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The Knicks’ MSG Playoff Return Is the Very Definition of a Dud

The ultimate frustration of the Knicks' first two playoff losses to the Boston Celtics was that they, as the underdogs, had two separate, plain-in-the-face opportunities to steal games on the road against a reeling, disorganized, disparate Celtics team ... and had just missed both of them. Tonight? In Game 3? The Celtics were anything but reeling, disorganized and disparate. And the Knicks? The Knicks were the team that that happens when you build your team around two superstars, and neither of those superstars were present, alert, alive, enthusiastic, any of it.

The Knicks lost Game 3 to the Celtics 113-96 in a game that wasn't that close. Carmelo Anthony scored 15 points, an obviously pained Amar'e Stoudemire scored seven and everyone else were the human beings they were coming in: Complementary parts at best, wait-that-guy-is-playing-in-a-playoff-game? at worst. Part of the excitement of Game Two's near-miss was that the Knicks were playing so shorthanded. Tonight was what happens when your team is that shorthanded; it was a crushing reminder that the Knicks have two players they can count on, and when those players aren't there for you, and a proud playoff-veteran team lays down the law, you're going to get destroyed. The Knicks got destroyed tonight. (Seriously, check out that third quarter.)

Ten years to the day after the Knicks won their last home playoff game, the MSG crowd was neutered fairly early on; at a certain point, you start realizing that cheering for Jared Jeffries -- who was second on the Knicks in minutes tonight -- is a doomed endeavor no matter how stored up your enthusiasm might be.

In retrospect, it does seem a little silly to have been so excited. The Knicks' leading scorer was Shawne Williams, who before this season hadn't played in an NBA game since January 2009. Everyone you hoped could help out the Knicks tonight was inadequate, from Ronny Turiaf to Toney Douglas to Roger Mason Jr. to what-in-the-heck-happened-to-you-man? Landry Fields, who looked, frankly, like a guy who was lucky to be picked in the second round, rather than the giddy surprise he has been all season. The Knicks, by design, have two players right now. One, Stoudemire, is hurt. The other, Anthony, was not transcendent like in Game Two, or even above average: He was 4-of-16 from the field and had five turnovers. It was a wretched night. Many Knicks fans we know like to pretend the 2004 series against the Nets didn't happen. This is another night they will pretend didn't happen. Tough to blame them.

So! The Knicks have Sunday, at 3:30, in front of a surely skeptical, man I can't believe I bought these Game Four tickets on Friday afternoon crowd. It is their opportunity to avoid a sweep. It is their opportunity to stave off the ending of a season that has been as manic as any in Knicks history. It is an opportunity to not have more than a decade last between two playoff wins. But mostly: It's an opportunity to not have a once-thrilling ride end in That Knicks Fashion we all thought we were past. It's an opportunity to spin something happy out of a series the Knicks were likely to lose anyway.

But that all seems awfully unlikely right now. The Knicks came into tonight with a fanbase that was begging for them to light the house up. Sunday? On Sunday, they come in just hoping someone will still be watching. It was a night that made you feel like Isiah was still in charge. It was a night that reminded you that, even with Carmelo and Amar'e and the new alchemy, it's still the Knicks. And they have a long, long way to go.

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Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images