performance and that he should give up basketball. I understand completely that he just returned from a major knee injury and was only ever going to have a limited impact on the night—that was something that was never up for debate here.
However, what was most poignant watching Game 3 was the fact that the Knicks didn't feel Stoudemire's attack or inside presence. Their good spells were good regardless of what their big man was doing, and their bad spells—of which there were many—were the same.
Stoudemire simply didn't have an impact in this game, and it was clear from watching the Knicks' style that their system isn't designed for him to have an impact. Their offense isn't what it was at the start of the year; there's less importance placed on their inside play, and as a result, Stoudemire's return was seemingly nothing other than a feel-good storyline in a disappointing loss.
The Knicks are exponentially more dependent on the three-point shot (and indeed the all-round play of Anthony) than they were at the start of the year.
Their philosophy has become less about trying to dominate their way inside on offense, but more about making their shots and leaving their big men for defense. And that shift—as subtle or as profound as it's been this year—leaves little room for Stoudemire to make an impact.
As Howard Beck notes via The New York Times:
The Knicks’ rotation and identity is firmly established. Anthony supplies most of the shots and most of the points. J. R. Smith provides secondary support, when his stroke is right and his head is on straight. Felton drives. Chandler rebounds. Kenyon Martin defends. Everyone else passes and shoots 3-pointers.
Where, exactly, does the scoring-minded Stoudemire fit into this refashioned Knicks universe? Any minutes he plays will necessarily cut into Chandler’s and Martin’s playing time, reducing the Knicks’ defensive resolve in the exchange.
Beck goes on to state that the impact Stoudemire could have in a system that isn't designed to give him a lot of opportunities is by being an explosive star inside—dominating on the boards and dunking all over his opponents. But given the fact that he's just coming back from a major knee injury, it's unlikely that Stoudemire is going to have that type of an impact for the Knicks any time in the near future.
The reality is that New York changed its system when Stat went out, and they became less and less dependent on how their big men operate on offense. And as frustrating as it might be for Stoudemire, the reality is that the Knicks had great success that way as well.
Anthony finished as the league's scoring champion. J.R. Smith won the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
The Knicks—without Stoudemire—have gone 43-18 this season (including playoffs) and have had two very strong runs in that time as well, all without their big man.
The system simply isn't designed to suit him anymore.
When he's 100 percent, there's no doubting that he'll have some success and that his explosiveness will allow for greater effective beyond the arc for New York.
He is still a very important asset to the team.
But again, not when he's not 100 percent healthy and not when he's simply watching how the Knicks currently run their offense. Stoudemire will merely be a pedestrian in whatever postseason the Knicks have left, and whilst that's not necessarily good or bad, it's a reality that New York has to accept.
After watching Game 3, it's preferably sooner rather than later.
Hit me up on Twitter for more sports goodness: Follow @dantalintyre