Before Game 4 of the two teams' first-round series on Sunday, Boston Celtics guard Jason Terry reportedly told the New York Knicks, "You're not dancing at my funeral today." After the Celtics beat New York to stave off elimination, Knicks reserve Kenyon Martin said he told his teammates to "wear black" to the arena for Game 5, since "funeral colors" would be appropriate for the Knicks ending Boston's season. His teammates obliged in a display that struck some as classless, others as tacky and most as the needless prodding of an opponent already sure to be plenty motivated by the reality of needing a win to extend its season.
As Grantland's Zach Lowe reminded us, this sartorial choice echoed one made by Terry's own 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks for closeout games, a "secret tradition" adopted in the Dallas locker room during their NBA title run. As ESPN.com's Marc Stein wrote, "'Goin' to a funeral' was the Mavs' inside joke." Of course, this being the Knicks, Martin and Smith, "secret" and "inside" are bridges too far, so the whole world (including the Celtics) knew about the Knicks' wardrobe and the meaning behind it.
As we know, that didn't pan out too well for the Knicks, who managed somewhere between five and eight minutes of solid basketball on a night where Boston executed and defended enough to win, forcing what promised to be a very interesting Game 6 at TD Garden on Friday even before players from both sides engaged in a little postgame skirmish on the MSG floor. After the game, Martin — who got into foul trouble early, finished with five personals and chipped in just two points, two rebounds and an assist in 13 minutes — wasn't interested in discussing his role as the Knicks' funeral director and stylist-to-the-stars:
"If you want to talk about basketball, we'll talk about basketball," Martin said. Well, that seems like a pretty meek way of handling your business — it seems reasonable to expect that, when you say something potentially incendiary and provide bulletin-board material, you should at the very least provide an answer, however rote or terse, to the inevitable postgame questions about it. (To his credit, as the New York Daily News' Frank Isola noted, Smith "accepted responsibility" for the consecutive losses that have come, at least in part, as a result of his actions and poor performance.)
But if you're not willing to answer questions about the stuff you said, that's your prerogative, Kenyon. OK. So let's talk about basketball.
Like New York starter Tyson Chandler, Martin was dominated by Celtics center Kevin Garnett in his limited minutes, his only memorable contribution coming in the form of a hard second-quarter foul on KG that was initially called a flagrant-1 but downgraded to a common foul after official review. The foul parked Martin on the bench for the final 9:10 of the first half. Cool stuff.
No matter which Knick was matched up against him, the 37-year-old Garnett controlled the glass for the third straight game. He's got 52 rebounds over his last three, including 44 on the defensive boards, grabbing a staggering 44 percent of the Knicks' misses while he was on the floor in Games 3 through 5, according to NBA.com's stat tool.
That's a way higher share of available defensive rebounds than Brooklyn Nets vacuum Reggie Evans managed this season, and his league-leading 38 percent mark was the highest single-season defensive rebounding percentage in Basketball-Reference.com's database, which stretches (for this particular stat) back to the 1973-74 season. That means New York's getting virtually no second-chance points (just 10.6 per game over their last three, 2.6 points fewer than their already not-so-great season average, which ranked 19th among 30 NBA teams) or chances to reset, move the ball and resume attacking the Celtics' defense, which has only further hampered the Knicks' sputtering offense.
And about that sputtering offense: The Knicks are averaging nearly 27 isolations (possessions on which a Knicks player goes one-on-one against a defender) per game during the playoffs, about 10 more than they did during the regular season and more than any playoff team has averaged since 2004, according to Synergy Sports Technology data called up by Heat.com's Couper Moorhead. That one-in, four-out, two-point-guard-promoted side-to-side ball movement that results in open-looks for reliable range shooters? All but gone. Snuffed out in favor of clock-eating, ball-pounding isolations that are presently producing a postseason-worst number of points per possession.
Boston's defense deserves an awful lot of the credit for that, as NBA.com's John Schuhmann notes, but given the success that the Knicks have had throughout the series when attacking the Celtics in the pick-and-roll game with Raymond Felton, you've also got to cast your eyes toward the trio of Smith (3 for 14 in his nightmarish Game 5 return), Carmelo Anthony (18 for 59 from the floor in his last two games, with 40 of the 59 shots coming outside the paint, including an 0 for 12 from 3-point land), and coach Mike Woodson, whose "put the ball in your best players' hands and hope for the best" game plan seems to be going up in flames right about now.
Simply put, over the past two games, the Celtics have been better, more precise and more disciplined than the Knicks on both ends of the floor, going about the business of clawing their way back into a series more determinedly and professionally than the Knicks have gone about closing out an older, less skilled, short-handed and wounded opponent. That, not anything to do with attire, is why the Knicks will have to fight their backsides off to escape Boston with a six-game series win as opposed to spending this week preparing for the winner of the Indiana Pacers-Atlanta Hawks series.
“They can dress in black, but we’re not here to talk,” Celtics forward Jeff Green said after the game. “We’re here to play.”
If the Knicks didn't know that before Game 5, they damn sure know it now.
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