Though every Knicks fan and their mother seemed to be giddy with playoff excitement this entire past weekend, the team looked composed, professional, and focused as their first round series with the Celtics began in Boston last night.
The Knicks played strong in the first half, even coming away with an impressive lead. They even showed strong resilience when Carmelo Anthony headed to the bench with 2 personal fouls after a mere minute and a half passed in the first quarter. A surprising insertion of Bill Walker (as opposed to Shawne Williams, perhaps) paid off for the Knicks as the former Celtic made sure his team didn't miss a beat without 'Melo.
To me, that type of resiliency, to continue to play well without one of the team's major stars on the floor, was a major plus for the Knicks. Anything can happen in the playoffs, and the Knicks immediately showed that they would not waiver and simply falter to the circumstances.
Even though 'Melo came back in the second quarter to knock down a few shots, this wasn't his game--it was Amar'e Stoudemire's. As good as Anthony has played in his short stint with the Knicks so far, this is STAT's team, and he was simply on fire as he led the way last night.
He, as well as Anthony, in fact, have both been to the Conference Finals before, and while people may just simply view that as a ceiling (not having gone to the Finals proving they aren't perhaps "winners"), are not looking at the big picture. For one, the Knicks have not made the playoffs in seven long years. Powering through to the Conference Finals would be a huge accomplishment, even if it weren't quite the ultimate goal. What STAT and 'Melo could ultimately accomplish together may take some time to pan itself out.
Unfortunately, that "time" needed is not a positive for the Knicks right now. The mix of the two superstars (and ultimately having one try to find their place on offense) is one thing that hurt the team last night. The defense was there, and so was the intensity. But when one of those two superstars is hot, you need to pound the ball to him at all times. It should have been the STAT show, with 'Melo just standing by if Stoudemire began to cool off.
'Melo got lost on defense against Paul Pierce, committed five turnovers, and shot 5 for 18 from the field. The key is going to be how he bounces back. A playoffs veteran, it's safe to say 'Melo probably understands the longevity of a series like this, and how much the nature of such a series can change with each game.
The key is going to be how the Knicks continue to play throughout the series, as they cannot let one game get them down. If anything, they should build positively on the fact that they could have won (probably should have, but that's besides the point), and make sure they win game 2.
It was proven a couple of times in the regular season as well that the Knicks can keep up with the Celtics. Though they didn't really come away with victories against Boston, this is the playoffs and players can stay up, elevate their games, and do the unexpected.
The Knicks biggest and/or toughest opponent in this series is going to be themselves.