The Knicks blew a golden opportunity in Game 1 and it came at a steep price.
Giving away the game, an 87-85 loss to the Boston Celtics, was bad enough, but watching leader and starting point guard Chauncey Billups limp off the floor in the final minute of the fourth quarter might be crippling. Billups strained his left knee on a noncontact drive to the basket and crumpled to the floor. He’s likely out for tonight’s Game 2.
“It affects us big time,” Carmelo Anthony told reporters. “We’re losing one of our soldiers, our leader, but at the same time it’s go-time, it’s playoff time. We have to have guys that step up.”
Too bad the Knicks only have two healthy scorers that have been in big-game, postseason situations. Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, though, have a bigger task than pouring in points tonight. These two quiet, lead-by-example players may need to break out of their shells and become emotionally charged floor generals. And the first player to command is Billups’ replacement, Toney Douglas.
“We have to teach him what it takes to win in the playoffs, how to keep his composure and never get out of control,” Stoudemire said.
Douglas surprised late in Game 1, knocking down a crucial 3 to give New York an 85-82 lead with 37 seconds remaining. The sparkplug isn’t afraid to take big shots, as he led the NBA in made 3s after the All-Star break.
But these are the playoffs and men far more accomplished than the second-year player have crashed and burned under the white-hot postseason lights.
“We’re confident in him,” Stoudemire said. “But it’s on all of us.”
It seems to be more dependent on Stoudemire than anyone else. Despite scoring 28 points, Stoudemire didn’t attempt a shot in the Knicks’ final five possessions in Game 1. That seems inexcusable, especially considering how badly Anthony struggled in the second half, and how much Stoudemire ravaged Kevin Garnett all game. Stoudemire collected a team-high 11 rebounds and went 12 of 18 from the floor, while ‘Melo had 15 points on 5-of-18 shooting.
As a team, the Knicks’ halfcourt offense was stymied in the second half and every possession was a chore, due to poor shot selection and shunning Stoudemire in the post. New York scored on only 31.4 percent of the possessions in the second half, as opposed to 55.8 percent in the first half.
Publicly, Stoudemire won’t gripe about that freeze-out. Coach Mike D’Antoni, though, would be wise to give the hot hand the ball with the game on the line in Game 2.
“We had them on the ropes and we let them off,” D’Antoni said.