Ray Allen used a towel -- it wasn't one of the orange giveaways, but it might as well have been -- to wipe beading sweat from his bald skull. He had just finished burying the Knicks with an unprecedented long-range performance of eight three-pointers, almost all from relentlesslessly running through screens and on methodical and quick catch-and-shoot daggers.
And someone had the nerve to ask him, "What are the Knicks doing wrong?"
The 35-year-old all-star, who was at Madison Square Garden 3:30 p.m. to begin preparing for the 7 p.m. tip-off and was on the court by 4:15 p.m. for his ritualistic workout. It is this effort that has made him the NBA's all-time three-point shooter. It is this that has him so locked in right now, with 15 of 20 from downtown in the three games so far. It is this had produced his eight of 11 in Game 3, which represented the most threes by a Knicks opponent in playoff history. More than Reggie Miller, more than Tim Hardaway and more than Michael Jordan.
Allen shook his head, as if offended by the suggestion that his hard-earned success was simply based on the fact that the Knicks weren't doing something, rather than the fact that Allen was doing something.
"I don't think you can say that they're playing it wrong," Allen then said.. "When me and Paul [Pierce] are coming off [screens], you have to help. For a split second, somebody is shifted. If I come off not open, that means a big might be open, he gets a layup. There's just so many things happening at one time, it's tough to stop."
Rajon Rondo's triple-double was impressive in Game 3 and he has been dominant in the last two games of this series, but there's no question that Allen has been the catalyst for Boston's offense in this series. It was his three that won it for the Celtics at the end of Game 1 (albeit with an illegal screen from Kevin Garnett). He hit all four of his attempts from downtown in Game 2, but Boston didn't look for him nearly enough in that game. Then in Game 3, he frustrated the Knicks. After a brutal start that put them in a 22-5 hole, the Knicks rallied to cut the deficit to five points early in the second quarter.
But each time the Knicks got within an arm's length to get the crowd back in it, Allen was there to slap that arm away. Bill Walker hit a pull-up with 9:18 to make it 31-26, but Allen answered with a three 22 seconds later. Shawne Williams hit a three to make it 34-29 with 8:38 left, but Allen drilled a jumper and was fouled by Toney Douglas for a three-point play. Carmelo Anthony hit one of two from the line with 6:30 left to make it 37-30 and then Allen again snapped a three to turn it into a 10 point lead.
There were still other opportunities, as the Knicks cut the deficit to five twice more in the quarter. The final time, at 42-37, Allen came up with a loose ball and the second chance resulted in a jumper by Jermaine O'Neal. Shortly afterward, he drilled yet another three with 1:15 left in the half to make it a 50-39 Celtics lead.
All eyes are on rookie Landry Fields, who has been overwhelmed by the matchup against Allen. Fields put in a lot of film study on Allen before this series, but nothing can prepare you for this type of a challenge. It's asking a lot for Fields to run through two baseline screens and then get around a 7-foot widebody like O'Neal to get a hand up on Allen.
But before we start dissecting schemes, let's consider that Allen set an NBA Finals record with eight threes against the Lakers in Game 2 last year. Does that mean Kobe Bryant and Co. are bad defenders? Is Phil Jackson a terrible defensive coach?
No, let's give some credit to the shooter here. Ray Allen is the NBA's best for good reason.
But the Lakers won that series because they made an adjustment on Allen and played him more physical so he could not get clean looks. They would not help off Allen, even if it meant giving up a defendive rebound. Fields' teammates were begging him to be more physical, encouraging him to step up to the challenge, but the rookie just couldn't bring his game up to that level.
It should be pointed out that no one else who tried could, either.
And now as the Knicks are one loss from the offseason, another position is now added to the list of needs. Along with a defensive-minded, rebounding center, the Knicks clearly need to find a more athletic shooting guard who can defend and hit the three. (Oh and while we're at it, I'd love a car that can turn into a helicopter when I'm stuck in traffic).
It's not time to give up on Fields, of course, but it is time to analyze how he fits now on this team, with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire as the main pieces. One would think Fields fits perfectly because of his ability to do the dirty work (rebounds, loose balls, transition baskets), but since the trade he's looked lost on offense. With a need to open the floor up for Anthony and Stoudemire, the Knicks need another three-point shooter at the two-spot to pull defenses out of the middle. Fields is a good slasher, but he's not a deep threat. That should be his focus in this offseason.
But right now, the biggest concern is that Fields is looking completely psyched out on the court. One of the most impressive things about him early in the season was the poise and confidence he played with as a rookie. But since the start of this series, his shots have looked rushed and nervous and now he's losing the ball as he tries to drive to the basket.
Mike D'Antoni afterward admitted that pulling Fields from the starting lineup "is a question to ponder," but there is serious concern about completely destroying the young guard's confidence. It's easy right now to mock his shortcomings and point out how Cinderella has turned back into a pumpkin. Yes, everyone is an expert with 20/20 hindsight.
But if you were really watching, you should see that, beyond the depreciation of Fields' game, there should be an appreciation for Allen.