Posted May 7 2012 7:08AM
NEW YORK -- When you slice your hand by hitting a fire extinguisher in fit of post-game frustration, it's kind of hard to make up for it.
You can tweet your apologies to your fans and teammates. You can stand in front of the media and try to explain that it's something that happens all the time. You can downplay the injury as much as you want.
But the only way to make up for it is to deliver a victory to a franchise, an arena, and a fan base that's desperate for a win after 13 straight playoff losses spanning 11-plus years.
Amar'e Stoudemire did just that on Sunday, helping the New York Knicks to an 89-87 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 4 of their first round series, which now heads back to Miami for Game 5 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT).
It wasn't quite a Willis Reed moment. It was Game 4 the first round, not Game 7 of The Finals. The victory didn't bring a championship, but rather delay an inevitable and early playoff exit. That Madison Square Garden tunnel that Reed emerged from is gone, and there were some boos from the crowd when Stoudemire was introduced last among the Knicks' starters.
No, when the injury is self-inflicted and the team is on the brink of getting swept for the second straight year, the stage isn't exactly set for a Reed-like level of inspiration. But Stoudemire, playing with a padded brace on his hand, certainly gave the Knicks more production than Reed did 42 years ago.
He didn't just show up, go through the motions and play tentative, as some may have expected. He didn't willingly take a back seat to Carmelo Anthony like he did earlier in the series. Instead, he actually gave the Knicks a better performance than he did in either of the two games before his hand injury.
"He surprised me," Tyson Chandler said afterward. "I didn't think he was going [to play]. He played and he made a huge impact on the game."
Stoudemire played with energy and drive, recording just his second double-double since March 20. He -- get ready for it -- attacked the glass, grabbing five offensive rebounds that resulted in five extra points for the Knicks. When both teams were struggling from the perimeter, Stoudemire was in the paint, mixing it up and keeping his team in the game.
Anthony was the Knicks' star on Sunday, scoring 41 points on 15-for-29 shooting. But this series doesn't go back to Miami if he didn't get some help. And Stoudemire was the only other Knick in double figures in what was an ugly game through three quarters. He finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, shooting 8-for-13 from the field.
This was the kind of game we expected out of this series. A grinder that turned into a thriller, with the stars doing what they do down the stretch. Stoudemire played his part, with five of his 20 points coming in the fourth quarter.
His injury clearly affected him. He turned the ball over four times, twice getting stripped after an offensive rebound. He had a hard time controlling his dribble when he used his left hand. But after two days of practice, Stoudemire was able to compensate well enough.
"Right from the start, he rebounded the ball and made plays on the catch, on the run and finishing at the rim," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said, "which was a bit surprising, because you just didn't know what he could bring based on the injury that he has."
Ironically and just as the Heat drew it up, it ended up being Stoudemire between Dwyane Wade and the basket on the final possession. And with some help from Landry Fields, Stoudemire got the stop.
"It makes me feel better that we won," Stoudemire said about his performance. "I wanted to play as hard as I could and try to help us get the win."
Stoudemire made a mistake on Monday. And if his season came to an end with the smash of some glass, an entirely different story would be written. If he was ineffective in a series-ending loss on Sunday, he'd be more tabloid fodder.
Sure, if he hadn't hit a fire extinguisher at AmericanAirlines Arena, Stoudemire would have been available for Game 3. And he could have helped the Knicks score more than 70 points in a game that put them on the brink of elimination with a record-breaking defeat.
But the Knicks were never going to win this series. All they really needed was one win to end the streak, quiet the critics, and give their fans something positive to remember about the 2012 playoffs.
Now, that they've got it, Knicks fans can look back at the glass smash as more of a footnote than a headline. And we can all give Stoudemire credit for playing through pain and refusing to end his season on the sidelines, as a spectator in a suit and a sling.
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