NEW YORK – So let’s get this straight after an eventful Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. The team that’s supposed to tank, supposed to build for the future by losing, now looks like a playoff squad. And the team that’s supposed to be fighting desperately to reclaim respect, secure its coach’s job, and avoid slipping back into last place in the Atlantic Division, looked as if it was tanking.
The Celtics outclassed the New York Knicks in front of a stunned and eventually uninterested crowd. The score was 114-73 and the Celtics looked as if they have found their identity after a rollercoaster first month. They shared the ball, they attacked the boards, and their defense encouraged the Knicks to turn back into their selfish selves after two encouraging games.
What we are learning about the Celtics is that they understand that they can’t win with one dominant performance. The wealth has to be spread. Against the Knicks, six players scored in double figures and four scored at least 16 points.
Jordan Crawford displayed a 3-point flurry in the third quarter and that was about as individually dominant as the Celtics were. Each player had his moments and that unselfishness was even more exemplified because the Knicks were so bewildering and pathetic.
Apparently with Mike Woodson’s job at stake, the Knicks scored a 30-point victory over the equally hapless Brooklyn Nets on Thursday and then responded with a 38-point win over the Orlando Magic a night later. All was supposed to be well. Carmelo Anthony said he took on a new approach by being a distributor, and it resulted in two double-doubles (points and rebounds) and fewer shot attempts.
Yet, the moment Brandon Bass provided resistance to Anthony in the post, the moment Raymond Felton looked like the erratic shooter he mostly is, and the moment Jared Sullinger found he could score on Andrea Bargnani at will, the Knicks were done.
They are not a mentally strong team and at this point, comparing their fortitude with that of the Celtics under first-year coach Brad Stevens isn’t worth it. There is no comparison.
Woodson, knowing the ship is sinking, strolled into his postgame press conference, showing those same “Are you kidding me?” expressions he displayed during the entire game. He was left to explain why the trio of Felton, Iman Shumpert, and Bargnani were a combined 1-for-19 shooting for 2 points.
“My theme has always been since I’ve been here, if you struggle to score the ball, you damn sure better make sure they struggle to score,” said Woodson, whose team allowed the Celtics to shoot 54 percent. “And we didn’t do that. That’s why the score was so lopsided. I’m not happy with how we played and nobody in that locker room, or fans, nobody should be happy about watching something like this.
“It goes to show you that if you don’t come out ready to play . . . and a lot of that is on me. I can’t have our guys stepping on the floor doing what we did today.”
Danny Ainge, the Celtics president of basketball operations, put the organization in an advantageous position by ending the Big Three Era in a timely fashion and now he has a young, hungry team playing with purpose, and nine first-round picks over the next five years to improve quickly. The Knicks, meanwhile, sacrificed most of their first-round picks in deals for Anthony and Bargnani.
So the Celtics appear to be in a much more fruitful position than the Knicks not only long-term, but this season and that is sobering news for New Yorkers. The Knicks are a mess because of an ill-conceived roster, no salary cap space, and the lone trade chip being Shumpert, he of the 0-for-6 shooting, and step-slow defense on Crawford.
Afterward, the Celtics were looking forward to Brooklyn, downplaying the impact of their victory but grateful that they are experiencing exponential growth. In the Knicks locker room, Metta World Peace walked in from a shower, displayed his six-pack abdomen, and boasted that media members wished they had his body. True statement, but not exactly appropriate after a 41-point loss.
Anthony, the self-anointed team leader and face of the franchise, was once again left to explain why the Knicks are so putrid through 19 games when they were considered a cinch to reach the postseason. That goal is in serious question.
“What Boston came in here and did is an embarrassment,” he said. “To lose like that on our home court, everybody should be pissed off. I don’t want to even try to figure this one out right now. It happened. We’ve got to figure it out tomorrow, do something about it. Right now, there’s no need for me to try to pinpoint what happened. It was a good old-fashioned ass-whipping. You can’t teach effort. We’re the guys that are going out there as a team and not giving him the effort, not giving ourselves a chance to win the basketball game.”
Who would have thought the Celtics could cause such calamity in the Big Apple when they gathered during training camp? What should be most heartening about the club’s 10-12 start is it is undoubtedly playing hard for Brad Stevens. They have none of those lingering issues the Knicks are dealing with, and the Celtics faithful should enjoy the development, enjoy the execution, and enjoy the ascension.
Because those things aren’t happening here in New York.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe