Commentary

Amare misses dunk but says he's OK

Was Stoudemire's flub a meaningless play in an unimportant game, or something more?

Updated: April 14, 2011, 8:18 AM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPNNewYork.com

BOSTON -- Amare Stoudemire had a clear lane to the basket, rose up off his left foot -- the same one that had been encased in a walking boot for the better part of a week -- and tried to dunk.

That's right, tried.

He tried, but he missed. And there wasn't anyone standing anywhere near him to impede the dunk attempt.

"I thought weak side was coming, so I tried to sidestep the invisible guy and went up and missed it," Stoudemire said with a smile after the Knicks closed the regular season with a meaningless 112-102 loss to their upcoming playoff opponent, the Boston Celtics.

[+] EnlargeAmare Stoudemire
Steve Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesAmare Stoudemire tested his ankle for 20 minutes Wednesday in Boston.

If Stoudemire's game is as good as that excuse, the Knicks might be OK when Sunday rolls around and the playoffs begin. But if their effort and execution come up as short as that one particular missed dunk was, they are going to be on their heels before they know it against the defending Eastern Conference champions.

Determining the state of Stoudemire was about the only important thing for the Knicks as they completed the regular season and finished with their first winning record (42-40) since 2000-01, and Stoudemire said the blown dunk was merely an aberration.

"I felt great. I definitely wanted to get some cardio going, get back into a rhythm; it felt good," Stoudemire said. "It takes a little time, but I felt great. It was in better shape than I thought I would be. So it was definitely much needed, and it felt good."

Stoudemire played 20½ minutes and shot 6-for-15 with four rebounds, two turnovers and a block in his first game back after missing three with a sprained left ankle. He didn't have his best supporting cast around him, as the Knicks rested Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, and the Celtics weren't competing all that hard, either, as they sat Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

So the folks who showed up and/or watched on TV got to see a lot of Avery Bradley, Von Wafer, Derrick Brown and Roger Mason, but they saw nothing that will have any major impact on either team when the real competition begins Sunday night with Game 1.

The only other matter of importance for the Knicks was Shelden Williams turning his ankle late in the game, although he said the injury was minor and he'll be ready to play when the playoffs begin -- even though he won't be the starter.

Coach Mike D'Antoni announced before the game that he has chosen Ronny Turiaf to be the Knicks' starting big man against the Celtics, who have been saying they expect to have Shaquille O'Neal back in their lineup for Game 1.

"It's because I think we play better with Ronny on the floor. That would be the reason: We're a better team," D'Antoni said.

Turiaf played only 12 minutes in this one and made four of his five shots, and every one of the 11 Knicks who played (Renaldo Balkman was a curious DNP-CD) scored at least five points.

Bill Walker picked up a flagrant foul during the third quarter for his hit on Sasha Pavlovic, but that was the only extracurricular item of note. Or to put it another way, Stoudemire made it through the 82nd game without ever picking up that 16th technical foul that would have led to an automatic one-game suspension.

"I made it. I made it," he said in relief afterward.

So the Knicks head into the playoffs knowing they are facing an opponent with more collective experience and a more polished postseason résumé, but also knowing they are one of the great unknowns of the NBA playoffs -- a team with two (maybe three, if you include Billups) players capable of scoring 30 points on any given night, a team that built up a head of steam and a load of confidence by following a six-game losing streak in a busy March with a seven-game winning streak that moved it back into the No. 6 position it occupied for most of the second half of the season.

Also, the Knicks are facing a Celtics team that hasn't seemed right since trading Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the trade deadline, a deal that altered the team's chemistry and affected its play on the court, as it played just above .500 ball over the final quarter of the season.

"They had issues last year, too, and then there wasn't issues," D'Antoni said. "They will be juiced up and ready to go."

The NBA released the remainder of the Knicks' playoff schedule during the game.

Game 2 is Tuesday night in Boston, Games 3 and 4 are Friday and Sunday in New York, Game 5 would be Tuesday, Game 6 would be Friday and Game 7 would be Sunday, May 1.

Boston's victory gave the Celtics a sweep of the season series, although the Knicks played well in each of their first three losses -- but never well enough to win, especially in the closing minutes of the fourth quarters.

They are going to need timely buckets and timely stops in the fourth quarters of the games that are to come, and while they have the player (Anthony) to provide the offensive daggers the Celtics usually get from Pierce, they do not have the experience playing together and working together on defense to be at the same level on that end of the court as the Celtics will be.

D'Antoni said he is especially worried about how his younger players with little or no postseason experience will handle themselves, and he said the No. 1 thing the Knicks will need to do is make the extra-effort plays that don't always show up in the box score.

An extra ounce of effort might have gotten Stoudemire over the rim to complete that dunk. But again, like nearly everything for the Knicks on this night, it didn't really matter.

What matters is what happens Sunday and beyond. And at least the Knicks left TD Garden knowing that Stoudemire is both confident and healthy. And as long as those invisible defenders stop giving him trouble, the Knicks truly believe they have a chance to knock off the defending Eastern Conference champs.

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