by Yaron Weitzman / @YaronWeitzman
Kenyon Martin tried to hold back the smile. He desperately wanted to keep an all-business face and answer the question in the automated, robotic manner that so many of his peers have become so adept at doing. Menacing power forwards, after all, are not supposed to have vulnerabilities. Or at the least they’re not supposed to let them be known.
Genuine emotions, though, such as pure elation and a feeling of validation, can really never truly stay hidden. So there was the 35-year-old Martin, sitting in front of reporters at a podium below the press room of Madison Square Garden, with a smirk stretching across his face before literally, and most likely metaphorically, licking his lips. And that was before the question had even finished being asked.
“It was never about basketball,” Martin said in reference to why he thought he was forced to spend the first four-and-a-half months of the season at home, and whether he thought the teams that passed on him, including the one he just helped defeat, regretted doing so. “So they might be kicking themselves now, but I’m a Knick and I’m going to make the best of the situation.”
That Kenyon Martin would be making such a statement after helping an NBA team win a second straight game in a Playoff series, which the Knicks did Tuesday night with their 87-71 win over the Celtics, is something that, as recent as two months ago, no one, including members of the Martin household, would have ever predicted. Neither is the fact that the Knicks are now heading back to Boston with a 2-0 lead despite getting a grand total of 22 minutes, 3 points and 9 rebounds from their All-Star center Tyson Chandler through the series’ first two games.
There’s no arguing who the Knicks’ best and most important player is. No denying that Carmelo Anthony’s ability to make even the most stalwart of defenders look helpless, which he did once again Tuesday night to the tune of a game-high 34 points, is the reason the Knicks can even dream about giving the Garden its first Championship banner in 40 years. But what separates this Knicks team from last year’s, and this ‘Melo-led team from those in the past, are the men that the League’s greatest scorer now finds himself surrounded by.
“He has been great,” Doc Rivers said when asked about Martin’s impact on Game 2. “He has been really good with his hands and switching with guards. Every time [the Knicks] bring a guy in he gets older and older and better and better. He is smart and playing great.”
There was a point Tuesday night where it looked the Knicks were on the verge of losing the home court advantage they had worked all season to earn, of heading back to what is sure to be an emotional and electric TD Bank Garden in need of a win to salvage what had once looked like a promising season. At halftime, New York trailed 48-42, and had it not been for a single six-minute stretch of an on-fire JR Smith, the deficit could have been worse.
But in the third quarter everything changed.
The Knicks walled off the paint, swaddled up Paul Pierce and allowed just 22 second half points, forcing the Celtics to miss on 31 of 36 shots, the lowest percentage made in the second half of a postseason game in 15 years. And while the specific tactical adjustments were decided by Knicks coach Mike Woodson, it was the presence of Martin that allowed Woodson’s coaching to flourish.
“The way K-Mart responded to [Woodson’s adjustments] and got all of us into it with his blocks,” said JR Smith, “we were able to get out and run and play our type of basketball.”
There were 4 blocks in total, each one impressive and emphatic, along with 11 rebounds. Only 3 points on the other end of the floor, but more than enough firm screens, smart passes and perfect positioning to make up for it.
And certainly enough of an impact to warrant the decision to add him to the roster in the twilight of the season. Suddenly, no one misses Rasheed Wallace. Suddenly, Carmelo Anthony isn’t hearing the same type of cereal-related trash talk that he may or may not have heard from Kevin Garnett earlier in the season. And suddenly, the Garden crowd has a new man to represent its love of blue-collar basketball, and a new name to chant.
“It’s a great feeling man, just them appreciating what you do,” Martin said. “They appreciate how hard I play each and every night. The first game I suited up they chanted my name—I didn’t even get in. It’s greatly appreciated.”
A simple emotion, but for a man who spent the past year being rejected and hearing that he was no longer welcomed in his former home, there may not be one he’d rather feel.