BOSTON -- Carmelo Anthony insisted his decision to pass to Jared Jeffries on the Knicks' final possession was the right play and if you watch the video, you can see the play that Mike D'Antoni drew up almost worked to perfection. More on that in a minute, but what happened coming out of the timeout after Kevin Garnett came up with the steal on Jeffries with 4.1 seconds left needs some explaining.
The Knicks trailed 94-93 and the Celtics inbounded at halfcourt (another stupid NBA rule, since Garnett dove on loose ball and called timeout under his own basket). Doc Rivers set up a play where he had four players bunch up at the foul line and break in various directions. Carmelo's assignment was Delonte West, but when the play began, West sprinted straight toward the backcourt and Carmelo seemed to be caught off guard.
He was several steps behind by the time West caught the inbounds pass and it took 3.5 seconds for Melo to finally get to West for the foul to stop the clock. It left the Knicks with just :00.6, which was just no time to get off a reasonable shot. West hit both free throws to make it a three-point game, which, arguably, meant if someone had fouled West sooner, the Knicks might have had at least enough time to potentially get off a decent look from three.
"I couldn't get out there, I couldn't get out there," Carmelo said of his failed pursuit of West. "I don't want to fall flat now. I think Doc Rivers drew up a hell of a play though, man. A lot of us thought that the ball was coming in the front court, he threw it in the back court, it took a lot of time off the clock. You've got to take your hat off to Doc for drawing up a hell of a play like that."
[Coincidentally, Chauncey Billups was also raving about Rivers' play-calling ability after Game 1. Billups was talking about the illegal screen that Garnett put on Toney Douglas to free up Ray Allen for the game-winning three-pointer when he added, "Doc is the scariest coach in the league to play against in the last second situations. He's great at that. I really didn't see that coming. It was a great play."]
Of the inbounds to West, Jeffries added, "They made a smart play. They threw it in the backcourt; we weren't prepared for that, and they ran a lot of time off the clock."
When pressed about not being prepared for the play, Jeffries, who played a zone in front of the bunched-up players, with his eyes on Rondo, explained, "I mean we talked about it, we just didn't think they would go to Delonte in that situation. We thought they would try to get the ball to Ray."
That would make sense, since Allen is the best free throw shooter on the team at 88.1 percent during the regular season. But do you know who is the second best? Delonte West, at 86.7 percent.
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Now for the failed final possession. That, too, was a set play and it almost worked to perfection...though why you would want the ball out of Carmelo's hands at that point is open for hevy scrutiny.
Let's first analyze the personnel, starting with Bill Walker, who was 0-for-11 in the game, and Jeffries, who we all know is not a very talented offensive player. But Walker's presence on the court underscores the issues the Knicks are having in this series at the shooting guard position, where rookie Landry Fields is looking overwhelmed on the offensive end to the point where D'Antoni quickly loses faith in him.
Jeffries is a different story. The Knicks were without Amar'e Stoudemire (back spasms) and Jeffries was having his best game as a Knick. He had just scored on a drive with 19.3 seconds to go to give the Knicks a 93-92 lead. He had 10 points and six rebounds and made five of seven shots. Jeffries was
Ronny Turiaf was D'Antoni's only other option at that point. Jeffries came in for him with 5:52 left in the game and played through to the final buzzer.
You're not putting an ice-cold Shelden Williams (DNP) on the floor in that situation and Shawne Williams wasn't an option either because you were better off with Jeffries' size to get an offensive rebound (he had four in the game) if need be. Again, D'Antoni could have gone to Turiaf in that situation, but chose to stick with Jeffries, who, as we said, was having a good game and was doing a decent job on Garnett. Even on the previous possession, Garnett's game-winning jump hook was defended as well as it could be defended. It was a tough shot.
The Knicks' play, which came out of a 20-second timeout, went exactly as D'Antoni designed it. A screen from Jeffries on the elbow extended freed up Carmelo to get the ball. As he turned and faced, Glen Davis left Jeffries to immediately double Carmelo, which allowed Jeffries to roll to the block unguarded.
Rather than attempt to drive against an aggressive double-team, with Davis taking up a lot of space to Melo's strong (right) side, Carmelo instead quickly threw it to Jared, who was open for a second on the block.
[Have to take a second here to shout out to Fixer Casey Lennox of Wantagh, Long Island, who emailed in the hilarious "He went to Jared?" line -- a reference to the jewelery store commercials.]
Garnett made a quick rotation off Walker at the weak side elbow and closed down on Jeffries as he caught the ball. At this point, Jeffries could have attempted a drop-step for a dunk or layup, but he clearly isn't confident in that move. As we've seen many times, Jeffries has the old Charles Smith issue: trouble converting in power-up situations (commence bad memory sequence from 1993). Garnett was on the move, so he had the energy to make a big-time block.
Instead, Jeffries read Garnett's rotation perfectly and Walker, as directed, dove behind him toward the rim with no one on him. Jeffries tried to turn quickly and slip a pass to Walker around Garnett for a dunk, but Garnett showed his quick hands by knocking the pass attempt down and then quickly dove on the loose ball and called timeout with 4.1 seconds left.
Jeffries said he did think about taking the shot, but "when I caught it, my initial route was there, but I felt like KG was coming and closing down. I have to look it up on tape. I should have went ahead and shot the ball."
Walker added, "When Jared got it, I knew all the attention was focused on him. I just wanted to dive to the basket. It was wide open. But KG made a great defensive play."
For a terrific frame-by-frame breakdown of this play, check out Sebastian Pruiti's NBAPlaybook.com.
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* -- Carmelo's 42 point performance not only matched his own playoff career-high, it came within four points of tying the Knicks' franchise record, which was set by Melo's idol, Bernard King. It was in the first round of the 1984 playoffs when BK hit for 46 in back-to-back games -- Games 2 and 3 -- against the Detroit Pistons in that epic five-game upset.
Melo also became the first Knick to score over 40 points in a playoff game in 21 years. The last was Patrick Ewing, who had 45 points in Game 3, also against the Pistons, of the 1990 Eastern Conference semifinals.