They sauntered into Madison Square Garden with a champion's swagger. Dressed in black, donning smirks -- not just smiles -- and acting like a team that had been here before.
If these were the Celtics, no one would've had a problem with it. They are champions. Their leaders have been here before. And whatever swagger they have attached to their demeanor is not only understandable, it's justified.
Except these were the Knicks we're talking about. The same franchise that hasn't won a championship since 1973, or been out of the first round since 2000. The same franchise led by a star who just helped them win their division for the first time since 1994 -- but appears incapable, at least for the moment, of derailing what would amount to the most epic playoff collapse in NBA history.
What other conclusion can be drawn as the Knicks, humbled in an embarrassing 92-86 loss in Game 5, head back to Boston for the pivotal Game 6 on Friday? If your best player is mired in an 18-for-59 shooting slump, with no offensive help in sight, and getting taunted by benchwarmers along the way, where's the reason for hope?
"This isn't really that big of a surprise," Carmelo Anthony said in the aftermath of the Knicks' loss on Wednesday. "Boston is tough. We knew it. We knew they would give us a fight. So we just have to go back to the drawing board and get ready for Friday."
The Knicks have no one to blame but themselves, something that happens when the shots emanating from your mouth are more potent than your shots at the basket.
Melo, virtually irrelevant for two quarters on Wednesday, finished shooting 8-of-24. His sidekick, J.R. Smith, returned from a one-game suspension to miss his first 10 shots, finishing with 3-of-14 shooting. The Knicks shot just 39.5 percent from the field, just 5-of-22 (22.7 percent) from 3-point range, and the primary cause of their problems wasn't even the shots themselves.
Consistently, there was little to no movement of the basketball, or Knicks players. Knicks simply stood around most of the night like they were waiting for a cab, resorting to Melo holding the ball and attempting one-on-one plays. Knicks coach Mike Woodson allowed his team to play isolation basketball on a whopping 26 percent of its offensive possessions -- playing right into the hands of Celtics coach Doc Rivers. And yet, that wasn't even the worst part.
Prior to Wednesday night's game, the Knicks not only talked trash to the Celtics, but vowed a "funeral" would be in session. So much so that numerous players wore black, vowing they would deep-six the Celtics' season and send them home for the summer once and for all.
"We did come for a funeral," Smith said afterward. "Unfortunately, we were the ones who got buried."
Appreciate Smith's candidness all you want, but there is no explaining the Knicks' stupidity on this issue. Coach Woodson proclaimed, "You've known me long enough to know that I didn't know anything about [all the trash talking]. And had I known I would've put a stop to it." But where was the rest of his team?
Where was the champion, Tyson Chandler? Where was the champion, Jason Kidd? Where was the injured Rasheed Wallace, another champion on the Knicks' payroll wise enough to know how idiotic and futile such mental gamesmanship is against the Boston Celtics.
They've all played against Boston in the Big Three era. They've lost to them, too. And they know enough about basketball to know the kind of guys you simply don't mess with.
"Who was that talking all that trash?" said Celtics guard Jason Terry, mocking the Knicks after dropping five 3s and 17 points on them in Game 5. "They don't know me, huh? They'll know exactly who I am once this series is over."
In other words, you don't have to be Superman for someone to know they shouldn't tug on your cape. But if you're the Knicks, why would you try to do that to anyone, considering New York's résumé?
Being up 3-2 is not a good look when you were up 3-0 in a playoff series. It's not a good thing when you find yourself in danger of a series-deciding Game 7, even if it is at MSG.
With Melo shooting 18-of-59 from the field over the last two games, and the Knicks' offense appearing more lost than it has nearly all season long, it's not a stretch to surmise that New York appears closer to the brink of elimination than Boston.
Who, pray tell, is willing to bet on the Knicks winning a Game 7 if they lose in Boston on Friday night?
"We know we're in a tough spot, because Boston's not going to lay down for anybody," Woodson said. "We're aware of our circumstances, but I still like it. We've got two games to win one. I'm betting on us."
The rest of us bet on the Knicks on Wednesday. And look where that got us.