Passing Judgment – A Positive Spin on the Knicks

As a Knicks’ fan, I am very disappointed and frustrated that they have lost the first two games of their first round playoff series against the Celtics.  These two losses have been excruciating and arguably should have been victories.  There wasn’t much hope for the Knicks to realistically win the series anyway, but now being down 2-0 it is virtually impossible to think they have any chance at all.  But, there is a better way to look at things…positively. 

Before the season started, there was already a sense of disappointment and despair after the Knicks failed to sign LeBron James.  The signing of Amar’e Stoudamire was a good start, but fans knew that he could not do this alone.  The opening day roster was not one that elicited feelings of the playoffs.  Then starting the year 3-8 certainly didn’t erase the horrible memories of the last decade marred by the likes of Scott Layden, Stephon Marbury, Isaiah Thomas, Larry Brown, and Eddy Curry.  All of a sudden, the Knicks went on a huge winning streak and were over .500 later in a season than they had been in many years.  The Knicks were relevant once again.  Players like Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Landry Fields, and Toney Douglass were complementing Stoudamire well and the team was playing with passion and energy.  Of course, being a Mike D’Antoni team, the Knicks didn’t play much defense, but their explosive offense earned them the highest scoring average in the league for most of the first half.  So compared the entire decade of the 2000’s, the Knicks were being talked about on sports radio and featured on network games during the week.  The week before Christmas, the Knicks played a classic game against the Celtics that they would end up losing on a game-winning shot by Paul Pierce.  But the gutty effort by the Knicks proved to the world that they could compete with the best and were a force to be reckoned with.

Despite how well the Knicks had played and the drastic improvements they had made, no one in their right mind believed they were a championship team yet.  Based on the talent in the East, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Knicks would qualify for the playoffs by the time December rolled around.  Rumors of a trade for Carmelo Anthony really heated up around this time as well.  Those who supported the trade also acknowledged that adding a second superstar to the team is yet another building block towards the ultimate goal of a championship.  Those realists could not have been more correct because there were obvious and severe growing pains once the Knicks made the trade for Carmelo.  By dealing away Felton, Chandler and Gallinari, they needed to replace 3/5 of their starting lineup which is no easy task to do for anyone at any time of year, let alone the Knicks as they competed for their first playoff appearance since 2004.  Sure enough, the growing pains lasted quite awhile as the Knicks put themselves in a dangerous position down the stretch, almost losing enough to remove them from playoff contention.  But the chemistry with Carmelo started to click in March and the Knicks went on a rampage into the playoffs where the Celtics would await them.

So in looking back at the 2010-2011 season, the Knicks have succeeded in selling out Madison Square Garden again, finished the regular season with a record better than .500 for the first time in ten years, made the playoffs for the first time in seven years, rid themselves of all their bad contracts and still have salary cap room for the offseason, and they have two superstars in place who will be on the team for many years to come.  These are all great achievements and are indicative of the direction the franchise is heading into the future.

So now we come to the playoffs against Boston.  Yes, these two losses are truly brutal and games that could have been won by the Knicks.  Forget about phantom offensive fouls or any other excuses, the better team has won the first two games of this series.  True, the Knicks have outplayed Boston for most of the two games.  However, Boston had outplayed the Knicks when it counts the most – the last few minutes of the fourth quarter.  That comes from their superior size, invaluable experience, intelligent coaching, and lack of discipline on behalf of the Knicks.  The way I see this is that the Knicks, a #6 seed (and barely better than the #8 seed), are matched up with a championship-caliber team in the Celtic,s a #3 seed, and are standing their ground giving Boston a real run for its money.  Upsets in the NBA playoffs are rare, so it should not come as a shock to anyone that Boston does have a 2-0 lead.  Again, I know the Knicks could easily be up 2-0 if certain things either happened or didn’t happen, but that is not the case.

What is the case here is that the Knicks have been playing like a legitmate playoff team these first two games.  Their overall defense has been drastically improved compared to just a couple weeks ago.  Their intensity and intelligence have shown through (with some admittedly lapses of judgment and execution at times).  The Knicks are pushing the Celtics to their extreme limits.  This performance should give the Knicks players, management and fans the confidence that they can be competitive against any team and that they are headed in the right direction.  Chauncey Billups is a nice player and has a lot to offer the team, but he is not the long-term answer at point guard.  The Knicks also have a glaring hole at the center position.  They need a big body to clog up lanes, box out, and secure rebounds.  Assuming they address this need in the offseason, couple with the additional time and experience gained by Carmelo and company, the Knicks should be a 50-win team in 2011-2012.  They are young and talented, and hopefully no matter who is the coaching them they will continue to make progress.

So, even if the Knicks do get swept or win a game or two before being inevitably eliminated, it would behoove you to look at the positives of this season as opposed to the missed opportunities here in the playoffs.  Just the fact they are in the playoffs and playing competitive games should be enough to satiate your desire for change and improvement. 

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