Ben KopelmanThe playoffs are all about passing tests.
For a young team, it can be about staying focused, making the necessary adjustments that come with playing the same team night in and night out, and winning that first round matchup. For a veteran group it often focuses on using experience and savvy to remain calm — never getting too high, never getting too low — en route to making a calculated charge to the Conference and NBA Finals. At every checkpoint of every postseason, teams are forced to pass a test and prove it has what it takes to continue playing into June.
Going into this matchup with the Celtics, and with the second round in mind, it was not entirely clear what tests the Knicks would have to pass before hopefully making the trip to Miami for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
But anybody who knows basketball or the Knicks knew there would be hurdles along the way.
At some point during the playoffs, this Knicks team was going to have an awful shooting night and look like a bunch of huckers who can’t huck. At some point during the playoffs, this Knicks team was going to lose a home game they came in expecting to win. At some point during the playoffs, JR was going to revert back to the old JR; Kidd and Martin were going to look old and ineffective; Melo was going to look like an isolation-only scorer who doesn’t make the right pass; and Woodson was going to get out-coached.
At some point during the playoffs, we all knew the reality that regular season wins do not mean anything was going to punch this Knicks team in the face and that we would end up at a crossroads between being who we think we are and want to be versus being another punch line for the pundits and back pages.
The fact that ALL of those things have happened over the course of the last two games doesn’t change the fact that we all knew these were obstacles this team was going to have to overcome if it was going to make any noise this postseason.
In a strange way (very strange if you saw me throwing a full blown temper tantrum last night) I am glad everything is crashing down so suddenly. Let’s see what this team is made of right now instead of next week or the week after that, when many thought our first test might come. Last night’s smack in the mouth may be just what the doctor ordered if we’re going to do anything real over the next month.
The team should appreciate how stupid and cocky you look after throwing elbows and then stoking the flames with childish comments. Soak in the embarrassment at dressing in all black to a first round Game 5 at home??!?!! that everybody but the other team expected you to win.
But getting knocked on your ass is only a bad thing if you can’t manage to get back up again. Otherwise it helps galvanize a team, makes it stronger, more battle tested and more prepared for the next blow.
And stand back up they will.
Don’t forget this team earned a 2-seed, a 6th MOY award and endless MVP chants. Not all punches are knockout blows and do not for a second think this team is going to cower and hide just because it got showed up last night. This is a proud bunch of players that have proven their ability to pass tests all season long. Time to hit practice and the film room and study up. Friday night, we need to be more prepared, more focused, more determined to end this series and move on. Being reminded of how quickly things can turn when you let your guard down doesn’t have to evolve past being just that — a reminder, a warning, a cautionary tale.
The team just got handed its first real playoff test earlier than many expected. But there is no reason to think they are not ready to ace it.