Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
The Knicks' best two players in the first playoff round were Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert, a pair of feel-good stories about a guy who returned from exile and another who returned from a busted knee.
But that was against the retirement home-bound Celtics, whose shortcomings permitted the Knicks to advance despite shooting slumps by their top two scorers, Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith.
Now the much bigger, much younger Pacers are in town, and Felton and Shumpert simply won't be enough anymore.
That was evident in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Sunday. The Knicks lost, 102-95, and their leading men again struggled to establish themselves until a too-little-too-late rally in the fourth quarter.
If Anthony and Smith don't snap out of their shooting funks soon, the Knicks soon will be through.
(Well, "soon'' is a relative term here. The ludicrous, TV-driven NBA postseason schedule has the Knicks and Pacers playing Game 2 Tuesday night and Game 4 the following Tuesday.)
After another efficient outing in which he scored 18 points and shot 8-for-12 from the field, Felton said, "In order for us to win these series, we need J.R. and Melo scoring, so sometimes you have to just take the ball out of my hands for a little bit and try to get those guys going.''
Good idea, in theory. But Anthony entered the series having made 25 of 82 shots in the last three games against the Celtics, and after three quarters Sunday, he was 6-for-17. (Foul trouble limited him to four minutes in the third period.)
Not surprisingly, the Knicks trailed by 16 after three.
As unapologetic shooters, Anthony and Smith never admit to doubting things will turn around at any moment. Take this comment from Smith after the loss:
Nothing wrong with that in the regular season, but it gets late early in the playoffs, and this cannot keep up much longer if the Knicks are to advance.
Smith has more than team goals at stake here. He is expected to become a free agent this summer, and the suspension and shooting slump likely are costing him big dough by the day.
Anthony has even bigger short-term problems than Smith, from a sore left shoulder to the fact that the Pacers present huge bodies and huge matchup problems. Roy Hibbert, their 7-2 center, totaled five blocks in Game 1 and generally made life miserable for Melo.
"They were letting Roy Hibbert be a lot more aggressive than the norm,'' he said of the officials. "We have to be prepared for that.''
Anthony said he does not want to talk much about his shoulder anymore, adding: "I'm going to deal with it and get through it at this point.''
He did say the brace he wore on it helped more than hindered his shot. "I was surprised that some of the hits I was taking weren't affecting me like it has in the past,'' he said. "So what I'm wearing actually helps it, keeps it in place, keeps it from moving. I'll be fine. I've been hit harder than that.''
Perhaps so, but the Pacers delivered a telling blow in Game 1. It's time for Anthony and Smith to hit back.