NEW YORK — The quiet demeanor of a champion is unmistakable. His persistence is unassuming. He fights to the end, until the battle is won. When it is, he celebrates…
But for a moment. Because then, it is on to the next challenge.
The Boston Celtics are champions. The New York Knicks are not, and the unmitigated hubris that the Knicks collectively exhibited heading into Wednesday night’s Game 5—and how the Celtics responded to it—proved that.
And you know what? In the long run, the Knicks will be better off for it.
After taking a 3-0 series lead on the Boston Celtics, the Knicks made the mistake of thinking that Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Doc Rivers would roll over and die for them.
Instead, those four galvanized their troops, took two straight from the Knicks, and have suddenly made this series awfully interesting.
No NBA team has ever erased an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. But if you do not think that the Celtics think they can be the first, think again.
“It’s a series now,” coach Mike Woodson said after Game 5—as if it were news to him.
The energy, passion and hunger the Knicks displayed in the first three games of this series have become a distant memory, and it was all too apparent in Wednesday night’s 92-86 loss to the Celtics.
In the end, the Knicks lost Game 5 because the Celtics were a better team for one night, but the Celtics trail in the series because the Knicks are the better team, overall.
And that is why the Knicks will win Game 6 in Boston.
Doc Rivers would have you believe otherwise, but the story of Game 5 was not one about an impregnable Celtics defense or about them taking the best shot from the Knicks and persevering.
It was all about preparedness and effort, and frankly, the Knicks underestimated the motivation the Celtics bring to games such as these.
The Knicks missed open shots all night long (J.R. Smith opened 0-for-10) and their defensive rotations were consistently late, if not missing altogether. Credit the Celtics for the win, but give the Knicks the assist.
After Game 4, the prevailing thought in the Knicks locker room was that the Celtics wanted to avoid the embarrassment of being swept on their home floor.
What better signified the Knicks’ disdain than Smith saying he would have been playing golf if he hadn’t been suspended for the game? How about the fact that Kenyon Martin rallied the troops for Game 5 by telling them to come dressed in black—a befitting color for a funeral?
Memo to Smith: Shut your mouth, let your ball do the talking.
Be proud and confident, but be classy. Be a champion, or at least act like one.
Unlike Game 4, after Game 5, the prevailing thought in the Knicks locker room is that the Celtics want to make history at their expense.
For Woodson, motivating your team in the former case may be a challenge.
In the latter? Not as much.
And that will manifest itself on Friday night when these two teams do battle in Game 6.
On Wednesday night, the Knicks were not ready to match the intensity and the fight that the Celtics played with. Their perimeter defense was porous, at best and laughable, at worst.
With 3:25 remaining in the first half and the Celtics surging, on one particular possession, the Knicks played pretty solid defense for about 19 seconds. The ball was deflected into the backcourt but Avery Bradley ran it down, dusted it off and was allowed to make an uninhibited beeline, almost coast-to-coast, and lay the ball in as the shot clock expired. It was befuddling, to say the least.
But by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, those types of plays were commonplace. With 9:14 remaining in the game, as Jeff Green drove past every Knick on the floor and threw down a thunderous dunk, the Garden faithful had already lost faith. The defensive breakdown on that play was just the latest, and the 15-point deficit that those two points created was just too great for the dispirited Knicks to overcome.
On Wednesday night, the Knicks did not lose because of a lack of talent. They lost because of a lack of effort. And because of hubris.
Champions are resilient, and the Boston Celtics have been there and done that. Carmelo Anthony’s Knicks can only hope to get to where Garnett, Pierce, Terry and Rivers have been.
Somewhere along the line, the Knicks mistook their Atlantic Division title for the Eastern Conference crown.
Somewhere along the line, J.R. Smith began to believe that his Sixth Man of the Year Award was the Bill Russell Finals MVP Award.
Somewhere along the line, they lost sight of the fact that the Celtics, even without Rajon Rondo, are still champions.
Shame (and joke) is on them.