At the end of it all, it was a feeling the New York basketball fans were all too familiar with.
In a season that promised much, the Knicks once again fell short of expectations and were eliminated from the Playoffs by the Indiana Pacers. Saturday's 106-99 loss meant a 4-2 series defeat and another season of underachievement. Despite winning their first playoff series since 2000, this year has left us with more questions than answers when it comes to the Knickerbockers ability to win a title.
This was a team built to 'Win now', filled with savvy veterans to compliment their All-NBA forward Carmelo Anthony. A title challenge was expected after a strong regular season, where they finished atop the Atlantic Division with a record of 54-28 and the number two seed in the Eastern Conference. This Knicks team had a different look about it than teams of the past. They had all bought into Mike Woodson's 'Team first' philosophy and most agreed that if anybody was going to dethrone the Miami Heat, it would be the Knicks.
The Chicago Bulls trail two games to one in their uphill playoff battle against the top-seeded Miami Heat. If the Bulls want to extend the series beyond five games, Monday’s Game 4 at the United Center becomes a must-win.
Beating Miami is always going to take a healthy dose of luck, but the Bulls can maximize their chances by following this formula:
1. Play smart
The action after the whistle has gotten more attention in this series than what’s actually happening while the game clock is running. The Bulls have instigated much of that chippiness—witness Nazr Mohammed’s Game 3 ejection—and the refs will be watching the home team for any opportunity to assess a technical on Monday.
Tom Thibodeau will need to preach “do as I say, not as I do” after getting slapped with a fine for complaining about the officiating, but somebody has to convince the Bulls to keep their cool. Physical play is one thing, but all the pushing and shoving in dead-ball situations only serves to shorten an already thin Chicago bench.
2. Don’t get beaten by the supporting cast
The Chicago Bulls survived a Game 7 on the road to advance in the Eastern Conference playoffs and face the top-seeded Miami Heat. The injury-ravaged Bulls don’t look likely to pose much of a threat to the prohibitive championship favorites, but that doesn’t mean the series won’t be worth watching.
When Derrick Rose returns to Chicago’s lineup next season (barring a miraculous change of heart in the next week), the Bulls will be the Heat’s toughest competition in the East. With that future in mind, here are some issues to keep an eye on as Miami’s run to a presumed coronation continues:
1. Can Carlos Boozer keep up his high level of play?
For the first prolonged stretch since joining the Bulls, Carlos Boozer looked like his old All-Star self in the series win over Brooklyn. Boozer’s offensive aggressiveness and hard work on the glass gave Reggie Evans and company fits for seven games.
A short-handed Chicago Bulls squad fell at home to the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday to set up Saturday’s Game 7 at the Barclays Center. With the status of two starters still up in the air, the Bulls face an uphill battle on the road if they hope to advance to the Eastern Conference semis.
For Chicago to pull out the win, Tom Thibodeau will need his team to follow these four steps:
1. Let Nate be Nate
Nate Robinson can be an immensely frustrating player for a coach. He’s so emotion-driven that bad shots and bad fouls are just part of the package when he’s put in a significant role.
However, Robinson’s scoring has saved the Bulls throughout this series, and Chicago can’t hope to get enough offense to win without another big game from the little point guard. Thibodeau will need to show patience with Robinson’s antics in order to reap the benefits of his explosive three-point shooting.
2. Get as much as possible from Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich
It was almost too good to be true wasn't it?
Looking for their first Playoff series win in 13 years, the New York Knicks appeared to be in cruise control. After all, no team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit and emerged victorious in a seven game series.
However, as every Knicks fan knows, nothing is ever quite that simple.
The Boston Celtics are a team of savvy veterans who realise they don't have many more chances at glory. Their aging stars have perhaps this year and next to add to their ring collection and being 3-0 down in the series was not part of the script. They felt that they had a legitimate chance of taking this Playoff series into it's twilight and it was surprising to see them down down and deflated. With big characters like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce leading the way, that atmosphere was never going to stay around for long. They are born winners, future hall-of-fame inductees and their will to win is legendary. They knew that the odds were stacked against them at 3-0 and that's just the way they like it.
Slowly but surely, they fought their way back.