Loss a part of the rebuilding process

NEW YORK -- A year from now, New York Knicks fans will look back on this night and do one of two things.

They will grimace. Or they will shrug.

And to get a reading on which of those two choices it might be, a brief history lesson is in order.

It was April 23 of last year when the Boston Celtics did something similar to what they did to the Knicks on Friday night. They went into Miami holding a 2-0 lead over the Heat, and they all but won the series in Game 3 on a Paul Pierce dagger at the buzzer.

The Heat came back and won Game 4 on the strength of an out-of-body performance from Dwyane Wade, but the end came two nights later back in Boston as Wade's supporting cast, featuring Michael Beasley and Quentin Richardson, proved no match for a veteran, playoff-tested Celtics team that knows how to put a foot on someone's throat, then step down hard and start grinding its heel.

That was what the Celtics did to the Knicks in this Friday night massacre that featured Shawne Williams as the Knicks' leading scorer and Landry Fields as the shooting guard who matched his series average by scoring two points, and with Jared Jeffries as the closest thing resembling a defensive presence.

The Celtics embarrassed the Knicks, made the building empty out midway through the fourth quarter and sent the Bockers into a weekend of soul searching. Were they really that bad? Were they a victim of unfortunate injury circumstances? Were they exposed as a mentally frail group unable to overcome the devastation of giving away two games in Boston in which they led in the final quarter? Was it all of the above?

Or is it more simple? Is it merely a matter of the Knicks not yet being ready after a midseason transformation in which half the roster was sacrificed to acquire a big piece of the future?

Doc Rivers had warned his team that Madison Square Garden was an arena that could trick a player into trying to put on a show, and he implored the Celtics to treat this as a competition rather than a night of providing entertainment.

And his team certainly did listen.

"You can't give that team that big of an opening where they smell the blood," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "And they went for it."

That they did, getting explosive performances from Rajon Rondo (15 points, 20 assists, 11 rebounds), Paul Pierce (38 points) and Ray Allen (32 points), scoring 22 second-chance points, holding the Knicks to just six fast-break points and making 14 of 24 3-point shots to drain all the energy out of a building that was revved up for its first playoff game in seven years.

The question now is where do the Knicks go from here, and that is where that history lesson about the Heat comes into play.

When Miami was eliminated last season, it faced the prospect of losing Wade as a free agent. Yes, losing him. Memories can be short, so remember that there was a brief period in the first week of July when many were convinced Wade would be heading back to his hometown to play for the Bulls.

We all know it didn't work out that way, and the Heat rebuilt themselves into what could become a superteam by adding two superstars, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, while retaining Wade.

The Knicks' season will end soon, too, and the positive thing for them is they will not be sitting in the same insecure place as the Heat were when their season came to an end at the hands of the Celtics.

Amare Stoudemire is already a Knick, and he will be for four more years.

Carmelo Anthony is already in the fold, too, and he will be around at least through the spring of 2014.

Chauncey Billups might not play again in this series, but he could be back as well, as the veteran anchor of a 2011-12 Knicks team whose roster will be tweaked over the summer to bring in more size, more shooting and more complementary pieces to further the rebuilding project that remains in its middle stages.

Remember, Donnie Walsh said this was going to be a four-year plan he was embarking on when he took this job in the summer of 2008, and Year 4 has not yet arrived.

Year 4 begins next season.

And a year from now, Game 3 of the first round might be as different for the Knicks as it was for the Heat, who played their Game 3 on Thursday night in Philly and moved one game away from sweeping the 76ers.

How many of their fans were lamenting that buzzer-beater from Pierce a year ago?

Heck, how many of them could even remember it without being reminded?

A year is a long time.

Last April, the Knicks' hopes rested on landing James in free agency. Stoudemire was considered a booby prize, Anthony was not even in the equation, no one had ever heard of Timofey Mozgov -- much less made the argument that the Knicks never should have thrown him into a trade -- and the city of Cleveland was still more than a week away from basking in the glory of that 1-0 lead the Cavaliers would take over the Celtics in Game 1 of the second round.

Look at how much uncertainty and heartbreak awaited those folks, yet they were oblivious to it last May 1.

At least Knicks fans can take solace in the fact that although losses such as Friday's are going to be an unfortunate part of the reconstruction process, the most difficult part -- getting the foundation pieces in place -- has already been completed.

And one year from now, this debacle could very well be a piece of history that will be forgotten by more people than remember it.