Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
BOSTON – One glance around the Knicks locker room after Game 2 of their playoff series with the Boston Celtics and the team looked like a M*A*S*H unit.
Here was Carmelo Anthony, fresh off his 42-point, 17-rebound outburst in a 96-93 loss, hobbling around with two huge ice packs on his knees.
There was Amar’e Stoudemire standing upright like a mummy after missing the entire second half with back spasms.
And 34-year-old point guard Chauncey Billups was still in his suit after sitting out with a knee strain suffered in Game 1.
“It was fun, for the most part of it,” said Anthony, who tied his career postseason high on a night when both Billups and Stoudemire were ailing. “We was out there fighting, man, and my teammates stuck with me. I had confidence in them. It was just a battle.
“It came down to a couple plays down the stretch, but for the most part throughout the whole game I think we played fantastic.”
Two nights ago in an 87-85 loss in Game 1, Anthony was roundly criticized for shooting a 3-pointer with the Knicks trailing by two points in the final seconds instead of either driving to the bucket or dishing off to a wide-open Toney Douglas.
Presented with a similar scenario with the Knicks down 94-93 and 13.3 seconds left in Game 2, Anthony passed out of a double-team, and from his favorite spot on the floor, to Jared Jeffries underneath the basket. Jeffries, the team’s least skilled offensive player, attempted to pass it again to Billy Walker on the other side of the basket.
But Kevin Garnett closed hard and intercepted the pass before falling to the ground.
“When I caught it, my initial route [to the basket] was there, but I felt like KG was coming and closing down,” Jeffries said. “I have to look it up on tape, I should have went ahead and shot the ball.”
Walker told the officials that Garnett was out of bounds after the interception, but to no avail.
“He was definitely out of bounds,” Walker said in the locker room.
Just as he had after Sunday’s loss, Anthony stood by his decision to pass.
“I made the right play, so I can live with that,” he said.
“He made the right play,” head coach Mike D’Antoni said.
“He’s the best at doing what he does. I wouldn’t second guess him and I thought he did a great thing.”
It was hard to second-guess Anthony on this night.
The Knicks sacrificed nearly half their roster at the trade deadline, giving up Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov, to get Anthony and Billups from the Denver Nuggets.
Anthony, Stoudemire and Billups were supposed to be the Knicks’ “Big Three,” their answer to Miami Thrice and Boston’s quartet.
But Billups was lost in Game 1 and remains questionable for Game 3 and beyond.
After pouring in 28 points in Game 1, Stoudemire tweaked his back before Game 2 even began.
“I believe it happened in warm-ups,” Stoudemire said as spoke to the media while standing because he couldn’t sit. “I touched the top of the glass with my left hand and dunked it with my right. I think that’s when I felt it really get tight on me.”
He left at the 3:21 mark of the second quarter and watched the second half from the locker room while he received treatment.
“I was trying to loosen up the back, trying to get ready to come out there in the second half or third quarter,” he said after finishing with just four points and five rebounds. “Just couldn’t get the back to release hardly any. Took awhile for me to get comfortable, still in somewhat pain now. But hopefully next few days it will release.”
With Stoudemire out, Celtics coach Doc Rivers turned to assistant Lawrence Frank and said, “Oh jeez, they got us right where they want us right now.”
On the other sideline, D’Antoni told Anthony during a timeout, “Amar’e is done, we need you to carry us tonight.”
Anthony would have to play the rest of the way alongside essentially four backups and nearly took out the Celtics himself.
He was 14 of 30 and hit a huge 3-pointer over Paul Pierce from the right wing to put the Knicks up 91-88 with 2:35 remaining.
“I’m sure we’ve all seen him play at a level that’s ridiculous and that was tonight,” D’Antoni said. “What he did and how he did it, he’s a special player.”
Yet Anthony emptied his tank so much during the offensive onslaught, he said he couldn’t even get to Delonte West to foul him in the final seconds. Anthony ultimately did foul West but not before the clock had nearly expired.
“I couldn’t get out there,” Anthony said. “I don’t want to fall flat now.”
The Knicks head back to New York Tuesday night planning to take Wednesday off and not practice.
Stoudemire, Billups and the Knicks M*A*S*H unit will have nearly three full days to get treatment and recuperate in hopes of playing Game 3 Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
“The Celtics didn’t do anything special,” Anthony said. “They won two games on their home court. Now it’s our turn to do the same thing.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.