At the 5:25 mark of the third quarter in last night's Knicks-Celtics playoff matchup, TNT play-by-play man Marv Albert duly noted that the Boston Celtics were playing "Carmelo Anthony and a bunch of other guys." Perhaps you prefer the more colorful and alliterative "Melo and the Mutts," from Newsday beat writer Alan Hahn, or Carmelo and the Austin Toros, from ESPN's Bill Simmons.
Whatever the moniker you choose to place upon the heads of the New York Knicks after Amar'e Stoudemire left the game with back spasms, keep in mind that the Celtics only outscored them by two points from that moment forward. Boston may have ultimately won the game, 96-93, giving itself a 2-0 series lead, but the Knicks somehow have momentum and an upper hand heading into Madison Square Garden.
Carmelo Anthony channeled his inner Bernard King circa 1984, scoring 30 of his 42 points (to go along with 17 total rebounds) in the last 26 minutes of the game, but the Knicks stayed competitive because of superb bench play, mainly on the glass.
The Knicks out-rebounded the Celtics 53-37, 20-9 on the offensive boards. Those are perplexing stats considering Boston outrebounded New York by a combined 43 caroms in its first five victories over the Knicks this season.
Even with leading rebounder Amar'e Stoudemire out, the Knicks, who often eschewed rebounding for running out on the fast break or shooting spot-up three-pointers all season, displayed superb elementary-school fundamentals all night by boxing out and grabbing every loose ball afforded to them.
It was a shocking display of aggressiveness and reckless abandon from a team who took off its white collar in favor of a blue one, perhaps setting a trend for the rest of the series.
No other player exemplifies the "mutt" mentality of the night than Knicks guard Bill Walker. Usually the least athletic and talented player on the floor last night, Walker missed all 11 of his shots, but managed to grab eight rebounds and make two steals. He led the Knicks with a plus-10 rating, second overall only to the efficient Ray Allen's plus-11.
Ronny Turiaf (six points, three offensive rebounds, excellent defense on Kevin Garnett) and even Jared Jeffries (10 points, six rebounds) got into the fray. Turiaf, a throwaway in the David Lee trade, and Jeffries, a free agent who was tossed away like a rag doll by Houston in February, were also-rans in their past life but showed their abilities to answer the bell when need be.
So what does Game 2 tell us about Game 3 overall? While the Celtics have four bona fide All-Stars to the Knicks' two, New York's rotation has somehow proven to be much deeper than Boston's, as it can realistically depend on as many as 11 players for solid contributions in one area of the game or another. This will prove greatly beneficial if the series stretches out.
On the contrary, consider that all four of the Celtics' bench players had plus-minus ratings between minus-five and minus-11 tonight. They combined for 14 points and 11 rebounds in 57 minutes. Not much better than their eight points and eight rebounds in 58 minutes in the series opener.
Because of the bench's ineptitude, Boston's Big Four played anywhere from 34 to 43 minutes in both Games 1 and 2. What if one of them gets into foul trouble? What if one of them gets hurt? What if one of them just collapses due to exhaustion? Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green look like babes in the woods, and Glen Davis is the team's only consistently reliable bench player right now.
Amar'e Stoudemire will be back for Game 3, according to Mike D'Antoni. Chauncey Billups will most likely play. The solution for wins in the Garden if they both play? Haul ass. The Celtics can't trust their bench, and they'll be walking into a wildly animated crowd that will be cheering its best Knicks team in over a decade. Some fast-break dunks or threes will send the crowd into upheaval and both tire and demoralize the C's quickly.
With the amount of confidence the Knicks have going into the Garden, taking the Celtics to the brink twice in a house of horrors (Doc Rivers noted that Boston was "lucky to win" Game 2 in the postgame presser), they have a leg up on the Celtics going into Games 3 and 4 back home.
Maybe the Celtics have the 2-0 series lead, and recent history on their side, but when New York turned what should have been a blowout into a close game, it gave itself some momentum, a remarkable feat despite a loss.