Another day, another guy with a busted left hand returning to his team's starting lineup way sooner than expected. On Saturday, it was Caron Butler playing with a fractured fifth metacarpal in the Los Angeles Clippers' Game 3 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. On Sunday, it's Amar'e Stoudemire, who will take his lacerated and stitched-up mitt into a win-or-go-home Game 4 against the Miami Heat.
Rumors of Stoudemire re-entering the New York lineup, which had rumbled for several days, were confirmed just over an hour before the scheduled 3:30 p.m. Eastern tipoff of Game 4. New York enters the contest in an 0-3 hole against the defending Eastern Conference champions; one more loss sends the Heat into the Eastern Conference semifinals, and the Knicks home for the summer.
Stoudemire suffered a bad cut on his left hand when he punched a fire extinguisher case near the locker room of the AmericanAirlines Arena after New York's Game 2 loss in Miami on Monday night. After missing Thursday's Game 3 loss, which pushed his seventh-seeded Knicks team to the brink of elimination Sunday, Stoudemire practiced Friday, saying he's "been blessed" with the capacity to heal quickly and upgrading himself from "out" to "doubtful" for Game 4.
Knicks interim coach Mike Woodson wasn't hearing that "doubtful" business, though. He said Friday that he thought Stoudemire would play in Game 4, tabbing the Knicks' $100 million man as a game-time decision. He proclaimed Stoudemire ready to go on Sunday afternoon, though, telling reporters before the game that Amar'e will "he'll be fine," according to MSG Network's Alan Hahn.
"If it opens up, we'll stitch him back up and play," Woodson said.
Stoudemire was relatively quiet through the series' first two games, doing little that was positive or noteworthy on the defensive end (as is customary) and managing just 27 total points on 16 field-goal attempts as the Knicks attempted to force action through a routinely blanketed Carmelo Anthony, with whom Stoudemire has famously yet to jell in any meaningful way during the 14-plus months they've shared in Gotham.
Mindful of the largely either-or nature of the Knicks' offense with both forwards on the roster, optimistic Knicks fans hoped that Stoudemire's Game 3 absence, which pushed Anthony back to the power forward role in which he thrived throughout the Knicks' sharp April run, could help the Knicks find some semblance of offensive rhythm and potency. Instead, with New York continually flustered by Miami's determined fronting of 'Melo in the post and struggling mightily to find good looks from 3-point range thanks to the Heat's strong pick-and-roll defense and lightning quick closeouts, Anthony again flailed, missing 16 of 23 shots, and New York as a team went just 4-of-20 from long distance and hit only 31.9 percent of its field goal attempts.
The idea behind not only playing, but starting, Stoudemire less than a week after suffering an injury that was expected to keep him out for the entirety of the first round is simple enough to understand: There's no tomorrow for these Knicks, and if they're going to go down, they might as well go down with their biggest and highest-paid guns on the floor.
Even if it means risking further injury to the off hand of the nigh-on-untradeable guy you're going to be paying $65 million through 2014-15. Even if, in the absence of a legitimately dangerous pick-and-roll point guard (like, for example, fellow wounded solider Jeremy Lin), his insertion into the lineup — and especially into the STARTING lineup, where we've got some evidence to suggest he doesn't operate well alongside Anthony and Tyson Chandler — might not actually make the Knicks a better team. And even if this smells at least a little bit like a P.R.-driven move to coerce New York fans into viewing their one-winged four man as a warrior willing to rush back from injury rather than the guy who has all but taken himself out of the first-round running in two consecutive years.
For whatever it's worth, as I wrote Friday, I do not believe Stoudemire playing will end well. Then again, I did not believe it would end well anyway, so why not, I suppose? What's one more ring in the circus among friends?