Toney Douglas played well when he replaced an injured Chauncey Billups during the regular season.
There’s much more at stake now.
In only his third season, Douglas said he’s prepared if, as expected, Billups, the 13-year veteran point guard, misses Tuesday night’s Game 2 of the New York Knicks’ first-round playoff series with the Boston Celtics with a sore left knee.
Billups is “very questionable,” coach Mike D’Antoni said Monday.
If he is out, it will be up to Douglas to direct an offense led by Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
“I’m ready,” Douglas said Monday. “The hardest part is getting my body ready for that situation.”
Billups was hurt late in Boston’s 87-85 victory Sunday night when his leg “buckled on me.” He limped off the court with 51 seconds left and didn’t return.
“It’s really sore” he said after watching practice in street clothes. “At this point in the season, this is the worst thing that could possibly happen, getting hurt in the first game of a tough series. I know my team needs me and it’s just frustrating.”
D’Antoni said it’s much more likely that Billups will play at home Friday in Game 3 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers sees a possible trap for his team if Billups is sidelined.
“If you take someone lightly in the playoffs, then shame on you,” he said. “Douglas has had a terrific year. (The Knicks) went on a winning streak when Douglas was playing and Chauncey was out. But I don’t think that’ll affect the way we approach the game. We just have to worry about us.”
Douglas averaged 16.8 points and 6.8 assists in the six games Billups missed with a left thigh bruise from March 2-10. The Knicks split the first two then won three straight before losing again.
But Douglas had never played a postseason game until Sunday. He finished with eight points and two assists in 25 minutes, but made a 3-pointer that gave sixth-seeded New York an 85-82 lead with 38 seconds remaining.
“We have confidence in him,” Stoudemire said. “I feel like that big shot gave him confidence.”
An alley-oop basket by Kevin Garnett with 37 seconds left made it 85-84 before Anthony was called for an offensive foul with 20 seconds to go as he jockeyed for position with Paul Pierce. Ray Allen hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 12 seconds to play after Garnett stuck out his right leg and tripped Douglas — laying him flat out on the court — as Douglas tried to guard Allen.
There was no whistle, only the loud cheers of the home crowd.
“Allen made a tough shot. Tony got knocked down,” D’Antoni said. “Sometimes at the end of games they let it go. It’d be nice if they called it on ‘Melo that they call it at the other end also.”
The third-seeded Celtics will also be missing a starter, but that was expected. Shaquille O’Neal sat out the last six regular-season games and the first playoff game with a left calf injury after playing just one of the previous 28 with a sore left leg.
“He’s got a different brace now and we’ve got two (days off) after Game 2 that he can practice, hopefully,” Rivers said.
Jermaine O’Neal had a big game in his place in Game 1 with 12 points on 6-for-6 shooting and four blocks in 22 minutes. He missed much of the season with a knee injury.
Until Garnett denied him the ball late in the game, Stoudemire hurt the Celtics with long jumpers and powerful dunks. But Anthony struggled to shake Boston’s tight defense.
He was whistled for two quick fouls and sat out the last 10:32 of the first quarter. He scored his first 12 points in the second quarter but just three in the second half when he missed 10 of 11 shots, including a 3-pointer with 2 seconds to go.
“I couldn’t buy a bucket last night, especially in the second half,” he said. “Shots were going in and out. Shots were short. But I know I can make those shots. They’re the same shots I would take over and over.”
D’Antoni joked about what it might take for Anthony to get untracked.
“Just maybe get Pierce off him,” he said. “He’s fine. I’ll be surprised if it happens twice.”
Unlike the Knicks, the Celtics will have their starting point guard. Rajon Rondo had 10 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in the opener. Douglas, quicker than Billups, might do a better job on him.
“We have to be even more focused,” Pierce said. “We haven’t done a good job when star players sit throughout the course of the season. I don’t know if we’ve taken it for granted or taken them too lightly when they’re missing a player, thinking the team wouldn’t play as hard, but we’ve lost quite a few games with other teams’ stars missing.”
Still, the loss of Billups would leave the Knicks thin at that position.
“It’ll affect us big time,” said Anthony, who came to the Knicks with Billups on Feb. 22 in a trade with Denver. “We’re losing one of our soldiers, one of our leaders. At the same time, it’s go time, it’s playoff time. We’ve got guys that have to step up.”
HOWARD ULMAN, AP Sports Writer