Game One Recap: Knicks v. Celtics

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Saturday afternoon was one of, hopefully, many joyous occasions at Madison Square Garden in the coming weeks.

The Knicks began their playoff run with a solid 85-78 win over the Celtics to take a 1-0 lead in the first round, best of seven series.

New York was able to pull out the win, despite allowing Boston to shoot .415 from the field, compared to their own .405. The Celtics were also a +7 from the free throw line.

How do you go about making up that difference?

You create more possessions and hit three pointers. The Knicks were a +12 from behind the arc and put up 14 more shots than Boston. According to NBA.com, New York rebounded 88.2% of the available defensive boards, 21.7% of the offensive boards and turned the ball over on 14.7% of their possessions. The Celtics turned the ball over on 23.2% of their possessions. The Knicks cleaned up the boards and turned the ball over less, precisely what was expected going into the series.

The Knicks’ defensive improvement in the second half was also a huge part of the victory. The Celtics ORtg in the first half was 108.3, compared to a ORtg of 60.4 in the second.

New York’s offense suffered a similar fate. The first half ORtg was 105.3 and the second was 85.6.

The numbers across the board make it look like New York played better offensively the first half than the second half. In the first and second quarters, the Knicks shot 46.2% overall and 60% from three. In the third and fourth quarters, they shot 35% from two and 20% from three.

That shooting percentages, plus difference in ORtg, paints a picture that New York’s offense was better in first half than it was in second half. Despite what the numbers say, I believe it was the opposite.

The Knicks adjusted in the locker room and got back to what made them one of the best offensive teams in the league after 24 minutes,  featuring a stagnant offense with no ball movement.

Before halftime, the Knicks averaged 1.67 passes per possession in half court sets. That number looks better than it actually was because of a stretch with Felton, Shumpert, Novak, Cope and Martin when they totaled 3.6 passes per possession. In the time Melo was on the court, New York tallied 1.35 passes per possession.  Melo’s usage % in the first half according to NBA.com was an unseemly 48.4%, up 13% from his regular season number of 35.3%. The numbers from Synergy Sports show Anthony isolated on 15 possessions.

As a team, the Knicks assisted on 8.3% of their two point makes and all five of their three point makes.

In the second half, despite the numbers taking a drop, New York got back to moving the ball side to side and relied less on isolations, or more importantly isolations that killed ball movement.

In half court sets after halftime New York averaged 2.47 passes per possession.

Melo’s usage dropped from 48.4% to 29.1%, he took three of his four spot up shots in the second half and he only isolated five times.

If J.R. Smith hit catch and shoot jumpers at comparable rate to his regular season percentage instead of going 0-5, New York would have won by double digits.

The Knicks assisted on 36.4% of their made twos in the second half and 66.7% of threes. The monster jump on the twos is what jumps out the most.

For New York to sustain offensive success against the Celtics building on the formula they used in the second half will be imperative.

There is no doubt the Knicks need to rely on Melo and Smith in isolation situations at times — they can be effective plays, but there use needs to be associated with shot clock and specific match up advantages. It is much easier to attack a defensive player when he is on the move instead of squared up and balanced – this is what ball movement creates. The majority of the iso shots the Knicks were taking in the first half, specifically Melo, can be had at almost any time in the shot clock. He can wait until the first and second options of the set are run before the offense digresses into a one on one situation. This is exactly what happened in the second half for the majority of the sequences. If New York builds on what they showed offensively after the break, it will show up better in the numbers than it did in Game One going forward.