COMMENTARY | Following his team's Eastern Conference quarterfinal Game 5 loss to the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night, New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson placed his team's attention back where it ought to be, with one simple sentence.
"The game is played on the floor, and that's where it should be played," he said.
If Woodson's team plans to close out what should have already been a first-round series win by now, they should heed their coach's wise words and forget about spewing anymore of their own arrogant talk.
The Knicks' Imprudent Actions and Words Have Helped the Celtics
Although the Celtics are old, banged up, and missing one of their most important players, in injured guard Rajon Rondo, they're also a very savvy and prideful group with a head coach (Doc Rivers) who knows how to get the most out of his players -- especially when their backs are to the wall and they have no other choice but to win and extend any hope for continuing the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce era as it winds down.
Boston had all the motivation it needed to get back in what had been a lopsided series ever since J.R. Smith was careless enough (in Game 3 of the series) to swipe his elbow across the face of another Celtic (Jason Terry) who like Garnett and Pierce, knows all about what it takes to win an NBA championship.
But, the Celtics will gladly take the gift of further inspiration if the Knicks are foolish enough to continue to provide it for them.
Ever since his thoughtless ejection from Game 3, that's exactly what Smith and his teammates have given a team that was all but ready to pack it in and call it an epoch.
Although the Knicks couldn't quite get over the hump without Smith in an overtime loss in Game 4, they probably could have wrapped things up in Game 5 and avoided the huge mess they've needlessly put themselves in now, had they just approached the rest of the series since Game 4 with class, focus, and commitment -- traits befitting a true champion, and qualities that Woodson surely would have preferred.
Instead, Smith compounded his original mistake from Game 3 by suggesting that had he played in Game 4, the series "would've been over" and that he would have "been playing golf" rather than practicing for Game 5.
That was right about the same time I started to get the idea that Smith would begin to feel the weight of his own words. That notion turned out to be accurate, as Smith missed his first ten shots en route to his dismal 3-for-14 shooting performance in Boston's Game 5 victory that sent the series back north, while putting New York in a very difficult position.
Spurred on by Smith's disrespect, Terry made 5 of 9 three-point attempts in Game 5, after Smith sardonically and idiotically said he "didn't know who Terry was," despite Terry's very good, long career, playing a major role on teams that won two state high school championships, an NCAA title, and an NBA crown just two years ago.
Then, of course, there was Kenyon Martin, who encouraged several of his teammates to wear black and prepare for an early Celtics "funeral." When that ill-advised scheme backfired, Martin took a stubborn and belligerent tone with the media instead of learning from what was a stupid concept.
When given an opportunity to rethink that poor choice, Tyson Chandler just as obstinately supported it with a feeble excuse, pointing out that he and Terry did the same with black wardrobes, when they were teammates along with current Knick Jason Kidd, on the way to winning an NBA championship with Dallas in 2011.
The Knicks Haven't Accomplished Enough to be Mocking Anyone
Yet, who are the Knicks, who are still trying to win their first playoff series in 13 years, to prematurely declare they're throwing dirt on anyone's season, let alone doing so to a team with a pair of future Hall of Famers, which has already accomplished what New York only dreams of doing this year (or in any season, for that matter)?
The bottom line is, it wasn't necessary, since it's the Knicks, not the Celtics, who have this year's NBA scoring champion (Carmelo Anthony) and Sixth Man of the Year (Smith), along with a far superior point guard (with Rondo out), and a deeper bench.
And, the trash talk probably cost the aging and often ailing Knicks some much-needed rest that they could have sorely used, heading into a potential Eastern Conference semifinal series, as Indiana and Atlanta continue to tangle in their own long opening round series.
The sort of mentality New York has recently displayed is one that results in a lack of concentration and an obsession with the same unnecessary distractions that Woodson is trying to get his team to avoid at all costs.
It's the same mindset that caused a Knicks team that was capable of starting the regular season 18-5 and finishing it 16-2, while beginning a playoff series up, 3-0, to also go 20-21 during half of the regular season, and then let the Celtics become only the 11th team in NBA history to force a Game 6 out of 104 instances in which a team was down 3-0 in a best-of-seven series.
Trying to Prevent an Epic Collapse
And, it's the same way of behaving that if the Knicks aren't careful, will have them sharing the kind of embarrassment that the New York Yankees went through with blowing a 3-0 series lead before losing four straight games to the Boston Red Sox in 2004.
But, the time for the Knicks to worry only about themselves, to stop talking, and to start playing basketball seriously again, is now.
No more black clothes, no more taking certain games or opponents for granted. And, no more self-induced diversions from the ultimate goals that are supposed to matter the most.
Knicks fans have waited long enough to see their club win another playoff series. They shouldn't have to wait even longer because this time, their team would have immaturely and senselessly beaten itself.
Jonathan Wagner is a New York Knicks beat writer for New York Sports Day and a co-host discussing the Knicks and other sports topics on the New York Sports Geeks internet radio show (powered by Sportsideo). Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanJWagner.
- Sports & Recreation
- New York Knicks
- Mike Woodson
- Boston Celtics
- New York
- Kevin Garnett
- Jason Terry