The Celtics Spoil the Knicks' Return to Playoff Basketball

Celtics come back huge in second half to take Game One.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony had a miserable second half.

    The first Knicks playoff game of the Amar'e Stoudemire/Carmelo Anthony era is in the books, and it didn't take long to remember that there's nothing fun about simply being in the post-season mix.  

    Anthony had a miserable second half, missing all but one of his 11 shots and committing an offensive foul (a terrible call, but still) that gave the Celtics a chance to win the game with seconds to play. They did just that when Ray Allen stroked a three that you could see coming from miles away, to send the Knicks to an 87-85 Game One defeat.

    Allen wasn't alone when it came to folding in the second half -- the Knicks blew a 51-39 halftime lead -- but he was the one who imploded most spectacularly on a night when the Knicks needed him to be at his best. Had he merely been average, the Knicks would likely win because Stoudemire was cooking.

    Backing up every word he's uttered since signing as a free agent, Stoudemire put the team on his back when it was struggling in the fourth quarter. He hit jumpers, acrobatic layups and a ferocious dunk over Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O'Neal.

    The team stopped going his way, though, and the final shot was a forced three from Anthony that had no chance from the moment it left his hands. That left the Celtics to celebrate and the Knicks to wonder what went wrong.

    It's not a new story, but the Knicks really do not have the proper respect for the role that rebounding plays in the game of basketball. If not for second, third and fourth chance points in the first half, the Celtics might have been too far to come back at all and the Knicks didn't get any better on the glass in the final 24 minutes.

    That shortcoming was really a shame because the Knicks did not play a bad defensive game. They contested almost every shot, forced a lot of bad ones and made the Celtics offense look uncomfortable.

    All that effort seemed to take something out of the team in the third quarter. The Knicks stopped moving the ball and settled for bad shot after bad shot en route to scoring on just six of their first 26 possessions in the second half.

    That took away their halftime lead and raised memories of the March debacle that saw the Knicks give away a bigger edge under an onslaught from the tough, experienced Celtics. This time the Knicks took the punches and returned more than a few of them but, ultimately, they still couldn't find the answer when it mattered most.

    There will be plenty of people howling about the Anthony call and the no-call on Kevin Garnett's pretty illegal looking pick on Toney Douglas before Allen's dagger, but those are things that happen in the course of a game. What killed the Knicks was the rebounding and the lost focus offensively during the second half.

    Finding the answer to beating the Celtics could be more difficult as the series moves forward if Chauncey Billups isn't healthy. The point guard went down with a knee injury late in the fourth and went straight back to the locker room.

    The word is he has a strained left knee, but there's no prognosis on what it means for his future. As bad as Billups was on Sunday, and he was bad, the prospect of Douglas and Anthony Carter running the show doesn't fill the heart with songs of joy.

    The Knicks have proven over and over again this year that they can hang with the Celtics, with or without Billups playing his best. Beating them is going to be about playing a full 48 with the same intensity and same effort that the Celtics bring when they are operating at peak levels.

    And it is going to take a lot more from Anthony than we got on Sunday night.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.