BOSTON -- Will Chauncey Billups play on Tuesday? Mike D'Antoni cracked a sly smile when he was asked the question.
"What are we saying about him?" the coach asked Knicks P.R. chief Jonathan Supranowitz after practice on Monday.
"Questionable," Supranowitz said.
"Questionable," echoed D'Antoni. "
Indeed, all indications are that the Knicks will be without their veteran point guard against the Celtics in Game 2 of their first-round series. Billups didn't practice on Monday, instead watching from the stands in a beige sweatsuit. His left leg has been immobilized since he strained his knee after coming down awkwardly in the final minute of Game 1, and the Knicks' medical staff spent most of Monday icing the area to reduce the swelling. Following practice, Billups walked gingerly and didn't sound optimistic about his chances of playing.
"I'm not feeling that great, honestly," Billups said. "This is tough. Getting hurt at this point of the season, it's just frustrating. Hopefully I can get back as soon as possible. I just know that my team really needs me and I feel like if we're playing good basketball, we have a chance to win this series."
With Billups likely out, the Knicks will turn to Toney Douglas, the second-year backup who scored eight points (on 3-of-8 shooting) in 26 minutes in Game 1. In nine starts during the regular season, Douglas averaged 13.9 points and 5.7 assists while connecting on 52.2 percent from the field and 46.8 percent from three-point range.
"You hate to lose Chauncey but at the same time we feel good about Toney," D'Antoni said. "He's going to have to save his energy up because he is going to play a lot of minutes."
Interestingly, the Knicks' offense functioned more efficiently with Douglas in the starting lineup. Billups and Douglas started one game together this season, a 114-106 loss at Charlotte last month. But in the 20 games Billups started at point guard, the Knicks averaged 106.3 points on 43.8 percent shooting. When Douglas was the top playmaker, they posted 109.4 points on 50.5 percent shooting.
Douglas, 25, says he has learned a lot from Billups in the short time they have been together.
"It's not always about outrunning or out-quicking people or being more athletic," Douglas said. "It's knowing when to score, knowing when to push it and when not to. [When] you have 'Melo [Anthony] and Amar'e [Stoudemire] on the court, as a point guard you are going to miss some people. And they are going to get frustrated and say, 'Oh, man, I was open.' It's always going to come back on the point guard. It's like the quarterback in football. But I'm mentally tough for that no matter what."
Billups has been similarly impressed with what he has seen from Douglas.
"He's fearless," Billups said. "That's something a lot of young players aren't. He listens, he's tough and he's a competitor. He's ready for an opportunity like this."
Douglas, of course, is not without flaws. Scouts emphasize that he is not really a point guard and that he can be reckless when he gets the ball in transition.
"He can create his own shot off the dribble," said an Eastern Conference scout. "But he doesn't look for his teammates when he penetrates and is just an OK finisher in traffic. He's always looking to push the ball, but he's not great at running a team."
The Knicks' top two point guards weren't great Sunday, shooting a combined 6-of-19 from the floor with six assists. Yet New York was still just a three-pointer away from winning the game. If Douglas can provide tough defense (his strength) on Boston's Rajon Rondo and knock down open shots (his three-pointer with 37 seconds left gave the Knicks a three-point lead), he will have done his job.
"I'm ready," Douglas said. "It's all mental. There are going to be some mistakes, but it's about how many times can you limit your mistakes."
When Douglas does make a mistake, he can count on Billups to be there backing him up.
"I'll be over there helping him in every situation that I can," Billups said. "[I'll be] coaching him, trying to help him through stuff. Before the game, halftime, in games -- I'll be the best player-coach I can be."