Knicks play with heart, rally from big deficit, but lose again

Knicks' Carmelo Anthony keeps the ball away from

Knicks' Carmelo Anthony keeps the ball away from Boston Celtics' Brandon Bass in the first quarter. (Dec. 13, 2013) (Credit: AP)

BOSTON -- As losses go, this one does not rank with an embarrassing 41-point drubbing, that's for sure. On the other hand, there was enough in the Knicks' 90-86 loss to the Celtics Friday night to rank it among the most painful nights of a troubling season.

To start with, there was literal pain. Kenyon Martin left with an abdominal strain that cost the Knicks a solid defensive presence as the Celtics made their run from an 11-point deficit with less than 10 minutes remaining. "I didn't see much of it down the stretch," Martin said.

Then there is Amar'e Stoudemire, one of the great reasons for hope because of his recent energized play. This time he helped the Knicks rally after they fell behind by 17 points in the second quarter against a team that had beaten them by 41 five days earlier at Madison Square Garden. Stoudemire had 18 points and shot 7-for-9 in 30:17. But he also finished the night by acknowledging that the team's medical staff likely will not let him play Saturday night against the Hawks in the second of back-to-back games.

Another oddity: J.R. Smith, who is on the team for dynamic offense, chose to take only one shot (he missed).

"We need playmakers more than we need scorers. I take it upon myself to sacrifice my shots to get other guys going," Smith said after scoring only two points on free throws in 26:17. "It might not be the right way, it might be the right way, I don't know. I'm just trying to figure this thing out."

Carmelo Anthony said, "I don't think it was his fault, but we want him shooting the basketball. I don't want to look up and see he's taking one shot; then I've got to take the brunt of them."

Compounding Smith's silent night was Iman Shumpert's 1-for-8 shooting. The Knicks shot 40 percent, and after watching his team fall to 6-16, coach Mike Woodson said, "I've got to get my tools working."

Andrea Bargnani was working fine for a while, frequently teaming with starting point guard Pablo Prigioni (eight assists) for fluid pick-and-rolls in a 22-point effort. But Woodson said Bargnani passed up shots that he should have taken.

And Anthony, having fulfilled the franchise player's role by being aggressive as the Knicks reduced a 48-31 deficit to 54-48 by halftime, volunteered to become a decoy to fool the defense and probably got himself out of his rhythm. He shot 1-for-8 from the floor in the fourth.

"We've all got to step up to those challenges and be ready," said Anthony, who scored only six of his 26 points after halftime. "Not every night I'm going to bail us out. As a team, we've got to get better. I've got to get better.

"I mean, it's tough. If I said it's not tough, I'd be lying to you. But what are we going to do, stop playing now? Stop fighting and stop believing? We can't do that. We're trying to figure it out. Everybody is trying to figure everything out in a small period of time."

Jared Sullinger had 19 points and Courtney Lee added 18 for the Celtics. Avery Bradley sank a three-pointer with 2:38 left that put Boston up to stay, and Jeff Green iced it when he raced past Smith for a layup that made it 90-86 with nine seconds left.

All told, it wasn't a 41-point torrent of a loss, but it was a difficult drip, drip, drip. "The old saying goes," Martin said, "when it rains, it pours."

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