Still, Stoudemire's injury was the talk off the town -- "Bloody 'Mare" as the New York Post splayed on the back page -- heading into the Knicks' 87-70 loss in Game 3 of their first-round series with the Heat.
Talk radio buzzed about Stoudemire's "freak accident." But really it was no such thing. When a man -- even in heat of battle/ Battle of Heat -- throws a haymaker at an inanimate object and suffers a self-inflicted injury, it is not an "accident." And this wasn't freaky either. It was completely consistent with the vibe of the 2012 New York Knicks.
For whatever else you might say about this franchise, it has a singular knack for drama and Melodrama. In this season -- the compressed variety, no less -- the Knicks may only have won 36 games, but they were the league leaders in surreal storylines.
Consider: Despite acquiring center Tyson Chandler, a defensive stalwart, in the offseason, the Knicks lost 15 of their first 23 games, often playing layup-line defense. And despite watching the games in a newly refurbished Madison Square Garden, the angry fans booed early and often. Life was bad.
Then, with the season slipping away and the team's leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony, out with an injury, the Knicks unleashed Jeremy Lin on the world (literally). Life was good. Then Anthony returned, couldn't coexist with the authority figure, and the coach, Mike D'Antoni, was fired. By then, Lin had injured his knee and the team was losing games. Life was bad. Under the interim coach, Mike Woodson, New York went 18-6 and reached the playoffs. Chandler? He ended up winning Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Don't blame this on the tabloids or the ravenous New York media. Had these unlikely storylines and undulating fortunes and wacky rhythms visited teams in Salt Lake or Milwaukee or Memphis, it would have warranted just as much coverage. And, damn, was it fun.
In sports, though, practicality tends to trump theatricality. For all the plot points and hairpin turns, New York's season is about to end with deafening quiet. With Stoudemire on the bench wearing a gray suit and beige sling, the Knicks lost to the Heat on Thursday and now trail 3-0 in the series. The game had its moments -- characteristic Knicks moments -- including an 18-1 New York run and a J.R. Smith dunk destined for YouTube. But the Knicks disintegrated in the fourth quarter and have still haven't won a playoff game in their last 13 tries, a streak dating back to April of 2001. (Perspective: This was pre-9/11; when Anthony was a high school junior.)
If you needed a contrasting franchise, you could do worse than the Heat. Having learned from the circus of last season, chastened by losing to Dallas in the Finals last June to the delight of a nation, Miami is now a buttoned-up outfit, one that doesn't traffic in distraction. The coaches and players talk often of "professionalism" and "business." As in, "we took care of business tonight," a bromide offered by both Dwyane Wade and Mike Miller within minutes of each other Thursday night. Then again, when the opposing team shoots 31.9 percent from the floor and scores 30 points in the entire second half, business is easy.
This is another loss that reflects poorly on Anthony, who made only seven of his 23 shots. Take these numbers lightly, given Anthony's mandate to score with Stoudemire out, given the four and six arms contesting every shot. But here goes: he has now shot less than 50 percent in eight straight playoff games. His career postseason record is 16-36, the worst of any NBA player who has appeared in 50 or more playoffs games over the last 20 years.
Anthony, of course, was a postseason star at Syracuse, the main reason he was picked third in the 2003 NBA draft (Irony: two picks behind LeBron, immediately ahead of Chris Bosh and Wade, all four on the floor Thursday.) In his nine NBA seasons, Anthony has made the postseason every year, yet his team has made it out of the first round only once. This is a player who has now earned more money for his career than Michael Jordan did.
And this season will be no different. The Knicks are a game from ending this rollicking, bizarre and ultimately unsatisfying season. Was it a good time? Sure. What it successful? Not really. Like the shell game they play outside the arena on Eighth Avenue, there was a lot of motion and possibility and, finally, not much payoff.
Where is the franchise, big picture? It still has no true point guard. It still has no true coach. Outmaneuvered this series, Woodson is likely to keep his interim status until Phil Jackson, John Calipari, Stan Van Gundy and Lord-knows-who-else officially turn the job down. Stoudemire, the team's cornerstone when the season began, may be on the trading blocks, though his value has gone down the mineshaft. As for the other cornerstone, for all of Anthony's dynamic scoring, it's still unclear whether he can be the leader of a contending team. The Knicks aren't likely to build through the draft either, as they traded their 2012 first-round pick.
After Game 3, no one battled any courtside structures. Instead, staring at the ground, the Knicks filed out of their new locker room, issued a few statements of disappointment, walked down the twisting catacombs of their refurbished arena. One by one, they disappeared into a tunnel. Presumably it led to somewhere.