Merry Basketballmas. The NBA season is on.
The New York Knicks waited a longer than usual offseason before finally getting a chance at revenge on a Celtics team that went 8-0 against them last year and unceremoniously bounced them from the first round of the playoffs.
And what a game it was today. A cliche see-saw battle that saw both teams take big leads and look dominant in turn.
But the Knicks eked one out in the dwindling minutes, thanks to a closing-out offensive performance by Carmelo Anthony and a suffocating defense that disappeared at times but was there when it counted with under a minute to go.
What went right for the Knicks? What went wrong?
How was their "new and improved" defense?
What was Tyson Chandler's impact?
How did rookies Iman Shumpert and Josh Harrellson do?
Did the Knicks miss Chauncey Billups?
Are Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire finally gelling?
Your answers are here.
After storming out of the gate from the opening tip-off, the Knicks disappeared from the floor at the end of the second quarter, through the third and into the early fourth as they watched a 17-point lead evaporate into an 11-point deficit.
It looked as though a thoroughly more dominant 2011-12 Knicks team had suited up in the first quarter.
Surely after running up a 34-23 score on the shoulders of strong offense from Carmelo Anthony and Toney Douglas and stifling defense from Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, Knicks fans were sitting back in their easy chairs, thinking this was going to be a cakewalk.
The Knicks took their oppressive performance to about seven minutes of the second period, when they fell dead flat.
Defense was gone.
Offense became tentative.
They proceeded to miss on three straight possessions, and became spotty offensively to the end of the half, including at the foul line.
Once Anthony hit the bench with four fouls at four minutes in the third (and thus out for the remainder of the period), it was all Boston Celtics.
Like, 23-7 run, Boston Celtics.
Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire continue to be one of the best one-two offensive combos in all of the NBA.
They scored more than half the Knicks points (58 of 106) and both sunk impressive three-pointers and critical free throws at the beginning and end of the game.
Carmelo finished with 37, including four from behind the arc. He was 13-15 from the line and just two rebounds away from a double-double.
STAT was eight for 11 (and two for two from three) and finished with 21.
That talk about gelling? Let's put it to rest. They both played better when they were on the floor at the same time. That's a good sign.
That soft basketball play—a lengthy lack of presence after building a big lead—was one of the Knicks' Achilles' heels last year, and it's already reared its big toe on day one. How many times did the Knicks take a lead into the fourth only to lose?
Consistent defensive intensity and an adjusted game pace needs to be injected into the team's culture, so that large leads don't get away.
The Knicks should slow the game down as soon as they build up a double-digit lead. Eat time off the clock. Hold possession. Set up. Drag the opponent into a mire.
Instead, they kept hacking balls in the air that missed (including an air ball), frantically drew offensive fouls and tripped over their own turnovers. Take your time, indulge in your lead a bit. No need to push that hard.
Poise is the word I'm looking for.
Toney Douglas played an all-around excellent game. It's early and we have to see more, but based on his performance against the Celtics today, a team that beat the Knicks all eight times they faced each other last season, Douglas is going to be a more than effective starter.
He finished with 19 points. It will be nice to see him up his assists. He had four.
But Douglas proved especially effective on the defensive side of the ball, recording three steals and generally disrupting Boston's offense.
He was no match for Rondo, though, and is no Chauncey Billups. But Douglas is appearing very serviceable and something had to give to acquire Tyson Chandler.
It's looking like the Knicks made the right play.
And they still have Mike Bibby, an experienced backup who will make Douglas better (slash push him to perform).
At one point, Bill Walker's line read three fouls. That's it.
Carmelo Anthony had four very early and it almost cost New York the game. Douglas finished with four.
The whistle had hardly blown for the second half when the Knicks picked up their third technical (Stoudemire, Douglas, Chandler).
What was that word again? Oh yeah, poise. The Knicks need to work on that. Nothing is more irritating than watching your team lose a game over foolish fouls.
One good note, though—New York dialed it down in the fourth quarter and still had a foul to give with less than five seconds to go—and used it deftly, forcing Boston to inbound and out of their game.
A mightily impressive performance for the Knicks' rookie, 17th pick Iman Shumpert.
He was in earlier than everyone expected—and he was everywhere.
Shumpert finished with 11 points and four rebounds, accumulating nine and three, respectively, in just 13 minutes.
He played some solid defense that has room for improvement. That was one of the main factors in the Knicks' draft selection.
Shumpert needs to work on shot selection, too. He was 3-13 from the field, but posted an unflappable 5-5 from the line. He seems very capable of drawing the foul.
Overall, though, fans should be happy with this pick. This guy is going to be good.
As a side note, Josh Harrellson looked good too—and so did Jared Jeffries and Renaldo Balkman. At one point, D'Antoni had a fivesome of Shumpert, Douglas, Harrellson, Jeffries and Balkman on the court, and they played very well, holding a double-digit lead for multiple minutes, and even throwing in a handful of buckets.
Raging Rajon Rondo ate New York alive the entire game. They could do nothing to stop him.
The Celtics' point guard went for 31 points with 13 assists.
Rondo exposed a major flaw in the Knicks' defensive stances: They are having issues stopping the backcourt offense (Allen had 20 points to boot) and opposing players on the inside (baseline). It wasn't the three-pointer from these guys that made New York's life difficult. It was the short game.
Will this weakness be exposed when New York faces other dynamic point and shooting guards? This week will reveal a lot, and whether D'Antoni and Mike Woodson make some proper adjustments, Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Kobe Bryant and Tyreke Evans are all on deck.
Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and Toney Douglas all put a new defensive face on the team today. You can feel it, you can see it. The defense is better. But at this time, only by a little.
If the Knicks can hold all contenders to near 100 points, they would probably win a lot of games.
Let's face it, though. The Celtics were short-handed with Paul Pierce out nursing an injury. How would this game have turned out with Pierce playing?
New York finished with 31 rebounds (but were outrebounded 41-31), had a respectable nine steals and a serious 11 blocks—all with no Knick player acquiring a fifth foul.
And, most importantly, at the most important time of the game, with the score 105-105, Boston's ball and just 41 seconds on the clock, Amar'e Stoudemire came up with a huge block (reminiscent of the one he laid on LeBron James late last season).
Ray Allen recovered. But Tyson Chandler came up with the big steal that would seal the game.
That was, simply awesome, but I'm not satisfied yet. I want to see more—and for more of the game.
Landry Fields started where he finished off last season: inexplicably impotent.
His 34 minutes barely produced seven points on seven shots. The overgrown guard added a kitten-like two rebounds.
Thankfully for him, backup shooting guard Bill Walker played worse than that. Walker's final tally was 0-2 from the field with three turnovers and four fouls. Atrocious.
Fields needs to be an effective pro starter, or the Knicks are going to have a problem all season.
Will we see Shumpert or Douglas move around and eat away at more and more of Fields' minutes? Very possible.
The Boston Celtics had 17 points in the last period, their worst quarter. Carmelo Anthony had 17 points himself in the fourth.
The Knicks hung around all fourth quarter, chipping away at what began as an 11-point shortfall. They held the Celtics at 95 for two and a half minutes. They forced late game turnovers, caused missed shots, used the clock perfectly, drew fouls and made the right ones at the right time, and made most of their free throws down the stretch.
Then there was the Stoudemire, Chandler defensive plays that won the game.
After losing all eight games to the Celtics last year, what was the typical Knick fan thinking when the Knicks were down 103-100 with three minutes to go? Here we go again?
Not this time. They held it together. A solid, late come-from-behind win against a good team and old nemesis is something this team can build on. They know they can win it when the odds are against them, when they are behind and the seconds are waning.
Let's hope they learn from the lowpoints of the game, too. How about holding onto those big leads that their offense can so easily, and early, stack up? That would be a game—and conference—changer.