After six preseason games, last night’s contest against the Milwaukee Bucks almost felt like a regular season tilt. Whereas Monday night’s loss to the Toronto Raptors served as an extended audition for players seeking one of New York’s final roster spots, Mike Woodson was certainly focused on molding his regular season lineups in Green Bay. Unfortunately, still short-handed, the Knicks (2-4) looked rusty in trying to work themselves back into regular season mode.
New York jumped out to a quick 8-3 lead courtesy of Carmelo Anthony and Iman Shumpert, but the Knicks flat-lined from there, mostly due to their recurrent lackadaisical approach to defense. The loss marked the third straight game in which New York surrendered a 30-point first quarter to its opponent, as time and time again, the Bucks shot from wherever they pleased. Milwaukee penetrated the lane with little resistance, and fired from the perimeter, seemingly at will. Concurrently, the Knicks struggled to manufacture that crisp offense we had previously seen during the preseason, badly misfiring from the great beyond — they launched 10 three-pointers in the first quarter alone. They were also sloppy in the pick-and-roll (Pablo Prigioni and Beno Udrih were the culprits, surprisingly) and questionable in their shot selection.
The Knicks’ training camp invites only got some serious burn during a second quarter stretch; Toure’ Murry did a fine job pestering the Bucks’ guards (though he still struggles off the ball and on screens a bit). Cole Aldrich — whose chances of making the final cut seem to be diminishing — did, to his credit, work hard on the offensive glassing, tipping out several loose balls. Tim Hardaway Jr. also connected on a few three-pointers that cut the Bucks lead down to single digits before thehalf, but when the starters returned, Milwaukee’s lead opened right back up again. Though the numbers don’t show it, Carmelo Anthony was notably off-track last night, perturbed by O.J. Mayo and what ‘Melo deemed to be a lack of calls. Things actually got a little chippy in the third quarter, in fact. As New York is often wont to do, Woodson’s crew let the the Bucks get into their heads, predictably leading to frigid Knicks’ offense and suspect defense. On the bright side, New York did suddenly flip the switch late in the third quarter, tightening the D and unleashing a torrent of three-pointers — two by ‘Melo, the second of which he sunk in a defender’s face as the buzzer sounded.
Ultimately, after tying the game at 87 with 6:25 to go, the Knicks fell apart. Their offense ran dry and the Bucks managed to come up with buckets at all the right times. To the Knicks’ credit, they forced the Bucks into tough, usually contested mid-range shots, but a slew of hits from Mayo, Gary Neal and Caron Butler iced the contest. Overall, it was a disappointing effort from the Knicks, esepcially defensively, and it is quite obvious that New York needs a lot of work when it comes to stopping teams during critical late-game possessions.
What Went Right
- After missing Monday’s game in Toronto, Shumpert (elbow) looked great in his return. He looked extremely comfortable on offense, catching and shooting threes (2-of-4), handling the ball in the pick-and-roll occasionally and getting out on the break. He notched 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, grabbed 7 boards and snaggled 3 steals in nearly 29 minutes of play.
- Despite an inefficient 22 points on 23 shots, ‘Melo was active elsewhere with 9 rebounds (4 offensive) and 7 assists. It has been extremely encouraging to see Anthony as a willing passer this preseason when defenses have sent double-teams his way. His gift for making skip passes around the perimeter often sets up open threes for his teammates, but the Knicks just couldn’t take advantage of those looks against the Bucks.
- That late-third-quarter, early-fourth-quarter defense. Anytime World Peace takes the floor, defensive chaos seems to ensure — in a good way. Adding Shumpert, Murry, Chandler, or even Prigioni to the mix only makes it better. The Knicks’ rotations and close-outs haven’t really looked all that crisp in preseason action, but their attacking defense, pressing and trapping has served them well. Given their depth, this strategy might be something Woodson utilizes throughout the regular season. We’ll see.
What Went Wrong
- My compliments to World Peace and his heckling brand of defense, but I may rip my eyes out if I see him turn down another open trey, only to dribble into the defense for a contested or fade-away pull-up jumper. I mean, really, Ron-Ron?
- It’s starting to look more like a trend and less like a preseason anomaly, but the Knicks keep playing mostly awful defense, save for random fits of defensive intensity. In particular, opposing ball-handlers wiggle their way to the rim whenever they feel like it — a problem that New York struggled with last year. Tyson Chandler, while a fantastic defender, isn’t a natural shot-blocker anyway, but repeatedly asking him to cover others’ mistakes makes him a non-factor as a rim-protector. That, combined with the excessive switching, is disconcerting.
- Andrea Bargnani was solid offensively in Green Bay — 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting — but his defense remains horrendous. As such, these ‘Melo-Bargnani 4-5 lineups simply won’t do; there is too little rebounding, inconsistent on-ball defense and no rim protection.
- It was bound to happen at some point, but Beno Udrih had a rough night against the Bucks. In 31 minutes, he managed just 7 points on 3-of-12 shooting (1-for-7 from three). His 6 assists to 2 turnover ratio was fine, but he didn’t run the offense very well after previously handling those duties with aplomb.
- “Ja-Ja Pachulia,” – Walt Clyde Frazier
- Clyde also simply calls Metta World Peace “World,” which is the best.
- With 4:42 remaining in the second quarter, Bargnani checked into the game with the Knicks up 38-37. Then the Bucks finished the quarter on a 19-7 run. He was a team-worst -25 tonight. Just sayin’.
- Prigioni appeared to hurt something early in the game and subbed out less than halfway through the first quarter. He only logged 17 minutes in all, so we’ll have to wait and see if Woodson just being cautious with the guard or if this latest injury is something to be concerned about.
- The Knicks conclude their preseason this Friday by ripping the seal off the newly renovated Madison Square Garden against Charlotte.
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