Going into Saturday night’s matchup, the Pacers were up 3-2 in the series. Even though the Knicks entered the series with home court advantage, they lost Game 1 at Madison Square Garden, which would set the stage for Game 6 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. During the course of the regular season, both teams had major success at home, but struggled and came up short out on the road. Needless to say, this was a must-win for the Knicks, which would’ve brought Game 7 back to NY and increased their chances of moving on to the next round: the Eastern Conference Finals to face the Goliath of the league, the Miami Heat.
Unfortunately, despite a close game and an electrifying 3rd quarter performance by Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Copeland, the Knicks fell short in the 4th quarter, handing over the victory to Indiana in a 106-99 loss, ousting them from this year’s playoffs.
After taking all of Sunday to lament, recover, and simmer in a state of frustration, anger, and pure disbelief, the numbness began to fade and I began to think clearly again. One of the questions that arose out of my deep state of thought was:
Was this a successful season?
Many have differing views. During the team’s exit interviews Monday morning, Shumpert deemed this season a failure due to the fact that they didn’t achieve their goal of competing in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, team captain, Carmelo Anthony, felt this season was a success, viewing the strides made as a step in the right direction. I will have to agree with Melo on this one. Why? Well, let’s look at this year’s accomplishments:
- 54-28 Record (Best Since 1996-1997 Season)
- 13-Game Winning Streak from 3/18-4/9 (3rd longest streak in team history)
- Clinched #2 seed in the Eastern Conference
- 1st Atlantic Division Title since 1993-1994
- Defeated Boston Celtics in 4-2 1st Round Series Win (1st playoff series win since 2000)
- Led NBA with 891 3pt FG made
- Sixth Man of the Year awarded to SG J.R. Smith
- NBA Scoring Title awarded to Carmelo Anthony
- NBA Sportsmanship awarded to Jason Kidd
Clearly, the formula that GM Glen Grunwald has put together is working. The Knicks went from barely making the 8th seed last season to maintaining their spot in the top 3 Eastern Conference teams all of this season. Many of the leading teams in the NBA, such as the Heat and the Spurs, have played together for a number of seasons, allowing them to gel and perfect their style of play. So if you look at this season through this lens, for a team that is relatively newly assembled, much was accomplished. If Grunwald can manage to keep the core of the Knicks together while filling in the necessary gaps, I’m almost certain they can secure an appearance in next season’s Eastern Conference Finals.
In the meantime, what can the players do during this off-season to keep up this year’s momentum? Let’s take a look at some of my suggestions:
Melo and Tyson: REST AND RECOVERY! The two pillars of this team have had very busy year. Since their 1st round exit last season, they immediately went into training and competing in the Olympic Games in London over the summer. After bringing home the gold medal, they had very little time off before entering training camp for the regular season. Mid-way through the season, both were selected to represent the east in the NBA All-Star Game, then returned to a grueling and difficult 2nd half of the season, which ended in Game 6 of the Playoff Semi-Finals. Throughout this year, both players have suffered injuries, including a nagging shoulder injury that clearly effected Melo’s style of play throughout the 2nd round, and Tyson missing the last few games of the regular season due to a neck injury. Now these two pivotal pieces to the Knicks puzzle can focus on getting adequate rest and fully bouncing back from the effects of these injuries.
Melo: along with rest, I would love to see Melo continue to hone his defensive abilities. During this season, expanding his skill set to include good defensive ability earned him praises from many experts, and may have possibly been a huge contributor to his ranking in the MVP race. If he continues to build on that during this off-season, I’m certain he will pick up right where he left off in the MVP conversation, and will be a reputable threat.
Tyson: along with rest and recovery, weight gain, if possible, would do him some justice. Since his neck injury, it was reported that Tyson lost some weight, which affected his playoff performance. He has the finesse, but some girth, as well as improved offensive abilities, would be a huge service to the next year’s championship pursuits.
Amare: just make sure to NEVER get injured again. He should call Kobe, go to Germany, do what he did, and come back as explosive as ever before. Stay in the great shape that he is in, and work towards putting the pieces together and make this big 3 work!
(*I personally think that he, Melo, and Tyson, along with Coach Woodson, should meet several times over the summer to make it work. No press. No other staff. Just the 4 of them.)
JR: This year was a ying-yang year for Smith. A year that started off with him, under the close monitoring of Coach Woodson, controlling his talent, coming out of his shell and showing the league his full repertoire, earning him the Sixth Man of the Year Award. This year also came with ridicule: after being ejected in game 3 of the Boston series, his high-octane performance suddenly got cold. That, coupled with allegations of him partying the night before a game or after a loss just added fuel to the fire, makes JR seem irresponsible, careless, and like a fluke. Many Knicks fans, including myself, truly believe in JR. We have always seen that glimpse of talent that Coach Woody saw, and we are proud that the world finally sees it as well. My only suggestion to Smith is to be more cognizant and aware of his actions, especially off the court. He is a grown man, and has the right to do whatever and be wherever he pleases. However, as one of his supporters, I really hate seeing his accomplishments, drive, and potential be overshadowed by rumored sightings and a possibly damaging reputation.
Copeland: Cope has shown his offensive skills and talent ever since pre-season, which aided in securing a roster spot for this season. However, defense isn’t his strongest point. By the end of the season, he has shown much improvement on the defensive end, but there is definitely room for more growth. This should be his main focus during this off-season. An improved defensive presence, gifted offense, and the humility he possesses will get him very far in this league for many years to come. (And I REALLY hope that Grunwald puts on his wizard hat and finds a way to keep him.)
Pablo Prigioni: JUST SHOOT THE DAMN BALL!!!!!!!
Next season will bring back a healthy Rajon Rondo to the Boston Celtics, a lethal Chicago Bulls team with a healthy Derrick Rose, and a young, sharp, and strong Pacers squad. The Miami Heat isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And who knows what will occur during this year’s draft and free agency season (which begins in 6 weeks). However, while many fans feel this was the year that the Knicks had their best chances, I feel this year put out a warning:
The New York Knicks are coming, and after all that they just went through, they aren’t just hungry, they’re STARVING.
So now I turn the conversation over to you: what were your thoughts of the Knicks overall season? Was it a success or a complete bust? What do you think the players should do to get ready and stay on course for next season? Let’s chat……!!!!