MIAMI -- Amare Stoudemire reduced himself to another A.J. Burnett, another Kevin Brown, another raging, self-absorbed New Yorker who put his own frustrations over his team's pressing needs.
He cut up his left hand punching a fire extinguisher case after Monday's Game 2 loss to the Miami Heat, by far his most aggressive move of the night. After scoring the softest, least impactful 18 points a man can score in a playoff game, Stoudemire left AmericanAirlines Arena in silence with his hand heavily taped and his arm in a sling, and with security guards shouting for everyone to get back.
"I am so mad at myself right now," Stoudemire tweeted after declining to speak to the news media. "I want to apologize to the fans and my team, not proud of my actions, headed home for a new start."
What a disgrace. And what a damn, crying shame. Stoudemire had been a portrait in dignity and grace since his arrival in New York, where he accepted the very challenge of resuscitating a franchise that scared off LeBron James, and proclaimed, "The Knicks are back."
Yeah, the Knicks are back. Back in position to get swept again in the first round.
"We need him," Carmelo Anthony said of Stoudemire. "I need him out there. I need him playing his game. I need him fighting with me."
But Stoudemire waged a fight with a fire extinguisher case instead, a losing fight. At least Burnett and Brown had the sense to slam their hands and fists against clubhouse doors and walls in the regular season.
Stoudemire? He just slapped the ugliest, bloodiest possible exclamation point on Miami's 104-94 victory, forcing paramedics to go scrambling into the losers' locker room to tend to his lacerated left hand.
They stopped the bleeding, but nobody was certified to treat the season Stoudemire helped put on life support.
The powerless power forward will miss Thursday night's Game 3 and perhaps the balance of this series. "Amare is a huge piece of this team," Tyson Chandler said, "and without him, it's going to make it more difficult."
"That's two players out of the starting lineup," said Chandler, who had already counted Stoudemire out on Monday. "It makes it tougher. Your emotions run high. In a split second, decisions can alter things. You can't fault anybody."
Yes, the Knicks can fault Stoudemire for exploding at the worst possible time. Maybe he was frustrated over his general ineffectiveness in these two games. Maybe, as one source suggested, he was frustrated over the fact that he took only nine shots in 41 minutes, 17 fewer than Anthony attempted in 44 minutes.
Who cares? Stoudemire could spend the entire summer trying to come up with a good excuse for what he did, and he'd fail miserably.
"We've got to deal with the repercussions," Chandler said.
The Knicks are in no position to do any such thing. Last year, Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups went down in the first-round series with Boston before Amare recovered from his back injury in time to play Game 4.
Stoudemire was celebrated for his toughness and fortitude back then, a reception he won't get to enjoy if he returns this time around. In fact, if there's anybody to feel badly for here, it's the teammate who replaced Stoudemire as the Knicks' franchise player.
As Anthony emerged from his locker room at halftime, he would have been excused for borrowing a trick from Stephon Marbury's bad old days in Jersey. Melo would have been forgiven for swiping a coach's marker from the grease board and writing "All Alone" on his ankle tape.
Anthony had 21 points to his name in the first two quarters, and nobody else on his side had more than six. The terms of this Game 2 engagement were already clear: Either the star of the Knicks would deliver a transcendent performance, or the Miami Heat would be halfway home to a first-round sweep.
In the end, Anthony buckled under the weight of the burden and scored a mere nine points in a second half that left the Knicks with this minuscule dose of consolation:
Hey, at least we didn't lose by 33.
"I think we made some huge strides," Anthony would argue. "We made some huge adjustments. ... It's our turn now."
The Knicks' turn to win two games at home, Melo meant.
But Stoudemire threw his hook at that fire extinguisher case, blowing up the whole thing.
"Nobody wants to lose," Anthony said, "but my thing is, as one of the leaders of the team, I've got to keep everybody positive. I've got to keep everybody's head up to keep everybody confident."
Melo said he'd been trying to keep Stoudemire up through his recurring back issues, and through a season that has left Amare looking a lot less athletic and explosive than his former dominant self.
Apparently Anthony failed. "I really don't know how to put it in words," he said, "but it's a tough situation. It seems like it's always something happening. Snakebit."
As a franchise, the Knicks have matched a league record with 12 consecutive playoff losses, the past six on Melo's watch. On Monday night, after his Game 1 no-show, Melo fired away in a desperate bid to carry his team on his own.
"When he's got it going like that," Erik Spoelstra said, "I don't know if there's a better shotmaker in the league."
Only the Heat wore down Anthony, as just about everyone in the arena, Anthony included, knew they would.
"They weren't going to allow me to go out there and score 40 or 50 points or anything like that," he said. "They're a great team."
A great team now 5-0 this season against its not-so-great opponent. Stoudemire was beaten on key rebounds and showed little lift on either side of the floor. His 18 points didn't feel half as important as LeBron's 19.
If the power forward's physical shortcomings were forgivable, his emotional postgame breakdown was not. The Knicks canceled Tuesday's scheduled practice in an attempt to recover, and they could sure use Jeremy Lin to change the narrative as quickly as possible.
But nothing -- not even time -- will heal the damage from Stoudemire's sucker punch, which shattered a season and a good man's good name with it.