I told myself that I would not believe in this team again. After 61 games of ineptitude, I was ready to give up on the idea of the 2013-2014 Knicks making the playoffs and just move on. Of course, they found a way to rope me back in and in the final minutes of the Knicks heartbreaking 90-89 loss to the Wizards, I truly believed that the Knicks were going to pull it out. One loss does not dismiss everything the Knicks did in the 15 games prior, but rather affirms what we already knew about this team. The Knicks have been held back all season by their inability to make plays in the waning moments of close games. Admittedly, late game situations can be unpredictable, but this has been a pattern for the Knicks all season, an indication of their poor late game execution. This late game ineptitude is not on the shoulders of any individual; it is the product of roster construction, coaching, and a superstar who believes he has the right to take the last shot, regardless of how well he is playing. Ironically, New York’s late game failures were encapsulated by a game against this same team earlier in the year, with poor defense, a lack of play calling, and a Carmelo Anthony desperation heave. The Knick-killer in both games was Bradley Beal; this time, Beal utilized screens to get an open shot. The Knicks, on the other hand, seem to never get an open shot at the end, in large part due their refusal to deviate from anything but giving the ball to Carmelo Anthony. As the ball slipped out of Anthony’s hands and caromed to the three point line, I could not help but feel that the Knicks season had finally slipped through their fingers, giving fans one last agonizing defeat in a season of excruciatingly painful losses. This loss, though, might have hurt worst of all because the fans finally began to believe again.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- The end of the game made me want to put J.R. Smith in the “WHAT WENT WRONG” section, but the Knicks ultimately would not have been close in this game had it not been for Smith’s timely scoring. Smith poured in 32 points on 12-23, including an impressive 8 three pointers. Now the problem with relying on Earl as a second scorer (or in this game a primary scorer) is that he often does not know when to stop shooting. Through 3 quarters, Smith was magnificent, but the last few shots were of the “NO! YES!” variety. Even though those shots were going down, there is a reason those shots are not good shots. Eventually, J.R. stopped hitting those shots, but did not stop shooting them. Smith’s fourth quarter went from bad to worse when he took a horrid shot, did not get back in transition and then fouled Beal on a dunk. Still, Smith was probably the Knicks best player tonight and it is starting to look like the J.R. of last year is back, which regardless of what you think of him is better than the J.R. we saw for the first few months.
- It may not show up on the stat sheet, but Iman Shumpert is playing his most inspiring basketball of
the season. The Texas trip was fun, but it was an unsustainable scoring binge that was doomed to end. Shump is not a scorer at this point in his career. He can hit threes at a league average rate, but his true value comes in his defense and energy. Earlier in the season, Shumpert lacked the energy; he was virtually invisible for large stretches of the season. Shumpert has been making plays these past few games, whether they are timely offensive rebounds or aggressive steals ( he had 3 tonight). Shump’s defense was not perfect (Bradley Beal, in particular, torched him in the 4th quarter), but he is starting to once again show why he is so important to the Knicks future.
- Amar’e Stoudemire will never play good defense (or even average defense for that matter), but he kept the Knicks in the game in the third quarter with 12 big points, including an exciting dunk. Some may argue that Stoudemire’s presence hurts the team overall, but it is hard to deny that he provides an inside game that the Knicks sorely lack when he is out of the game. Stoudemire finished the game with 16 points on 6-9 shooting.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- This might have been Carmelo Anthony’s worst game of his Knicks career. Melo scored 10 points on 5-14 shooting with a ghastly 9 turnovers. Anthony also nearly turned the ball over in the final play, leading to a desperation three point attempt by Smith. Melo does not deserved to be heavily criticized for this performance; his right shoulder was clearly in pain the entire game and he has been the one consistent contributor the entire year. He even made a clear effort to contribute outside of scoring, grabbing 8 rebounds, dishing 5 assists, and getting 4 steals. The failure in the clutch is nothing new for Knicks fans; he hasn’t a big shot on the final possession in a long time. The frustrating part about this performance, however, was Melo’s insistence to get the ball in the final seconds. It remains to be seen whether this was a coaching decision or a decision made by Anthony himself, but Melo should by now that he should not try to force it when he isn’t healthy or playing well. Maybe Anthony has the right to take the final shot because he is the only reason the Knicks are even near the 8th seed. The Knicks were always going to live by Melo. Tonight, they died by him.
- Mike Woodson’s decision making in the 4th quarter was puzzling, to say the least. There’s an argument to be made that Anthony, with an injured shoulder and 9 turnovers, should not have been playing in the end, let alone having every play set up for him. The Wizards were openly doubling Melo immediately because the Knicks offense in the end of the game is so predictable. Woodson also played Tim Hardaway Jr. for a few minutes down the stretch over Iman Shumpert. Hardaway was not hitting his shots, and his defense (especially on three point shooters) is a clear detriment. Much of the Knicks failures at the end of the game have to do with Woodson’s lineup and playcalling decisions. Mike Woodson may be entering his last 5 games as the head coach of the Knicks and at this point, it is hard to say the Knicks will miss him.
- The Atlanta Hawks defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight by a score of 117-98, pushing the Knicks back down to the 9th seed. The Knicks are now 2 games behind the Hawks in the loss column, and their playoff hopes once again look extremely slim.
- Phil Jackson was in attendance for the game, and remained seemingly expressionless throughout the game. I guess that’s why they call him the Zen Master.
- Jill Martin interviewed Jim Kelly in the second quarter. It was good to see him well enough to attend the game. Keep fighting, Jim.
- The Knicks will next play Sunday @ the American Airlines Arena in what will be their final regular season matchup with the defending champion Miami Heat. The game will be televised at 1 pm on ABC.