by: Kristian Winfield
She would always chuckle as she watched me run back to the TV. I would never be gone for too long; Michael was an explosive scorer.
There is something about the New York Knicks this season that brings me back to those days. The little kid inside of me has erupted watching the Knicks go onto this streak, but he also bawled into tears when the streak came to an end.
The Knicks took their first loss in nine games tonight, in an exciting, buzzer-beating, fight-to-the-finish match against the Celtics in Madison Square Garden.
The first quarter started off electric, both Amar’e Stoudemire and Wilson Chandler entering double-digits in the first 10 minutes. Amar’e had 17 points in the first, catapulting his team to an early 32-24 first quarter lead.
But there’s just something about these professional Massachusetts teams. Whether it’s Boston’s Celtics, or Foxborough’s Patriots, they just refuse to die. And that happened tonight. Several times throughout the second and third quarter the Knicks would pull away. An eight point lead here; A seven point lead there. Yet still, the Celtics would not go away.
At the start of the second half, Gallo caught fire, catching a reverse, baseline dunk, and back-to-back threes, sparking the Knicks onto another run.
“We have confidence. We know how good we can be. We see the room for improvement,” said Stoudemire one day before. “We can get better. We have confidence that we can win. Every game is a different story. We just have to make sure we are ready to go and play smart.”
And play smart they did, pushing the ball and controlling the pace of the game to suit their play style. They played smart all the way through; Boston just played smarter in the end.
Tied at 113 in the final minute of regulation, Ray Allen, the prototypical shooter of the NBA, sunk a wide open, corner-pocket trey-ball to give the Celtics a three point cushion. He finished with 26. The Knicks fired right back, Gallo hitting a left-handed floating layup plus a foul.
The Celtics retaliated with a Pierce-Garnett pick-and-roll, switching Amar’e onto Pierce in an iso. Paul Pierce got into his sweet spot, that foul line extended area, used a step-back to create a smidgen of space, and nailed his shot.
With 0.4 seconds left on the clock, Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni drew up a play. Stoudemire came off a screen at the top of the three point line, caught the ball and nailed an uncontested three pointer. The Knicks fans, bench, and staff celebrated what would be a false reality. The shot was ruled too late, and upon further review, when time expired Amar’e still had the ball in the palms about to release the shot.
This was almost the perfect game. Stoudemire finished with 39 points, marking his ninth straight game with 30+ points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks, shooting 15-of-22 from the field. Raymond Felton had 26 points and 14 assists, and Wilson Chandler had 18 points and 12 rebounds. Even Danilo “Gallo” Gallinari had 20 points. But the Celtics, led by The Truth, Paul Pierce, with 32 points and 10 rebounds, and Kevin Garnett with 20 points and 13 rebounds, emerged victorious in arguably the best game in the season so far.
The Celtics have won their eleventh straight, improving their record to 20-4: second best in the NBA only to San Antonio. Though the Knicks took this loss tonight, they have won eight of their last nine, and are 16-10 on the season, tying them at fourth place with the Atlanta Hawks. It’s been too long since New York has had a basketball team in the playoffs. But it looks like the wait is over. Amar’e has single-handedly electrified New York City. Just imagine what’s to come when the likes of Carmelo Anthony, an “unguardable” presence, plays alongside Stoudemire and Felton. Now that is a scary thought.