The Knicks assembled the oldest team in NBA history, believing they were surrounding Carmelo Anthony with players who would prevent the franchise's championship drought from reaching 40 years. But they remain thirsty for the champagne that comes with winning it all.
It could make the core members of this team work harder next season. But the truth is they didn't work hard enough to get past the Pacers, who ended the Knicks' season in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal on Saturday in Indianapolis.
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"We play this game to win the championship, and when you don't win a championship, it seems like failure," J.R. Smith said late Saturday night. "We did a lot of great things as a team, but at the end of the day, it doesn't sit well when you get eliminated like we did."
Indiana dominated the Knicks inside, was more aggressive and hustled more throughout the series, and Smith was one of the Knicks' biggest culprits. He shot 26-for-90 (28.9 percent) and exacerbated the situation by forcing shots, committing costly turnovers and letting Lance Stephenson, Paul George and Sam Young beat him to rebounds, loose balls and the basket.
Smith accepted responsibility for the Knicks' series loss, but there's plenty of blame to go around.
Tyson Chandler was badly outplayed by Roy Hibbert. Raymond Felton disappeared in Games 4 and 6. Amar'e Stoudemire was a non-factor after returning in Game 3 from knee surgery. And future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, brought in to help the Knicks go deep in the postseason, was scoreless in the last 10 playoff games and benched in the second halves of Games 5 and 6.
In the end, many of the veterans acquired to help Anthony were nowhere to be found.
Mike Woodson turned to 29-year-old rookie Chris Copeland -- perhaps too late -- to help rescue the Knicks from elimination in Game 5. Second-year swingman Iman Shumpert played huge in Game 6, knocking down four third-quarter three-pointers to lead the Knicks back from a 12-point deficit and give them a chance to extend the series.
But the Pacers made plays down the stretch, sparked by Hibbert's block of Anthony's dunk try and Stephenson's ability to get to the basket whenever he wanted.
"They played great team basketball," Stoudemire said. "Everyone got involved on their team. They did a great job of playing inside-out and they did a great job of crashing the boards."
Stoudemire's accurate assessment is an indictment that the Knicks didn't or wouldn't play with the same intensity, passion and teamwork as Indiana. This wasn't supposed to happen after the Knicks acquired the players they did.
They provided leadership, savvy and productivity, contributing to 54 wins and the Knicks' first Atlantic Division championship in 19 years. But now the Knicks have to reverse course and try to get younger and more athletic. They also must add someone they can give the ball to in the post.
"Overall, we had a hell of a season, hell of a year," Anthony said. "I think we took some steps forward as a team, as an organization. To get to this point where we had a chance to get to the conference finals, we'll take that. It's a learning curve for us and we'll be back better and stronger next year, for sure."
Not everyone will be back. Smith, Copeland, Pablo Prigioni and Kenyon Martin will be free agents. There's no guarantee that Kidd and Camby -- each has two years left on his deal -- will return. And the Knicks can't offer much in free agency other than mini-midlevel ($3.1 million) and minimum contracts.
General manager Glen Grunwald will have to be creative with trades in hopes of making moves that will help the Knicks get closer to a title next season.
"It's never easy when you fall short of a championship, especially when you have high expectations," Stoudemire said. "It's never easy to let go of that feeling."
The returning Knicks should remember it and take it with them into next season.
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