And just like that, another Knicks season is in the books.
New York’s 106-99 series-ending defeat Saturday night in Indiana was a domination of sorts. Yes, the Knicks slashed a 12-point lead nearly in the blink of an eye as the Pacers began leaving Iman Shumpert, Chris Copeland and J.R. Smith wide open from three. But even that run proved to be more “lightening in a bottle” than “sense of normalcy.”
It was almost as if the Pacers put chain-link fences around the three-point line and the Knicks had no real answer throughout the East Semis. They lived by the three all season; their inability to consistently cash in from Broadway killed them. But make no mistake about it, Carmelo Anthony drug the Knicks to the brink of a Game 7 for 36 minutes in a Forrest Gump/Lt. Dan-type heroic moment.
Melo attacked the basket, his jumper was falling and resembled the man who earned one MVP vote from Gary Washburn weeks ago. Melo’s 35 points through three quarters had the feeling something legendary was on the horizon. One of those games we remember long into our 60s, 70s and 80s. One of those games where a player’s career changed forever, for the better.
Yet, give the Pacers credit. True, they were the benefactor of a handful of favorable calls, but at the end of the day, they bullied New York. As noted following their Game 1 victory, Roy Hibbert had to play big. He did more than that. Tyson Chandler – who realistically hasn’t been the same player since injuring his knee in Denver months ago – was a non-factor this series.
On the other hand, Hibbert The Hoya excelled both offensively and defensively as Chandler and Kenyon Martin hung on for dear life. Led by his 21 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks, it was his Uncle Phil/Jazz-like rejection on Carmelo’s dunk attempt in the fourth quarter which resulted in the turning point of Game 6; a career highlight for Roy and the second consecutive postseason this sort of thing has happened to Melo, too.
The Pacers used a team effort in Game 6. All five starters were in double figures, led by Lance Stephenson’s 25 points and 10 rebounds. New York’s formula of “Carmelo, save us” flopped. Ray Felton’s 0-7 fell in the Knicks lap at the worst possible moment, while Jason Kidd didn’t score a point the entire series. Amar’e never found his rhythm and now resembles a shell of his former self. Meanwhile J.R. Smith’s – who wants to retire a Knick! – playoff fate following his elbow to Jason Terry in Game 3 of the opening round against Boston cost him millions. As in nearly $20-$30M heading into his impending free agency this summer – according to Jalen Rose’s estimation – with plays like this not helping his cause.
The 2012-2013 Knicks will be remembered by streaks. How they started the season off on such a torrid pace, regressed to the middle of the pack during the dog days and ended the year as arguably the hottest team not named Miami. In the end, it was the consistency of the Pacers who won out. They’re the ones advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. They’re the ones who accept the task of dethroning Pat Riley’s No State Tax Empire. They’re the ones who wanted it more.
Whether deserved or not, Melo will shoulder the responsibility of the loss. He had nearly as many turnovers (three) as he did points (four) in the fourth quarter. Perhaps winded, his 39 points and seven rebounds in a season-ending loss won’t be enough to shade him from criticism. It didn’t work for Kobe Bryant in Game 6’s L of the 2006 opening round vs. Phoenix when he dropped that ridiculous line of 50-8-5-3 and every non-Laker supporter used the “he doesn’t trust his teammates” label (and we all remember what happened in Game 7). It didn’t work for LeBron in Cleveland when he averaged 35-9-7-2 for the entire 2009 playoffs before losing to Orlando in the East Finals; or posting 27-19-10 (a nearly quintuple double with nine turnovers) in his final game as a Cav in 2010. Or even Kevin Durant from this postseason who did nearly everything a superstar could do with the cast of Smallville beside him.
It’s not fair in most cases, but that’s the game. Entering his tenth season next year with only three postseason series wins to his name in the world’s biggest media capital (3-9 in elimination games), that pressure of achieving the game’s highest honor in a league filled with all-world talents will become even more difficult.
For the Pacers, this thrill of victory is short-lived. Dispatching one long-time rival means an even bigger foe awaits. Paul George gets another crack at Miami after driving himself to brink of insanity last summer watching film from last year’s 4-2 series loss. With the exception of Dallas and Boston, no team has delivered a near knockout blow to the Heat like the Pacers. Indy’s confident. They’ve been confident, actually. Of the four remaining teams left, Miami is the only one without traditional post presences meaning unlike last year, LeBron and company will have to become lumberjacks and chop down trees (look for Bosh/Hibbert to be the key matchup).
Such is life in the playoffs, however. One fan base – the Pacers’ – move on towards their continued chase at immortality. Another – the Knicks’ – have an entire summer to blame refs, the league, Rihanna, and ultimately themselves. What may be a failure to some, may be a step in the right direction for others if roster moves are even feasible. Either way, what started in training camp last fall is over. And the waiting game is always the worst one to play.
Game 1 for the Pacers is next Wednesday in South Beach. Game 1 for the Knicks is next October at a location TBD.