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With disappointment comes optimism

Knicks confident they’re headed in right direction

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 25, 2011

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NEW YORK — They were left with “ifs.’’ If Amar’e Stoudemire hadn’t gotten injured, if Chauncey Billups had been healthy, if they had managed to pull out Game 1 or Game 2, if the charge called on Shawne Williams in the fourth quarter of Game 4 yesterday had gone the other way, would things have been different? Would the Knicks have had a real chance?

“That’s what hurts my heart,’’ Billups said before the Knicks lost, 101-89, swept out of the playoffs by the Celtics. “To really feel like if we were 100 percent healthy, this series would look a lot different right now. And you don’t know. Nobody knows. But I just got a gut feeling that it would be a lot different.’’

Instead, a team that wasn’t expected to make it this far ended up disappointed, walking out of Madison Square Garden having to give credit to a Boston team that it acknowledged was superior in this series.

“Boston today is a better team than we are, in every sense of the word,’’ coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They’ve been together. They’ve got great players. They’re able to execute, especially in the first two games down the stretch when we came up short. Whether that would have changed the outcome of the series, if we had won a couple there, maybe one, maybe two. Whether that would have changed the outcome, no one knows. But they’re a better team. We have to get up to that level.’’

With Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony returning next season to build on the two months they spent together as teammates, the question is whether they can continue to improve. But will D’Antoni still be in New York? Will the Knicks pick up Billups’s option?

The Knicks yesterday seemed optimistic about their future, even as Anthony spent a long time with his head in his hands at his locker. They were disappointed in the sweep, but confident that they had demonstrated their worth to a fan base that had waited seven years for a playoff appearance, rewarding the Knicks in the final minute with an ovation.

“It’s been a great year from the start to the finish,’’ Stoudemire said. “I think we wanted to do more here in the postseason, but so many changes and the expectations, I think we rose to the occasion . . . We achieved our first goal, which was to make the postseason. Again, we wanted to do more and go further.

“But the ‘Knicks are back’ statement is definitely true. I think the league knows it now. Just a matter of us continuing to try to work together and grow as a team.’’

With a late push in Game 4, they salvaged a bit of pride in a series in which they trailed by more than 20 points in each of the final two games. They couldn’t win a game, though, perhaps because they weren’t experienced enough, were too injured to compete against a team the caliber of the Celtics.

They did, however, accomplish something by exceeding most expectations.

“Just getting here and just trying to bring the hope and the faith back to New York, trying to bring New York Knicks basketball back,’’ Anthony said. “Give the fans something that they can look forward to on a year-in and year-out basis.

“I’m excited about the upcoming seasons. We proved to a lot of people, shorthanded or not, that we’re going to go out there and compete on a night-in and night-out basis. Tonight was one of [those] games where we had to leave it all out there on the court. We did that. I’m pretty sure that we gained a lot of respect from a lot of people right now. This is a first step of something great that’s here to come in the next couple years.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmalieBenjamin.

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