The last couple weeks of the regular season were all about preparation for the Knicks, figuring out which lineups mesh well together, and who could provide big boosts down the stretch.
Knicks fans were introduced to the likes of Anthony Carter, Shelden Williams, Derrick Brown, and re-introduced to players like Jared Jeffries (return to New York) and Roger Mason Jr. (more playing time).
While these players broke their way into the rotation, it appeared as though Landry Fields and Ronny Turiaf took back seats for the time being.
Carter has gained the confidence of Coach Mike D'Antoni, coming up big on defense and making a clutch pass every now and then, so he'll continue to see minutes, as he did while playing 13 minutes in game 1 of the playoffs vs. the Celtics.
A big surprise, though, was not seeing Williams enter the game whatsoever. For a while, he seemed to be steady in the team's starting lineup, but has sneakily been phased out as of late. One third of the Knicks' "three-headed monster" at center, Williams' defensive presence could really help his team throughout the series, although defense wasn't their problem last night.
Nevertheless, Williams has proven he can harass big men like Dwight Howard on defense, and even probably guarded the likes of Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis in practice last year while playing with Boston. Wouldn't that type of experience prove invaluable, to have a bit of an insid man?
The Knicks have seen firsthand what former teammates can do to each other, as the Pacers' Dahntay Jones pestered Carmelo Anthony all game long (the two were teammates in Demver) during a demoralizing loss to Indiana just a few weeks ago.
Guys like Brown and Mason Jr. probably won't see time simply because neither one really cracked the rotation during the season, but it doesn't hurt to have Mason Jr.'s playoff experienced three-point shot waiting in the wings if need be during a crucial moment.
Fields has continued to look lost, unfortunately, as the season progressed, and that didn't change last night. It's almost as though he's invisible. It's a discouraging development, given how good the Knicks know he can be, and probably need him to be in the playoffs. Nevertheless, he's a rookie and struggling spurts like this occur.
Turiaf and Jeffries played really well on defense, which is perhaps why Williams didn't see the court. Turiaf played like he had in the very early goings of the season, scoring 9 points, grabbing 5 boards, and swatting away 4 blocked shots in true Turiaf-fashion. Jeffries not only did what is known for, drawing nice charges, but also grabbed an impressive 9 rebounds off the bench, second on the team only to Amar'e Stoudemire, who had 11. It's safe to say that almost on any other given night, those 9 rebounds could have led the team.
One last rotation tid-bit (not particularly a questionable one, but a surprising one) was when D'Antoni substituted Bill Walker in for Carmelo Anthony with over 10 minutes left in the first quarter (after he committed 2 personal fouls), rather than Shawne Williams. Walker responded nicely with 7 quick points, but not to see Williams enter the game until the second quarter (especially considering the circumstances) was a bit perplexing, given his consistent spot in the rotation this season.
Though the substitution worked in the Knicks' favor this time, it is noteworthy that Williams' +/- of 7 was tied for the highest on the team in just 9 minutes of play.
While the substitutions seemed a bit scattered in game 1, perhaps it's a good thing as the Knicks continue to explore and unveil how much depth they really have, because the playoffs are all about longevity.