Even as they said goodbye until autumn, the Knicks left us with one last wacky bit of theater to remember them by.
It was the first quarter of Game 5 in an Eastern Conference quarterfinal, and against all odds the visitors were hanging tough against the Heat thanks to the stellar play of . . . Mike Bibby?
Why the heck not?
In a season that defied logic, notably when a young guard named Jeremy Lin came from nowhere to revive the team, it made sense for a bench-warming guard who turns 34 Sunday to outscore everyone in the first 12 minutes, from Melo to Stat, from LeBron to D-Wade.
All of which, much like Linsanity, was fun while it lasted, but didn't last for long.
Then another season-long theme kicked in, and kicked the Knicks out of the playoffs: They simply were not quite good enough to be as good as they had hoped to be.
That realization had sunk in long ago, but now that there are no more games after last night's 106-94 clunker, the Knicks are free to admit it and to talk out loud about what needs to happen next.
"I think we have to have a better mindset going into the season,'' Amar'e Stoudemire said. "We definitely have to have a consistent season. This season has been up and down, coaching changes and so on and so forth.''
Said Tyson Chandler: "We need to have a nice flow in which everyone touches the ball. We've got to make sure we get other guys involved.''
Hmm. There is a lot to chew over in those comments, seeing as how they address two much-discussed issues: The Knicks' lack of a consistent roster and the propensity of their biggest star, Carmelo Anthony, to dominate the offense.
The good news is there now at last should be time to sort some things out. But assuming he is hired as the long-term coach, Mike Woodson might not want to bother with last night's tape.
Bibby, pressed into duty when injuries decimated the backcourt, finished the first quarter with eight points, three rebounds and two assists, then yielded to someone even deeper on the bench, Toney Douglas, who was less effective.
Meanwhile, their Heat counterpart, Dwyane Wade, asserted himself. He finished the first quarter with no points then scored 12 in the second. He also had a spectacular block of Anthony from behind, which he called his most satisfying moment.
In the end, it was exactly the mismatch many predicted for this series, even before Chandler got sick and Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis blew out knees and Stoudemire tore open a hand swatting a fire extinguisher box.
When it was over, the Knicks were left pondering some promising pieces for the near future. Will that be enough? It had better be, because Knicks fans will not be in the same mood to celebrate a single playoff victory as they were Sunday.
Said Stoudemire, "The only thing we accomplished is breaking that record of getting a win in the playoffs. But we're looking for better things than that.''
The first step, as Woodson and players repeatedly have pointed out, is to win more games to avoid an early matchup against a powerhouse.
But in order to win a title the Knicks must find a way past the Heat and Bulls even if they avoid them in the first round. Last night that looked to be some way off.
Given the turmoil of this season, starting with the NBA lockout and extending to last night's desperation turn to Bibby, it's OK to give the Knicks a partial pass for their ups and downs. Credit them with this: At least they were interesting.
But they will get no such benefit of the doubt in 2012-13. No more sideshows. It's showtime.
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