Yesterday's crushing, gut-wrenching 115–111 Knicks overtime loss to the Celtics was stressful for Knicks fans to watch, but we imagine it was even more grueling for Celtics fans. After all, whereas Knicks fans are just waiting for their team's talent to coalesce and soar, Celtics fans are just trying to keep the band together. All week, every story about the Celtics was about how the team was about to be dismantled, about how general manager Danny Ainge was shopping everybody, from Ray Allen to Rajon Rondo (!) to even Paul Pierce, the team's second all-time leading scorer and signature Knick assassin. The Celtics have had a wonderful little run the last few years, and all the talk has been about how it's time to accept that it's over. So in a lot of ways, yesterday's game, for them, could have been a good-bye. And had they lost, it definitely would have been. But for one afternoon, perhaps one last afternoon, the Celtics remembered who they were and played like they were in their prime. They did what they always have done: Break the Knicks' hearts.
Maybe it was the Celtics' last stand, but for the Knicks, it was yet another crushing afternoon in Boston, their eleventh consecutive loss in the Celtics' home gym. The loss to Boston back on February 3 was a brutal one, but this one might have been worse. Because right now, for perhaps the first time over that losing stretch, the Knicks have more talent than the Celtics do. But they don't have Paul Pierce. And because of that ... they don't have as good of a record as the Celtics either.
The Knicks dominated the first half, thanks, once again, to their second unit, which stifled a Celtics team that's not nearly as deep as the Knicks. But Boston dominated even more in the third quarter, in a truly breathtaking performance by Rajon Rondo, who had a crazy line of 18 points, 17 rebounds, and 20 assists. (Seriously, that line is bonkers.) He clearly outclassed Jeremy Lin on the day, who struggled with foul trouble and never really got his game going.
Until the fourth quarter, anyway, when the Knicks mounted their comeback. On offense, we got a sense of what the Knicks will look like down the stretch. Much had been discussed about the Will Carmelo take the big shots or will Lin? question. The answer, as you'd probably guess, was both. Lin had two huge hustle plays to lead to five straight points in the fourth, and then, when the Celtics clamped down, Carmelo Anthony pulled his iso game out and hit some huge shots. (It was exciting to see that again, that Carmelo clutchness he was brought here for. Nice to know he can still do that.) Had the Knicks made one more stop in the last ten seconds, this game goes down as the huge breakthrough road win the Knicks had been waiting for, and it might go down as the last night of the Celtics' "dynasty."
But then Paul Pierce did what he always does against the Knicks. He drained an improbable, probably-illegal-screened-but-they-never-call-that-late three-pointer over Iman Shumpert, and the Celtics forced overtime. At that point, you had a sense the Knicks were cooked. Those freaking Celtics.
To remain sane, one tries to put this game away, chalk it up to "those freaking Celtics" and look at the larger picture. The good? Lin didn't play well but still was vital at the end of the game. Iman Shumpert's defense is fantastic (except for that last Pierce shot). Carmelo is looking more like Carmelo. The second unit remains strong. The bad? Amar'e Stoudemire still looks way, way, way off. The turnover issue is getting worse, to the point that we can't just call it a "hey, it's a D'Antoni offense thing!" They're now a game and a half behind Boston, ensconced in the No. 8 spot, and four full games behind Atlanta (and three and a half behind Philadelphia) to escape that dreaded Heat-Bulls first-round matchup. Those are bad things.
The Celtics just looked tougher than the Knicks, particularly when it comes to the two superstars we're paying all that money to. The Knicks seem to lack, so far anyway, that spine-stiffener that the Celtics have, and have had for the last half-decade. The Knicks best find it soon. They're a game under .500 and have road games against San Antonio and Dallas in the next three days. Most of all, they'll have to try to forget yesterday's game as soon as possible. We hope they have better luck than we have.