Could New York Knicks Become NBA's First to Choke Away a 3-0 Series Lead?

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2013

As the final seconds wound down in the Boston Celtics' Game 5 victory, the crowd at Madison Square Garden heaved a smattering of boos at the New York Knicks.

In the regular season, the boys in blue and orange accomplished several things that New York City hadn't seen in quite a while: 50-plus wins, 30-plus wins at home, a division title and more than one playoff win.

But expectations have been elevated for this season's No. 2 seed. Popular opinion holds that anything short of a trip to the conference finals would constitute a letdown for the Knicks. 

The bottom line is that New York is the superior team in the series. The Knicks have more balance, more depth and better personnel at every position. But this is the playoffs, where experience and the will to win trump all else.

The Celtics can make history and complete an unprecedented comeback, but only if certain trends continue. Here are the ifs for the scenario where New York completes the ultimate belly flop: the first-ever NBA series loss after a 3-0 series advantage.


If the Odious Offense Continues...

The Knicks' embarrassing loss in Game 5 comes down to one trend that has been consistent all year: three-point shooting.

On Wednesday, the Celtics shot 11-of-22 from downtown, while New York shot 5-of-22 and lost by six points. It should have been a nine-point defeat, but J.R. Smith launched a completely meaningless last-second trey, which went in of course.

Smith, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, shot 3-of-14 from the field in his return from a one-game suspension

To put Smith's atrocious night in context, he stated on Tuesday that had he not been suspended for Game 4 for elbowing Jason Terry's head, the series "would've been over. I'd have been playing golf today" (per Ian Begley of ESPN New York). 

He also taunted Jason Terry by pretending not to know who he was. 

For the record, when Jason Eugene Terry (popularly known as "JET") was drafted with the 10th overall pick in the 1999 draft, Smith was a 13-year-old who had just graduated from middle school. And Terry also has his own Sixth Man trophy from 2009.

Smith can now remember Terry as the player who posted a game-high plus-13 rating and scored 17 points in front of a hungry and hostile MSG crowd, preventing New York from closing out its first playoffs series at home since 1999. 


...And They Continue to Settle for Jump Shots...

The Knicks succeeded in forcing 15 turnovers while committing only eight of their own, which resulted in 11 more field-goal attempts than Boston. They could not capitalize however, as they shot just 39.5 percent.

Raymond Felton was the only Knicks player who consistently attacked the hoop, and he turned in 21 points on 10-of-19 shooting.

Carmelo Anthony scored a game-high 22, but that came on 8-of-24 shooting. With Game 4, Melo has shot 18-of-59 (30.5 percent) in the losses.

And to add upon the Knicks' woes, Anthony injured his shoulder when his mortal enemy, Kevin Garnett, held his arm on one play. New York's season threatened to disintegrate completely as Melo gnashed his teeth.

But he stayed in the game and showed tremendous effort in saving a rebound and sailing into the corporate seats. He injured his finger doing just that during the regular season, but he remained uncowed. 

Let's see how he feels on Thursday morning.

Felton's play should set the tone for the team in Game 6. They need to go into Boston and play like the team that finished third in offensive efficiency for the regular season.

Smith won the Sixth Man nod behind a stellar finish down the stretch. He drove aggressively to the hoop with regularity.

He had seven games with at least 30 points over the final five weeks; he enjoyed a stretch of six straight games shooting 50 percent or better—all Knicks wins. He even averaged six-plus rebounds over the final two months. 

Credit goes to Boston's defense for limiting easy opportunities in the two wins, but the Knicks have lost that attacking feeling.

If they don't regain it, perhaps they can build a giant doghouse with all of the bricks they're throwing up, because that's what they'll need if they become the first team in league history to squander a 3-0 series lead.


...And the Defense Sputters Again

Amazingly, the Celtics' starting point guard, Avery Bradley, failed to record a single assist. Boston still finished with 20 dimes as a team, while the Knicks managed only 13.

One squad had effective ball movement in Game 5, and it wasn't the home team. The C's shot 46 percent from the field and a perfect 17-of-17 from the foul line.

The Knicks couldn't wear down Boston's graying seven-man rotation as Jeff Green persisted in knocking down shots. Impossibly, Brandon Bass was the offensive star of the night, scoring 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting. 

Garnett, in his 17th season, continued with his indomitable play as retirement speculation swirls. In Game 5, he racked up 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting with 18 rebounds, five dimes and a pair of blocks. KG has had at least 17 boards in three straight games.

At one point in the fourth quarter, Iman Shumpert and Tyson Chandler put the Knicks on their back and tried to carry them. They caused Boston to commit five turnovers in a four-minute span, but New York made up only four points of the 14-point deficit.

Their teammates did not respond in kind, as the three-pointers would not drop. And to seal their fate, Boston's triples were falling. Green hit back-to-back treys to bury the Knicks with two-and-a-half minutes left.

New York failed to close out quickly on multiple perimeter jump shots as the C's hit half of their attempts from beyond the arc. They also got victimized on the pick-and-roll for stretches of the game.

Mike Woodson will have his hands full studying all of the film of those failures. Hopefully, they'll return from their golf outing on Wednesday, because if these three trends continue up in Boston, the Knicks will find themselves on the verge of infamy in Game 7.

For a franchise that has not popped a drop of championship champagne in 40 years, they cannot afford to follow in the New York Yankees' footsteps by frittering away their own 3-0 series advantage.

While there hasn't been a bloody sock in this series, two more wins by the Celtics would certainly constitute a steal worthy of Boston Red Sox outfielder Dave Roberts.