Since the New York Knicks last won a playoff game, back in 2001, coach Jeff Van Gundy has left the team, coached the Rockets for four seasons and called games for ESPN and ABC for four years.
Now the Knicks have four more unfortunate fours: In the first round of the playoffs, Boston's Big Four (1) swept New York right off the hoops quad in four straight, (2) held the Knicks under 100 points four times, (3) made it four straight home playoff losses since Van Gundy's departure (five in all) and (4) sent the Knicks and their fans into the fourth dimension: an uncertain future.
But the Bockers hung tough for half the series, and showed some encouraging signs along the way, making the Celtics sweat despite injuries to Chauncey Billups and Amare Stoudemire. In Game 2, Carmelo Anthony reminded Knicks fans why he was the central character in a long-running drama about where he would end up, scoring 42 and almost beating the C's by himself.
Now most of the big questions are about the future of coach Mike D'Antoni, team president Donnie Walsh and the New York roster. In the wake of the team's untimely demise, we went to our experts for their takes on the vanquished Knicks and the victorious Celtics:
1. Four reasons the Knicks were swept by the Celtics?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com:
1. The return of Rajon Rondo. He looked a lot more like the Rondo from the start of the season than the Rondo at the end of the season. The Knicks learned the hard way that Rondo is Boston's most important player.
2. The injury to Chauncey Billups deprived the Knicks of a player to go back at Rondo all series, and a point guard to organize their increasingly half-court offense.
3. The injury to Amare Stoudemire. After scoring 28 points in the first game, he made only nine field goals the rest of the series.
4. The lack of depth. This series served as a reminder that the Knicks had to take a step backward in order to move forward, and the short-term impact of landing Carmelo Anthony was sacrificing almost half the roster.
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine:
1. First, a lack of late-game execution and attention to detail. The Knicks could have won each of the first two games and should have won at least one, but Doc Rivers outcoached Mike D'Antoni down the stretch of both games. Doc drew up plays that got good looks for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, while D'Antoni failed to find a way to get the ball to a hot Amare Stoudemire in the closing minutes of Game 1 and was caught without a timeout for the final shot as well. D'Antoni also failed to make effective adjustments after Games 2 and 3, while Doc made the right adjustments.
2. Injuries also cost the Knicks -- the loss of Chauncey Billups (knee) and the limitations of Stoudemire (back) were huge.
3. The Knicks' lack of defensive focus and sophistication was also glaring. After defending well in Games 1 and 2 (at least until the closing moments), the Knicks were atrocious on that end at MSG. Looking confused and lethargic, they gave up tons of open looks, and their decision to completely sag off Rajon Rondo was costly. Failing to even pick him up at the foul line, they allowed him to toss pressure-free pinpoint passes that found his teammates in rhythm and at the perfect spots.
4. Finally, Boston woke up. After struggling badly in the first two games, the Celtics picked up their focus and intensity on all fronts.
John Hollinger, ESPN.com:
1. Amare Stoudemire's injury. With the possible exception of Miami, the Knicks were the one team least able to cope with an injury to a star player.
2. Chauncey Billups' injury. While not as damaging as Stoudemire's, it blew open a gaping hole in New York's backcourt depth.
3. Late-game strategy. The Knicks could have just as easily led 2-0 but made some tactical mistakes in both games -- most notably not subbing out Jared Jeffries at the end of Game 2.
4. The opponent. You remember they were playing the defending conference champs, right?
Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com:
1. Every year, there is one NBA playoff series that for all intents and purposes is decided in Game 1. This year, it was Knicks-Celtics. From the Chauncey Billups injury to the blown coverage on the inbounds alley-oop to the missed 3-pointer by Carmelo Anthony just before the final buzzer, the opportunity to seize the day was lost.
2. There was still a chance for the Knicks to earn themselves some wiggle room by taking Game 2, but that chance was blown, too, the moment the ball ended up in Jared Jeffries' hands on the biggest possession of the game.
3. Mentally, and physically, too, with Amare Stoudemire's injury and the two losses, the Knicks were spent when they arrived back in New York.
4. The Celtics sensed it, too, and it was all over in a matter of 10-15 minutes Friday night.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com:
1. Injuries, obviously, were the biggest factor. The Knicks were not going to be able to make this a long series with no Chauncey Billups and an ailing Amare Stoudemire.
2. The drop-off in talent when the Knicks had to go deep into their bench was so steep that we have to mention the injury factor twice.
3. The fact that Rajon Rondo suddenly started looking like Rajon Rondo again certainly didn't help.
4. Boston's snoozy finish to the regular season apparently did nothing to dull how precise the Celts are in end-game situations ... which only magnified the Knicks' crunch-time mistakes in Games 1 and 2.
2. What's your view of the Carmelo Anthony trade now?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Carmelo's Game 2 performance justified the trade on its own. Not many players can get you 42 points and 17 rebounds in a road playoff game, and the Knicks got one in the trade.
And if you haven't noticed, the Nuggets haven't won any more playoff games than the Knicks with the pieces they acquired in the trade.
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: The Carmelo Anthony trade was still an outstanding trade. In Anthony and Stoudemire, the Knicks now have the foundation to build a legitimate Eastern Conference contender.
Before, they had one star (Amare) and a collection of role players. That's not the recipe for title contention. It's a lot easier to find role players than it is to find superstars. The solid play of Shawne Williams and Bill Walker prove that.
Teams can go decades without getting even one superstar, and now the Knicks have two. Their future is much brighter with Melo than it was without him.
John Hollinger, ESPN.com: I wasn't crazy about it at the time and I'm still not -- I thought they denuded too much of the roster, and by pulling the trigger eliminated opportunities to acquire players of similar ability for less.
Of course, some will point out the Nuggets haven't won a game in the postseason either.
Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: The Knicks gave up one more asset than they would have liked, and any one of those assets -- what Wilson Chandler could have produced as the starting shooting guard, what Anthony Randolph could have brought as Stoudemire's Game 2 and 3 backup, what Danilo Gallinari would have provided as a third offensive weapon, even Timofey Mozgov's size, could have been a difference-maker in Games 1 or 2.
That said, they got him for four more years. That is the biggest thing.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: I'd still make that swap 11 times out of 10. It's so hard to get multiple elite players in this league. Just to name one example: Dallas has been trying to find a top-shelf sidekick for Dirk Nowitzki for seven seasons now. So I say it again even after the Knicks' post-trade struggles and a first-round sweep: Grab the second star when you have the chance and figure out the rest later. The Knicks can trade Melo down the road if it's conclusively proven someday that he and Amare will never mesh properly.
3. Should and will Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni be fired?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: I think the lockout will save D'Antoni. No need paying him and someone else next year. Give him a chance to develop a plan for whatever the roster will look like when the NBA resumes, rather than trying to adjust to difficult-to-fit-parts on the fly.
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: This is a complicated situation. On the one hand, you can argue that D'Antoni deserves to have a training camp with this squad, and that it isn't fair to judge him on this series because of the injuries to Billups and Stoudemire. On the other hand, he didn't do a good job of coaching in this series, and his lack of a strong defensive philosophy and commitment will continue to hinder this team.
D'Antoni probably isn't the right coach for this team; he isn't the coach to maximize this club's ability. But with the lockout looming, there's no need to make a move now. There may not even be a season come October, or there may be a shortened one. Plus, the crop of available coaches may improve a year from now because several teams may hold off on firing coaches who still have years left on their contracts because of the lockout.
So for the time being, I'd keep D'Antoni, although I'd have long sit-downs with him to see how he plans to improve the team strategically -- like what his offensive and defensive philosophies will be going forward.
John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Of course he shouldn't be. He might have made a tactical error or two in this series, but he's made the Knicks a potent offensive team and got a lot of mileage from a flawed roster.
Will he be? I worry he might, just because of the buffoonery we've seen from the Knicks' ownership.
Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: No. As I wrote in my column after the Game 4 loss Sunday night, D'Antoni has coached 63 players in his three seasons in New York. He deserves a full season with a stable roster, something he hasn't had yet.
If the Knicks flame out a year from now, it's a different story -- especially if Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers are both unemployed and available.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Definitely don't think he should be fired and don't think he will be, either. The Knicks were borderline overachieving with the team they had before the trade and became an incredibly challenging team to coach after making such a dramatic change to the roster when they got Melo.
The sense I get is that the injuries in the playoffs will provide D'Antoni with the needed insulation to survive the inevitable calls for his head coming from various corners of Gotham after the crunch-time gaffes in the first two games.
But D'Antoni, to me, shouldn't even be subjected to this stuff. Did you see some of the five-man units he had out there in the Boston series? Give him a full season with Amare and Melo ... and then the Knicks can go after Phil Jackson or Doc Rivers if they're not happy with the progress.
4. What's your take on the future of the New York Knickerbockers?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: The future of the Knicks will be a lot like the recent past of the Knicks: waiting on the future. In other words, like the two years spent waiting for LeBron, they'll have to spend the next year waiting and hoping for Deron Williams, Chris Paul or Dwight Howard. Because the duo of Stoudemire and Anthony isn't enough. They'll need a long-term solution at point guard to replace Chauncey Billups and better low-post players.
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: The Knicks' future is brighter than it has been since Patrick Ewing left New York. They've got two superstars in their prime; now they have to figure out how best to build around them. They have to decide what to do with Chauncey Billups (pick up his $14 million option for next season, or buy him out for $4 million), and they need to add a big man.
With a new and uncertain collective bargaining agreement on the horizon, it's hard to tell how much cap space the Knicks will have. But whatever the case, I like their future.
John Hollinger, ESPN.com: They'll continue being a solid, B-level Eastern Conference playoff team that struggles to get out of the first round and doesn't pose a threat to the East's contenders. The only way to change that is with their dream scenario of getting a third star to New York, but it doesn't appear they'll have the assets or cap space to do it.
Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: Four seasons is a long time in the NBA. Amare Stoudemire is under contract for all four of those years, and Anthony for at least three (he has an opt-out in the summer of 2014). Now, the Knicks know what they are building around. A year ago, they had no idea what their roster would look like in the fall.
And their cap space in 2012 will be a significant asset. So although it is the end of their season, they are still in the infancy of a new beginning.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: This will obviously be an easier question to answer when we know exactly how much financial flexibility (or lack thereof) New York has in the NBA's post-lockout world. And when we know for sure whether Donnie Walsh is staying or going.
But I think you have to like where the Knicks are going as much as you can ever back an operation that has James Dolan at the controls. With Amare and Melo in place, coveted players will continue to want to join them in New York ... and the best coaches will be tempted by the idea of going to MSG to coach them.
And we repeat: If the ambitious marriage is ultimately proven to be fatally flawed, there's nothing stopping the Knicks from moving Melo for Amare sidekicks that mesh with him better.
5. What do you make of the Celtics going forward in the postseason?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: The Celtics have given the Eastern Conference, specifically Miami, reason to be afraid again. Rondo is back in the groove, Ray Allen is shooting the lights out and Kevin Garnett is more of a scoring threat than he's been since he got to Boston. Now they get extra rest because Miami couldn't finish off the 76ers. And if the Celtics get past the Heat, the Bulls aren't exactly looking playoff-ready.
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: The Celtics continue to prove that you should never underestimate them. They are clutch and always rise to the occasion. And with Jermaine O'Neal playing well against New York, the Celtics look like they'll be all right with or without Shaq.
That said, I've still got Miami beating them in the second round, though I'm a little less certain of the Heat's supremacy after Boston's dismantling of the Knicks these last two games.
John Hollinger, ESPN.com: I give them a pretty mixed review. Winning in four is impressive, regardless of the opposition, but those first two home games against New York's full roster were hardly encouraging ... and that was against an average team, not against a contender like Miami. I still think the Heat will breeze past them fairly easily in the next round.
Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: They will be a tough out, but they will not face as weak a defensive team as they just did. Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic are giving them nothing. That trade will haunt them at some point in the postseason when they can't stop an opposing big.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: If Rondo is back -- if he's really "over" the Perkins trade and not just looking good again because the Knicks were so porous defensively -- Boston is going to have Miami freaked. Because this is another series that the Celts can scrape through if Shaquille O'Neal is still not ready to play. Boston's bench was way too quiet against the Knicks, but Rondo's re-emergence takes the intrigue surrounding Celtics versus Heat up a notch or three. If that's possible.
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J.A. Adande, John Hollinger, Chris Sheridan and Marc Stein write for ESPN.com. Chris Broussard writes for ESPN The Magazine.
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