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NEW YORK -- Carmelo Anthony was not looking for trouble as he walked off the court in defeat, and trouble still found him anyway. At the end of another long playoff afternoon, Anthony banged his right shoulder into an incoming TV camera, winced, grabbed it, and then disappeared down the Garden tunnel.
That would be his good shoulder, not the one the Boston Celtics kept grabbing and poking at over six games, and not the one the rough-and-tumble Indiana Pacers will keep hitting over the next two weeks, assuming the New York Knicks last that long.
|Little came easy for Carmelo Anthony in Game 1 against the Pacers, who made the NBA's scoring champ work hard for a game-high 27 points.|
So where exactly were the Knicks on Sunday, when they played much of their Game 1 with the same urgency the Brooklyn Nets showed in their Game 7 against Chicago, which is to say none? In the Knicks' collective mind, had they already taken their talents to South Beach? Had J.R. Smith already booked a party suite at the Clevelander, or maybe a foursome at Doral?
The Pacers proved in this punishing 102-95 victory that they intend to crash the party and the boards, and that this will be no second-round walkover en route to the grudge match with Miami millions of New Yorkers expect and demand. Once Indiana was done grabbing 44 rebounds to the Knicks' 30, the current overlord of the winners and former overlord of the losers, Donnie Walsh, sat in a small office on the visitors' side of the Garden and spoke of how size mattered in Game 1.
"Our bigness," Walsh cited as the difference-maker against the Knicks. "It was the size of our guys. When we went to our bench, what struck me was how much bigger our guys were than the Knicks were. We substituted Roy out and [Ian] Mahinmi came in, and he's almost 7-feet tall, too. I looked at him and he was heads over everybody they had out there."
Walsh paused and measured the thought. "I like having a big team," he said.
A big team that made the Knicks look shorter than Smith's temper in Boston.
Mike Woodson is in no danger of losing his job the way good guy P.J. Carlesimo unfortunately lost his, so Woody felt free to rip his team in general and Tyson Chandler in particular, a rare rebuke from a coach who doesn't believe in naming names.
Woodson pointed out that Indiana's 7-foot-2 center, Roy Hibbert, had outplayed his 7-foot-1 counterpart, and added, "I've got to get Tyson [Chandler] playing better than Hibbert." A pro's pro, Chandler had to be wondering where Woodson was this time last year, when the coach talked only about showing Amar'e Stoudemire some love after Stoudemire showed no love for a fire extinguisher case in Miami.
Woody did add that the Knicks couldn't let David West post another 20-point game, a softer jab at West's power-forward opposite, Anthony, who continued his dreadful shooting by scoring 27 points on a 10-for-28, and by finishing the day having missed 23 of his past 25 3-pointers.
But when Woodson indicted the Knicks by saying, "I thought [the Pacers] played harder than our team tonight," he was really indicting himself. It's the coach's basic responsibility to inspire his players to compete, if not effectively, and Woodson failed miserably on that front.
Maybe his players believed all that what-doesn't-kill-you-makes-you-stronger stuff that came out of a Boston series that will be remembered for how the Knicks nearly kicked it all away. Maybe this was a letdown from a duel with a blood rival defined by a charismatic leader, Doc Rivers, and proud Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Or maybe the Knicks simply ran into a Pacers team that has everything the Celtics didn't -- point guards, size, some youth, relatively good health, and a strong belief they can win this series.
"They are being really physical with Melo," Raymond Felton said. "They are banging him, hitting him. They are going at his shoulder."
In fact, they are going at the Knicks like Reggie Miller and Rik Smits and the rest did in six postseason series from 1993 through 2000, back when Lance Stephenson was a young kid in Brooklyn still a long way from starring at Lincoln High.
"All I remember is Reggie [Miller] hitting big shots in this building," said Stephenson, good for 11 points and 13 rebounds. "I dreamed about this day, playing in the Garden."
This was a dream start to the series for all Pacers, including Hibbert, who blocked five shots and dared the Knicks to drive to the basket at their own peril. "They invite you to the big fella," Jason Kidd said.
Not the big fella who was sitting courtside, Patrick Ewing. The big fella who attended Ewing's school, Georgetown, and who shed light on the team-first approach required from a slight underdog devoid of a superstar closer.
"I told my guys, 'If I am not doing something right, just don't let it slide,'" Hibbert said. "You have to hold people accountable. When we walked to the locker room and George Hill looked at me in the face and said, 'Get the hell up on the screens,' I don't take offense to it. We are trying to win."
That is no longer in doubt. Though Anthony claimed -- unconvincingly -- that Indiana's physicality had no impact on Game 1, he did concede that his team had come up Brooklyn Nets soft.
"You take out the X's and O's," Melo said, "they flat-out played harder than we did."
No, he didn't need this kind of second-round start, not after missing 99 of 160 shots against Boston and not after realizing early that this Pacers team is a reflection of its coach, Frank Vogel, tough guy from the Jersey shore.
Anthony did steal one MVP vote from the four-time winner, LeBron James ("I'll take it," Melo said), an empty victory on a day when his coach, Woodson, said the Knicks need a "better effort across the board for us to get out of this series."
As in much. The Knicks have to understand something: If they don't get out of this series, this season goes down as a disappointment, as in major. Playoff drought or no playoff drought, they're supposed to win two postseason rounds this spring, not one.
The bigger Pacers just beat them up, just reminded them they're not playing an old, small, and exhausted team in Boston anymore. The Knicks had better hit back in a hurry, or they can go ahead and cancel all that scheduled third-round fun in the South Florida sun.