The Knicksâ€™ second-half breakdown in Monday nightâ€™s game against the Celtics was at once both predictable and startling. New York is, by style, a team incapable of enduring runs; unless their offense is operating at a high level at all times, the Knicks are vulnerable to flurries of points and stops from more effective teams. When the consistent scoring goes, so too does the game. The Celtics, on the other hand, are the picture of in-game and in-season fortitude. No loss is back-breaking and no quarter damning. Boston simply hovers, cool and confident, waiting for the moment when the shots finally do start falling. Their defense allows them that much, and though the Celticsâ€™ poor execution during the first 24 minutes of Mondayâ€™s game imbued them with a 14-point halftime deficit, their recovery was imminent.
Imminent and yet shocking, still. Thereâ€™s an awesome quality in seeing an offensive outfit as capable as the Knicks â€“ who put up 51 points in the first half despite playing in a pretty slow game â€“ be completely shut down, even if it falls right in line with the expected narrative structure. Bostonâ€™s defense is just so completely smothering when itâ€™s on point, and on Monday New York looked absolutely impotent by comparison. It wasnâ€™t just Bostonâ€™s D vs. New Yorkâ€™s O; the offense-defense distinction too often creates an artificial separation that doesnâ€™t actually exist. Defense feeds into offense and vice versa, and the Celtics thoroughly dominated both ends of the court by using each as a conduit to the other. Every made bucket allowed the defense an opportunity to get set, and every stop provided an offensive opportunity.
The Knicks, on the other hand, seemed incapable of grasping the concept that basketball is a transitional game. Oddly enough, New York rarely pushed the pace in the second half (particularly in the fourth quarter), and in the instances when they did make an attempt to do so, Boston was in position to defend. The results werenâ€™t pretty, as the Knicksâ€™ offense completely stopped functioning in a half-court setting during the final frame. Shot selection was a huge issue, as each of New Yorkâ€™s stars took turns committing offensive blunders down the stretch:
Worse yet: the Knicks havenâ€™t quite grasped getting back on defense as an imperative. The scene was particularly heinous in the fourth quarter, as a 23-2 Celtics run fueled by fast break points destroyed what was left of the Knicksâ€™ advantage and propelled the better team toward a convincing win:
As far as the Knicks have come in the last year, thereâ€™s still a gulf separating them from the leagueâ€™s elite. Itâ€™s the defense. Itâ€™s the offense. Itâ€™s the poor attention to detail and a conceptual disregard for the system in place. Every squad will have their losses and letdowns, but New York shows their relative worth in a loss like this one.