It seems we were a little premature declaring a whole new look to the Knicks-Celtics rivalry.
Monday night's game wound up looking a lot like every other matchup between the teams over the last few years, right down to Paul Pierce stepping back to nail a shot late in the fourth quarter that put things out of reach for the Knicks.
The 102-96 loss featured plenty of opportunities for the Knicks to win the game, which they frittered away in the most frustrating ways possible in a perfect continuation of the recent history of their matchups with the team in green.
This loss was a bit more agonizing because the Celtics were playing without Rajon Rondo, who was handed one of the softer suspensions in memory after brushing against a referee with so much force that he wasn't even given a technical foul. In the end, though, if it had just been a loss then you could shake your fist in the air about those damned Celtics and moved on with the season.
It's not going to be quite that easy, however. The Knicks didn't just lose on the court Monday, they lost their minds on the court and after the game in a way that really makes you wonder about the future.
The Knicks melted down once more in the face of a physical opponent, failing to match Boston's aggressiveness on the court and failing to handle the aggressiveness like professionals. Carmelo Anthony was the main culprit, allowing himself to get drawn into one-on-one battles with Pierce and Kevin Garnett that led to bad fouls, bad shots and constant jawing that will likely end with Anthony suspended for at least a game.
Anthony decided it would be a good idea to wait outside the Celtics' locker room and then the visiting team's bus in hopes of continuing his hostilities with Garnett after the final buzzer, something that was caught on video and will surely concern a league office that suspended Rondo. It was the culmination of a night filled with bad decisions, 6-of-26 shooting for the evening, and the continuation of a trend that has to be stamped out for the Knicks.
Melo allowed his anger with Garnett, justified or not, to overtake all rationality in his game in the fourth quarter, guaranteeing himself more of the same treatment in the weeks and months to come. His shots superseded any offensive flow and his seething rage blinded all else.
Mike Woodson needs to get his team and his star player to deal with physical play without losing their cool and turning the games into the constant routine of looking for calls while letting whistles dictate the way things unfold. The Knicks weren't being unfairly targeted or missing out on calls Monday night, they were simply being played by a physical team and wilting under the pressure.
It's the kind of thing that has happened enough this season for us to know that it is going to keep happening because teams are smart enough to watch tape and draw conclusions. It's happened twice against the Bulls (who return to town on Friday) and now against a Celtics team that could also be on the playoff ledger.
It would be much nicer to talk about why Amar'e Stoudemire was on the court for so much of the fourth when it was clear he wasn't helping much on either end while knocking Anthony down to small forward or point out that the Knicks' insistence of always switching on defense doesn't work, but such things are hard to notice in the wake of watching the Knicks fold up after taking a punch once again.
All of the basketball strategy in the world isn't going to help if your team just sees red when challenged physically by the opposition.
The change in response to that has to come from the top, which leaves Woodson with some work to do and Anthony with a lot of work to do. Teams are going to come at the king every single night and he can't let them win by taking himself out of games the way he did on Monday night.