1. Knicks' Loss Stings Like Decade Of Misery
KnickerBlogger.net / TrueHoop Network
2010-11 was supposed to be a season of changing fortunes for the New York Knicks. And in a few meaningful ways, it has been. Playoff bound for the first time in seven seasons and with a certifiable big three to call their own, the Knicks seem to have embraced the new decade -- like fans of the new-look squad -- while distancing themselves from the relative misery and disappointment of the one just past.
But when it comes to the Boston Celtics, Monday night's 96-86 humiliating home meltdown was very much the same old story. The Celtics outscored the Bockers 33-17 in a final frame that saw both Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony all but vanish. Boston's big three of Pierce, Allen and Garnett, meanwhile, tallied 25 of their team's fourth-quarter points, as the Celtics seemed to beat the Knicks to every loose ball and critical rebound.
To say the game was a slugfest would be an understatement: Both Ray Allen and Anthony found themselves on the receiving end of errant elbows that drew literal streams of blood.
The fact that it was Melo who inadvertently caught Allen on the top of the head in the second quarter -- only to get the same from Rajon Rondo at midcourt halfway through the fourth -- imparted a karmic irony that was lost on no one, as barbs, barks and elbows were traded as much as butterfly Band-Aids in a truly heated second half.
The loss put the Knicks at .500 for the first time since Feb. 11, a 113-96 home drubbing by the Los Angeles Lakers. At that point in the season, many blamed the Knicks' woes on the incessant Anthony trade talks and the toll it was taking on team chemistry and morale. Now, with New York having dropped six of its past seven and nine of 16 since the Anthony trade, chemistry and morale are again at the heart of the conversation.
Refreshingly, both seemed intact early, as solid ball movement and the efficient shooting of Anthony (15 first-half points on 7-of-12 shooting) and Stoudemire (11 points on 5-of-8 shooting) -- combined with a shockingly staunch stretch of D that included a span of 270 seconds during which the Celtics failed to score -- helped put the Knicks up 14 at the break.
After cutting the Knicks' lead to six entering the fourth, Boston's lockdown defense and patient ball movement began to pay dividends. With Stoudemire and Anthony both looking lost and unsure, the Knicks offense crumbled steadily, mustering a measly four points in the final 7:26, and no points in the final 3:28.
Using the frenzied Garden chants as fuel down the stretch, the Celtics closed the game with a playoff-level intensity unbecoming their typical March malaise. What was a still a two-point game with 2:34 quickly mushroomed to six, then eight, then 10, in a span in which Anthony attempted exactly zero shots and Stoudemire's lone 15-foot jumper clanked off the rim.
All three Knicks-Celtics games have had a palpable playoff feel. But as the season nears the finish line, the likelihood of the first Boston-New York playoff series since 1990 is becoming more of a possibility. The surging Sixers seem poised to hold on to the sixth seed -- if not steal the fifth spot from the stumbling Atlanta Hawks -- and an equally favorable home stretch makes the Chicago Bulls' chances of landing the top seed even more likely. The Orlando Magic, meanwhile, should retain the fourth seed, which they've held for most of the season.
That leaves the enigmatic Miami Heat, who may wish to stand pat at No. 3 -- where they'd face a Philadelphia team they have yet to lose to -- rather than risk a run-in with the Knicks, who seem to have their number of late. The Knicks and Celtics will meet one more time in Boston on April 13, the last game of the regular season for both squads.
The way it's shaping up now, it could be the Knicks' final pre-playoff chance to exorcise their many demons in what will certainly have the look and feel of a de facto Game 1. Monday, they were all on display, with rebounding (44-38), turnovers (13-8), and interior defense (44 points in the paint to 28) all once again finding the Knicks holding the short end of the stat stick.
But one demon more than any other will doubtless loom larger and louder: their fourth-quarter collapse. Having been outscored by a combined 25 points in the last two final frames against their old nemesis, Stoudemire, Anthony and the rest of the Knicks should by then know better than anyone the importance of execution and smart play when it counts.
If they don't, the Celtics would certainly love nothing better than to teach them again.
2. No Meltdown This Time For Bulls
CHICAGO -- I guess Derrick Rose wasn't kidding.
Rose told everyone who would listen that his team had learned from last season's 35-point meltdown against the Sacramento Kings and wouldn't make the same mistake twice.
"It's a heartbreaker," Rose said on Sunday. "But you learn from it. If we're up 30, we're going to try to push it to 40, 50 points."
As usual with Rose and the Chicago Bulls this season, mission accomplished.
The Bulls absolutely annihilated the Kings on Monday night at the United Center, beating them by 40 in a 132-92 win. Rose is hopeful that it's yet another sign that the Bulls are growing up as a team.
"We definitely learned from last year," he said. "Even the game against Atlanta, where we had a large lead and let them come back, we learned from that. And I think it made us stronger as a team."
From top to bottom, the Bulls had their most impressive game of the season. Eight players scored in double figures and they shot 61 percent from the field. The fact that they did it against a team that looks like it was jammed together at the local YMCA should be noted, but beating any NBA team by such a wide margin is impressive.
"Sometimes when it rains, it pours, right?" Bulls guard Kyle Korver said of the team's hot shooting. "I thought we executed really well. We got a lot of good looks. It's not like we were making a lot of tough shots. We hit a lot of jump shots. Guys passed the ball really well; we had a lot of assists. When you're doing that, it's really fun basketball to play."
Obviously, it's even more fun when you're winning. The Bulls have now won 50 games, and it's more clear than ever that they have wholeheartedly bought into coach Tom Thibodeau's system.
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
Zach Harper, TrueHoop Network bloggers and fans gave their in-game opinions on all topics throughout Monday's slate of NBA roundball talk in Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Kevin Garnett, Celtics: KG made 10-of-15 shots en route to 24 points and 11 boards in the hard-fought 96-86 win over the Knicks. Mr. Intensity dove all over the floor like it was May 21, not March 21.
The Raps: One night after a great tactical win over the Thunder, the Raps were pigeons in Denver. The bench got ample chance to help, but instead made things worse in a 123-90 loss.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"It's not flowers and lollipops."
-- Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, recounting his thoughts when Tim Duncan went down with an ankle injury.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Big Shot's Future In Big City?
ESPN New York
Billups' contract contains a team option for 2011-2012 for $14.2 million. The Knicks can pick up the option or buy Billups out for $3.7 million.
"I haven't ruled anything out. Obviously, I'm hoping to be a New York Knick next year and going forward after that. But I can only control so much," Billups said.
Billups' agent, Andy Miller, said on Monday that he has had preliminary conversations with team president and general manager Donnie Walsh about Billups' future with the club.
7. Bibby's Flow Chart
MIAMI -- Mike Bibby was the man of the hour at the Miami Heat's practice on Monday. The 12-year veteran faced the media for the first time since Mario Chalmers injured knee diagnosis came to light. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Bibby will be Wednesday's starter against the Detroit Pistons in place of Chalmers, who will be sidelined for two weeks.
Playing next to the big three looks like a cool gig. You get open looks all the time and the defense is always preoccupied with someone or something else.
But Bibby doesn't see it that way. When asked about the looks he's receiving in Miami, his response was fascinating.
"I really don't like how open they are to tell you the truth," Bibby said about his looks on the perimeter. "I'd rather be rushed a little bit where you can be a rhythm shooter. It's so wide open that you have to knock them down."
Is it because he's thinking too much?
"Yeah," Bibby said. "In the flow, you catch it, somebody's running at you and you have to make a quick decision on the shot instead of looking at the rim, make sure the elbow's in, bending your knees and stuff like that. I'd rather have a contested shot than an open one."
So does that make Bibby not an ideal fit next to the big three? Well, not necessarily. Bibby may prefer a contested shot to an open one, but he still may be more accurate when given the space. And that's what really matters.
8. Duncan Limps Off
9. Nuggets Know Blowouts
Ty Lawson scored 17 points in the first quarter -- the most points he has scored in any quarter in his two seasons in the NBA -- leading the Denver Nuggets to a 123-90 victory over the Toronto Raptors. It was Denver's first game back at home after completing a four-game southern road trip. Earlier this month, the Nuggets had treated Denver fans to a 120-80 win over the Charlotte Bobcats and a 131-101 win over the Detroit Pistons. They are the first NBA team to put together three home wins, each by a margin of 30-plus points, in one calendar month, since the Utah Jazz did it in January 1995.