To say that the basketball gods have frowned upon the New York Knickerbockers these last two games would be an understatement as big as Zeus’s spites were bountiful.
Two days after a series of questionable calls led to the Celtics eking out a controversial 87-85 victory in Game 1, the Knicks once again let a late lead slip away down the stretch, falling to Boston 96-93.
This time it was Kevin Garnett who dealt the fatal blow, capping off a game in which he shot just 6-16 with a deft jump hook in the middle of the lane over Jared Jeffries.
The Knicks still had 13.6 seconds left on the clock, but KG once again came up aces, raking the ball from Jeffries underneath the basket – after the second Melo pass out of a double-team in as many possessions – and calling a timeout.
Delonte West was then rather mysteriously permitted to scurry in the back court long enough to drain all but 0.6 off the clock, before finally being fouled and subsequently hitting both free throws. Needless to say, it wasn’t nearly enough time for the Knicks to launch even a desperation heave.
In the face of yet another Olympian slight, Carmelo Anthony was Sisyphus in spades, rolling the Boston boulder as far up the crest as he could — scoring 42 points, grabbing 17 rebounds, and dishing six assists — before the inevitable, crushing rollback.
On the heels of a sub-par Game 1, it was one of the greatest single-handed performances in recent playoff memory – and certainly one of the best ever in a losing effort.
In short: another charcoal lining on a mushrooming thundercloud of misfortune that has seen the Knicks lose each of their last three games to the Celtics in increasingly heartbreaking fashion (the final game of the season aside).
New York had gone up 93-92 after Jeffries converted a beautiful feed from Melo in the lane with just over 20 seconds remaining. But Doc Rivers once again chalked mate during the subsequent timeout, going immediately to KG on the block despite his floor leader’s shaky showing.
Toney Douglas struggled opposite Rajon Rondo, scoring 14 on 16 shots while giving up 30 to his rejuvenated counterpart. Indeed, Rondo seemed at times to score at will in the paint, where he netted an ungodly 24 of his points.
While many thought the absence of Chauncey Billups could be a blessing in disguise for the Knicks, Rivers instead instructed his young general to go right at the Knicks’ weak interior – a strategy that paid immediate and lasting dividends.
Only three Knicks – Melo, TD and….wait for it….. JARED JEFFRIES – scored in double figures. Overall the team netted a woeful eFG% of 40%, as the Celtic D once again ratcheted up at key moments throughout.
Shockingly, rebounding kept the Knicks in the game, as they out-boarded the Celtics by an astounding 16 (53-37), including 20 on the offensive end.
Despite lacking the services of both Billups (knee strain) and Amar’e Stoudemire (who left mid way through the second quarter with back spasms and didn’t return), the Knicks showed a toughness and force of will that compelled Mike D’Antoni to claim that he’d “never been more proud of a team for how they battled”.
No small statement for a guy not exactly prone to hyperbole.
With two full days before Friday’s Game 3 in New York, the Bockers have to hope the extra rest will suffice to put them at full strength. At the very least, they know they’ll be able to count a near 20,000 more in their corner when that time comes.