An anemic offensive performance by the New York Knicks, coupled with a supreme defensive effort by the Indiana Pacers gave Indiana a controlling 2-1 series lead with a Game 4 still to be played on their home court. For most of the game, the Knicks and Pacers dangled in a middle ground, the score close enough for New York to make a run and make it competitive, the Pacers nearing blowout territory. However, neither ever really materialized. New York was able to grind out possessions, occasionally forcing turnovers or getting stops, and occasionally able to put in consecutive buckets. (As obvious from the score, the Knicks didn’t put together many strings of consecutive baskets). However, when the Knicks got within striking distance, it seemed the Pacers had an answer every time.
The first quarter more or less set the standard for the game. The Pacers came swingin’ out of their corner, knocking down open threes on slow rotations from the Knicks to quickly take a 9-2 lead. New York responded, however, with some fight from Tyson Chandler underneath the basket, and the smoothest offensive attack we’ve seen from Carmelo Anthony, other than that fourth quarter explosion in Game 2. ‘Melo forced his way inside for fouls, or otherwise bullied Paul George to the basket for some short jumpers. Around the halfway point, though, both offenses fell off a cliff, forcing the defenses to take center stage like these were the Knicks-Pacers playoff battles of the ’90s yesteryear.
The Pacers struggled to score baskets as they are wont to do; part of that credit goes to intensified Knicks’ defense. On the other end, New York’s offensive struggles were pushed along by a terribly inefficient grouping of Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, and Tyson Chandler. The big lineup clustered the floor, especially with Smith and Kidd’s inability to flip a coin into a fountain. With 4:20 remaining in the quarter, Chandler converted a layup. From then on, the Knicks didn’t score until Anthony hit a jumper with 20 seconds remaining. They trailed Indiana 15-18 after one.
The second quarter was highlight by New York turnovers and an immense struggle on the boards. Amar’e Stoudemire played for the first time since March 7, beginning the quarter paired with Martin and Smith in the front-court, Prigioni and Kidd in the back-court. Right off the bat, the Pacers’ size and aggression on the glass fueled an early surge that put them up by seven. The Knicks held their own, though, finding their only offensive success in the pick-and-roll, as Prigioni drove the lane and twice hit Martin and Stoudemire off drop-off passes for dunks. No ground was gained, though, and Woodson ditched the lineup experiment after a few minutes.
Interestingly, the Knicks tried out some zone defense for a little while, and it worked in forcing the Pacers into some missed shots due to their lack of consistent perimeter threats. Unfortunately, it seemed the zone also thwarted the Knicks’ rebounding efforts. Even once they went away from the zone, Roy Hibbert, David West, and the Pacers guards just pulverized the Knicks on the boards, snagging eight offensive rebounds in the quarter. And given the way Indiana’s defense was functioning, denying dribble penetration and closing on the Knicks hard on the perimeter, New York couldn’t afford to give away extra possessions.
The Knicks’ offense flowed more smoothly than the first quarter, as a combination of Anthony jumpers, a few tough baskets from Smith, and a generous amount of free throws kept the Knicks in the game. A solid close to the quarter, highlighted by Anthony’s pass out of a double-team to Martin for a layup brought New York within three – Pacers led 36-33 at halftime.
After closing the first half strong (“strong” meaning a 9-2 run), the Knicks failed to capitalize on any momentum. Though they got solid contributions from ‘Melo who continued to post and toast Paul George, and from some aggressive Shumpert drives, the Knicks had no answer for Roy Hibbert and the attention he commands down low. The Pacers grabbed three more offensive rebounds – an obvious improvement from earlier quarters – but Hibbert’s size alone granted him some smooth jumphooks on post-ups or defensive attention that opened up shots for the Pacers. Indiana isn’t the best three-point shooting team, but they hit 10 in Game 3 and three in the third quarter, all of which came at seemingly critical times.
The Knicks’ offense stalled once again when the looks stopped dropping for Anthony and Shumpert. After they both hit two shots early in the quarter, they both began misfiring as time went on. Felton, who wasn’t to be found all night, also forced some iffy looks off the pick-and-roll and saw a dip in playing time. Surprisingly, Stoudemire was able to give the Knicks a small boost before the quarter ended, tipping in a missed layup from Smith, and later hitting a pull-up three-pointer to beat the buzzer. The Knicks trailed by nine at the end of the quarter.
The aforementioned theme of the game hanging in the balance of blowout and competitive enveloped the fourth quarter. Anthony continued on a stretch in which he missed seven straight shots, unable to score other than through free throws. Felton teased us with an aggressive and-one drive for a layup, but did little else thereafter. Shumpert was unable to carry the Knicks (not that he should be asked to), J.R. Smith couldn’t conjure any feverish magic.
The Pacers continued bullying the Knicks down low and hitting three-pointers when left open. The Knicks didn’t help their cause at all by continuing to turn the ball over – especially Kidd who had back-to-back turnovers that turned an eight-point Pacers lead into a 13-point Pacers lead. The Knicks just couldn’t muster a comeback, and eventually succumbed, waving the white flag and pulling their starters.
- Part of the reason for the Knicks’ success is that they maximize possessions by rarely giving them away. They were first in the league in turnovers during the regular season. Tonight, they had 15, and often at inopportune moments.
- The other foundation to the Knicks’ success has been shooting the three-pointer (and making it at a good percentage). Tonight, the Knicks were just 3-11. Some of that was aggressive Pacer defense, closing out hard on shooters to force them into contested looks for inefficient mid-range shots. Other times, the Knicks have to be willing to pull the trigger. Shumpert, given room by West, has to punish him by just launching in West’s eyeballs and making a few, even if it’s not always the best look.
- Felton missed practice the other day due to a personal issue. It’s worth pondering if it had anything to do with his poor, quiet performance in Game 3.
- Amar’e Stoudemire played just shy of 9 minutes, and posted 7 points on 3-8 shooting, with 2 rebounds. He didn’t register a +/- for the game, which is a nice baby step. Hopefully some of his forced, arrhythmic post looks will come in better rhythm and timing as the series goes on.
- Jason Kidd hasn’t scored a basket since Game 2 of the Boston series. Yet he plays 20 minutes tonight, and registers a -16. That’s misleading, and he did provide 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals, but his on-court worth is not greater than Prigioni who played just 23 minutes tonight.
The Knicks now have off until Tuesday night. A win gives them back homecourt advantage and evens up the series. Honestly, I have positive feelings about Game 4.
Much has been made of the downward spiral of JR Smith in these playoffs. Fortunately for the Knicks, there has been a corresponding upward trend by Iman Shumpert. As the saying goes, “When one door closes, another door gets dunked on by Iman Shumpert.”
Let’s start with Smith. Much like the Knicks themselves, JR started the playoffs pretty strong. In the first three games against the Celtics, he was 7-19, 7-15 and 6-12 from the field. While 43% isn’t amazing, it’s actually better than the 42% JR shot during the regular season. Then came the elbow, the ejection, the suspension, the trash talk and finally, the slide. Since his suspension Smith has shot 3-14, 5-13, 4-15 and 3-15 for an abysmal 26%. Not surprisingly, New York went 3-0 with the hotter JR and has gone 2-3 since (including the suspension game).
Yet, there is cause for hope even if Smith can’t pull out of his funk immediately. That hope is the rising play of Iman Shumpert. In the first three games when the Knicks were bulldozing Boston, their top three scorers in each game were Smith, Raymond Felton and Carmelo Anthony and they took and made the bulk of the shots for New York. Shumpert’s role was as a defensive stopper who occasionally spotted up for a three. In those three games he went 1-2, 2-6 and 1-5 from the field. He also never played more than 22 minutes in any of those three games.
The thing that Felton, Smith and Anthony have in common is that they can create their own shot either from the perimeter or by attacking the basket off the dribble. Most of the rest of New York’s scoring comes from spot up shooting off the catch or the occasional alley-oop dunk by a big man. When Smith was suspended, New York found itself without a key component of their offense. Among other things, Coach Mike Woodson likes to keep three guards on the floor at all times and Smith had been giving him 30 minutes a game that now needed to be funneled elsewhere.
Since Shumpert’s offensive skillset most closely resembles Smith’s (of Woodson’s options), and he had been playing so few minutes, I suggested to Posting and Toasting’s Seth Rosenthal that Shumpert would see a major spike in playing time. Sure enough, Shumpert’s minutes doubled, as he went 44 minutes in game four against the Celtics. As required, he was much more aggressive on the offensive end, taking 13 shots instead of his usual four or five. Though he only made five of them and the Knicks lost, Woodson’s show of faith in Shumpert has reaped rewards as the playoffs have progressed. Even with the return of Smith, Shumpert has continued to see increased minutes: 29, 38, 33 and 29. This has been accompanied by greater aggression and greater success on the offensive end. Iman has shot 4-7, 6-9, 4-11 and 7-11 in those games. After taking just four shots a game in the first three clashes with Boston, Shumpert has averaged 10 shots a game since, while hitting on 51% of those shots.
Shumpert’s most recent effort would seem the most promising and will be one the Pacers need to account for as the series continues. In that game, Shumpert went 6-8 from two-point range. This was the first playoff game which Iman made more than three shots from inside the arc and hopefully this is a sign that Shumpert is finally becoming confident attacking the basket again after a very slow and gradual return from his ACL surgery. Though at least he was finding ways to help his team on the court during the time he was rebuilding his confidence after the doctors cleared him (mandatory jab at Derrick Rose of the hated/feared Bulls).
Given that it has taken Shumpert over 50 games to perform at this level after coming back from his injury, I hope New York fans have very low expectations should Amare Stoudemire return to the court this Saturday. As we saw from STAT earlier this season, even he doesn’t play like an all-star for the first several games after a long absence due to injury. Given the size of Indiana’s frontline and the Knicks inability to find a big man that can score when Melo is on the bench, even a 60% STAT might be pretty helpful at this point though.
Since New York just beat the Pacers by 26, while Smith was shooting 3-15 and STAT was in street clothes, I really like New York’s chances in this series. Charles Barkley and his predictions otherwise and statement that Indiana is just a better team be darned. We’ll see Chuck, we’ll see… If Shumpert stays aggressive and keeps giving the Knicks another solid option on the offensive side of the floor (to go with his incredible efforts on the defensive end), then I think Indiana is in quite a bit of trouble.
Thanks in part to the frequently injured status of Amare Stoudemire, Mike Woodson has been forced to be very creative in his approach to lineup building this season. Using the talent pool available to him, he’s completely twisted the traditional point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center lineup into something uniquely special and effective. This has been especially challenging, due to the ever changing pool of available players on the team, but by the end of the season he’d found and shaped something special. The dilemma comes from trying to find a place for Steve Novak in this new Knickerbocker vision, or for that matter, Stoudemire, if and when he makes it back from injury.
Point Guard: Raymond Felton, JR Smith. New York starts a fairly traditional point guard in Felton. His job is to run pick and rolls, drive and score, drive and kick and stick the occasional three. If he can defend one of the other team’s guards reasonably well, so much the better. For most of the season, no one on the team seemed able to duplicate this role and the team struggled when Felton was playing hurt or not playing at all. Not only is Felton healthy now, Smith seems to have figured out that he should prioritize attacking the basket. While Smith is not considered one of the team’s point guards per say, when he’s on the floor and Felton isn’t, he’s the one that has been filling Felton’s role of bringing the ball up the court and attacking the basket. While Smith is obviously more of a scorer than a passer, Woodson seems to like having his point man be one of his primary scorers supporting Carmelo Anthony.
Shooting Guard: Pablo Prigioni, Jason Kidd. Woodson prefers to have two point guards on the floor whenever possible, which may be one of the reasons that New York had the fewest turnovers in the NBA this season. Since neither Kidd nor Prigioni have the ability to attack the rim that Felton and Smith have, they’ve played the role of off guard, helping facilitate the offense with their passing from the perimeter while spreading the floor with their three-point shooting. Another benefit of having Kidd or Prigioni on the floor all the time is their defensive acumen, which leads to numerous turnovers by the opposing team, often in the form of steals.
Small Forward: Iman Shumpert, JR Smith. Another reason why the Knicks have so few turnovers is instead of playing with two forwards, they play with three guards. Shumpert is versatile enough defensively to defend forwards and he can even rebound like one on occasion. His primary roles are to defend the opposition’s best perimeter player, provide a three point threat and occasionally attack the rim. One of the reasons Smith is the Sixth Man of the Year is his ability to fill multiple roles off the bench. In the fourth quarter when Felton and Kidd are manning the backcourt, Smith plays this role. While not quite the defender that Shumpert is, he makes up for it on the offensive end and by being an even better rebounder. Ronnie Brewer started the season filling this exact role, but as his play fell off and Shumpert returned from injury, he was sent to the end of the bench.
Power Forward: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Copeland. Using Melo at power forward is one of the biggest keys to the Knicks’ success on the offensive end this season. By having an elite perimeter player at the four, New York has opened up the paint for their pick and roll game which is a major part of their offense. Not only do Smith and Felton have extra room to attack the basket, but Melo gets mismatches which forces double teams and opens up New York’s options further. Having Melo or Copeland on the floor at the four gives them a primary scorer and makes it almost impossible for the opposition to prevent at least one of New York’s now four shooters from getting an open look from behind the arc. Melo’s transformation into an elite three-point shooter this season while playing the four has been a major part of why New York led the league in three-point attempts and makes. Unfortunately for Woodson’s lineup preferences, after a terrific regular season, Copeland has played so poorly in the playoffs that Woody was forced to use Novak at the four in game three instead.
Center: Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin. The role of the five for the Knicks is to backstop the defense, participate in the pick and roll with Felton and grab rebounds. With only one real big man on the floor at a time for New York, it’s critical that he be able to defend the rim/paint and rebound. By having the five be the screen and roller, it gives him an important role on the offensive end, while the rest of the team can be trying to get open from behind the arc. Rasheed Wallace filled this role behind Chandler at the beginning of the season, but fortunately for New York after most of their bigs got hurt, they discovered Martin, who has done an incredible job of filling this role off the bench.
So, Woodson has found a unique combination of roles that works well with his personnel and has enabled the Knicks to become an elite team. The problem is this carefully crafted system doesn’t really have a place for two highly paid forwards: Steve Novak and Amare Stoudemire.
Novak is a good enough three-point shooter to play the three or the four, but he’s not a good enough ball handler. Not only does Woodson use the three as an extra ball handler, he frequently has Melo bring the ball up the court and he runs isolations through Melo and even on occasion, Copeland. While big enough to play the five for New York, Novak doesn’t have the necessary skill set to be the primary defender in the paint. Frankly, other than being a terrific three point shooter, Novak brings very little to the table.
Last season, that was enough. Last season, Novak led the league shooting 47% from deep, while no one else on the team shot even 35% from three. Novak provided the team with essential and amazingly accurate three-point shooting. This season is much different. This season, Novak’s long range shooting is down to 42% and he’s one of eight Knickerbockers shooting 35% or better. While 42% is still quite good, Novak’s lone skill set is now being duplicated by several other players, all of whom bring lots of other things to the table. While the threat of Novak’s shooting helps spread the floor when he’s on the court, so does the threat provided by the Knicks’ other fours: Melo (38%) and Copeland (42%). If Copeland continues to be unable to work through the playoff jitters Novak may get some minutes this post-season, but his role with the team going forward is definitely in question.
This brings us to Stoudemire. Amare has a skill set that no one else on the team has: the ability to be a superior low post scorer. Unfortunately, Woodson has been forced to design an offense that not only doesn’t need a low post scorer, it may operate better without one. Woodson’s system requires the four to be a three-point shooter and the five to be a superior defender and rebounder. None of these things describe Stoudemire. Given STAT’s overall talent level and the team’s investment in him, I’m sure Woody will make some use of him when he gets healthy. I’m just not sure if that will be in the best interests of the team’s success, based on their performances this season.
It’s been more than a year to remember for the Knicks, who patiently await their first round matchup with Boston and look to finally slay the dragon with a first round win. I have no complaints about this season, as it was probably the most exciting season, from start to finish, since the early 2000’s. I have compiled the top 10 moments, in my opinion, from the Knicks’ great regular season. With the help from a few fans in the Twitter community, these moments have been ranked 1-10. Thanks to my buddy CJ (@CeeJeyEff) for helping me run down a few key moments this season that made it onto the list.
10. Amar’e Stoudemire’s season debut
Before a second knee debridement, STAT was one of the top performing post-presences in the league, shooting insane clips from the field, and being an offensive juggernaut for the Knicks. His season debut (vs. Portland) was highly anticipated and one of the warmest receptions the MSG faithful have given out all year.
9. JR Smith cleared for take off
Looking back, I’m still wondering how it was physically possible to catch the lob smith caught and get the ball above the rim all while facing the other way. Smith’s monster alley-oop is definitely in contention for alley-oop of the year, if there is such an award.
8. Knicks beat Miami IN Miami WITHOUT Melo
Most critics put an asterisk next to the Knicks first win of the season against Miami due to super storm Sandy and the Heat not having the “mindset” to play basketball. There was no excuse when the Knicks traveled to South Beach in early December for a rematch against the defending champs. The Heat were beaten by 20 points for the second time in both meetings so far and could not contain another 3pt barrage, giving up 18 three pointers on their home floor.
7.JR Smith salsas after game winning buzzer-beater vs. Charlotte
Smith took a page from Victor Cruz on a night where the spotlight was solely his. Carmelo Anthony missed this game with a lacerated finger, which almost led to a loss to a sub-par opponent. But Smith stole the show in the final seconds, something that was sort of a trend this season.
6. Melo scores 50 in Miami
Yes, there was no LeBron James. Or Dwayne Wade. But there also was not one Heat player able of containing Carmelo Anthony and his hot hand. Anthony’s 50 points led to a scoring rampage over the next few weeks.
5. Smith beats the buzzer, AGAIN
Just when we thought we had saw enough salsa-ing, JR was at it again. Ironically, without Anthony again, Smith lifted the depleted Knicks to a big road win against Phoenix in the final seconds.
4. Knicks win in San Antonio
For the first time in 10 years, the Knicks won a game in San Antonio, and this one was a barnburner. Behind Felton’s 25points and two huge go-ahead threes from Jason Kidd and JR Smith, the Knicks picked up a huge road win early in the season that got a lot of people talking about the Knicks being a serious threat.
3. Anthony makes history with 30 straight 20-point games
Anthony broke Richie Guerin’s former regular season record of 29 straight games with 20 points or more against the Orlando Magic on exactly 20 points.
2. Kurt Thomas ignites a 13-game winning streak
With all the euphoria the Knicks brought along with 13 straight, including a biggie against Oklahoma City, let it be known that Kurt Thomas’ 26 minutes against Utah after a terrible road trip was the spark that lit the fire under the Knicks, and who’s injury resurrected Kenyon Martin. Props to you, Mr. Kurt, no one expected him to play 20+ minutes at all this season, and when his number was called with all other big men absent, he answered, like the true professional he is.
1. Knicks win the Atlantic division for the first time since ’93-‘94
It took the Knicks 19 years to regain supremacy in their division, and how sweet it was. This was the first goal out of the gate that Mike Woodson had set for the Knicks, and it was great seeing them accomplish a team goal reiterated all season long.
Well, they’ve done it. The Knicks have clinched a playoff spot. Now I can finally stop holding my breath, I can shave my “they’re-not-in-the-playoffs-yet” beard and I can dump my girlfriend. That last one might not have much to do with the Knicks, but I like to share. Speaking of sharing, now that the boys are officially in the playoffs, I’ve decided to get some other things off my chest, too. I’m sure the Knicks know and care that I think they’re all heroes for getting us to the promised land, but there is still lots of work to do. While each of the Knicks seems to have found a way to contribute something positive this season, each of them also seems to have a fatal flaw which has hurt the team on occasion. So, I’ve decided to make a Knicks wish list, wherein I list the one thing I would wish for/from each member of the team to give us the best chance of success in the postseason.
Carmelo Anthony - Don’t be a hero. Melo has become a surprisingly complete player this season, but even he has a fatal flaw. He wants to win so badly and he wants to be the hero so badly that he will sometimes make bad choices that end up hurting the Knicks. So no more playing hurt when he should be resting up and no more forcing tough contested shots when things aren’t clicking for the team on offense. We need a healthy Melo that trusts his teammates and sticks to the plan on offense even when things aren’t going great.
Tyson Chandler - Stay on the court. By which I mean get/stay healthy and stay out of fights and foul trouble. I love that you’re such a rambunctious tough guy Tyson, but we really need you to keep out of trouble.
Raymond Felton - Pass first, attack the rim second and shoot jumpers last. This may seem like pretty obvious stuff for a point guard, but Ray’s shooting under 42% from the field and it’s due largely to him taking difficult two point shots when he should be finding a way to dish or get to the rack.
Iman Shumpert - Be aggressive. Alright Shump, you seem to have fixed your three point shot as you’re now hitting on close to 40% of them after only hitting around 30% last year, nice work. So why is your overall field goal percentage down to just 36%? It seems like you need to attack the rim more, like you did last year. While you’re at it, let’s see more attack mode on D as well. Last season you were someone we counted on to shut down the opposing team’s best perimeter player and we need to see more of that kind of defense this season.
Jason Kidd - Find your shot again. Look Jason, we all lose things, so let’s think about this: where were you standing the last time you remember having your shot? The good news here is that after an epic slump from three-point land, Jason has recently been showing signs that he’s over it. At this point in his career, Kidd’s game actually has quite a few flaws, but he finds lots of ways to compensate and cover for most of them. Being able to reliably nail open threes is a crucial part of old man Kidd’s game now though and if the Knicks are going to make noise in the playoffs, he needs to keep working with shooting guru Dave Hopla and making sure he doesn’t misplace his three point shot again.
Amare Stoudemire - Get back in shape in time. STAT is the Knicks’ X-factor for the playoffs. If he’s healthy and in playing shape like he was right before he got injured, then suddenly anything’s possible come playoff time. Remember the way he dominated the beginning of the fourth quarter against the Heat before Woody inexplicably benched him? Yeah, we need that.
JR Smith - Play intelligent, fully engaged basketball. At this point, nobody can really question Smith’s talent. The question is his focus and judgment. When JR is focused on the defensive end, he can give the Knicks a real perimeter stopper. On the offensive end, he needs to stop forsaking team offense so frequently in favor of crazy, low percentage, step back, two-point jumpers. When Smith is taking open jumpers off the catch or attacking the rim, he’s an incredible weapon, but when he’s constantly freelancing, he frequently digs big holes for the Knicks.
Steve Novak -Find a second skill set. Not only is Novak the Knicks’ best three-point shooter, but he’s one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA. That’s why he has a job in the NBA and he averages 20 minutes a game. He may be one the ten best shooters in the entire galaxy, but he really needs to find a second skill set. I realize it might be asking too much for Steve to become an elite or even solid defender, but what about developing a two-point game to compliment his three-point game? Like Shump, Steve actually has a higher percentage from three than he does overall. This means that teams only need to guard him at the arc and can and often do otherwise ignore him. Get on that Steve!
Pablo Prigioni - Just shoot already! At close to 39%, Pablo is one the Knicks’ best three-point shooters. Someone needs to inform Pablo of this though. No more looking left, right, up and down before deciding it’s safe to shoot. You’re not crossing the street Pablo and you don’t need to check with anyone when you’re wide open, just shoot like you’re confident that it will go in and things will be great.
Kenyon Martin - Keep up the good work. Kenyon is playing so far beyond reasonable expectations, that I feel that it would be absurd to ask for anything else but more of the same at this point.
Chris Copeland - Work on your defense. Cope is a special talent on offense, able to score and score efficiently in a variety of ways. Yet he doesn’t get much playing time, because coach Woody considers him a liability on defense. Cope realized that being a great offensive player will get you a job in the NBA, now he needs to realize that being at least a decent defender is what’s required to get him more playing time.
Rasheed Wallace - More healthiness, less three-point shooting. Given how long Sheed has been out of the lineup, getting healthy is a given, so I’m adding a second wish: stop shooting so many threes. Sheed is a stopper on defense and he has the skills to be a post threat, but he wastes too many offensive possessions with his love of the three ball, which wouldn’t be quite so bad if his shot wasn’t so bad (32%).
Marcus Camby - Find your game. So far this has been a lost season for the former defensive player of the year. When he’s gotten onto the court his offense has been completely missing: 31% FG%, down from 48% last season and he hasn’t established enough dominance on defense or on the boards to maintain a spot in the rotation, even with the Knicks seriously hurting for bigs.
James White - Recover your swagger. While White is far from an accomplished NBA player, we could always depend on him for self-confidence and swagger. Who can forget his epic trash talk leading up to the Slam Dunk contest? Unfortunately, the dunk contest seems to have been overly humbling for White. Ever since his ignominious performance (or lack of performance) at the dunk competition, Flight White has been grounded. In the starting lineup against Miami to help defend against the Heat’s elite wings, he looked lost and desperate, seemingly always a step behind the game. It didn’t take long after that for him to fade from the starting lineup all the way to very end of the bench where Sheed leaves his used chewing gum. He’s recently shown a little bit of life in garbage time and if he can learn to shine during meaningful minutes, he may yet have a shot to stay in the NBA after this season.
Kurt Thomas - Rehab, rehab, rehab. While Kurt hasn’t seen many minutes this season, he’s delivered when called upon. The defense is still there and though his offensive is somewhat one dimensional, at least it’s consistent. Thus I can only ask/hope/wish that he gets better soon.
Mike Woodson - Manage those minutes. Based on his short tenure in NY, Woody is a sensational coach who deserves to be part of the coach of the year conversation. I just ask that he find more rest for his older players and his overworked stars. JR, Tyson and Carmelo have all played over 2000 minutes this season, despite the fact that JR is a reserve, Chandler has missed five games and Melo 13. You’ve clinched the playoffs coach, as much as playoff seeding matters, it won’t matter at all if the Knicks’ key players have all broken down.
When you look at the Knicks’ stats as a team compared to the rest of the NBA, something stands out like a sore thumb: assists, or more accurately, lack of them. Of the 30 teams in the NBA, the Knicks are 29th, with 19.4 assists per game. Only the pathetic Bobcats make fewer assists per game than our beloved ‘Bockers. Since New York scores the tenth most points in the league and is sixth in offensive rating, this is pretty shocking.
When you consider the Knicks roster and their style of play, it starts to make a little more sense. The Knicks have a roster filled with good offensive players; the team is well stocked with scorers, shooters and ball handlers, just not playmakers. They have some players that are skilled at creating their own shots, but few that are displaying much skill in creating shots for others.
Despite the presence of future first ballot hall of fame point guard Jason Kidd on their roster, the closest they come to a true playmaker on the team currently is Raymond Felton. Felton is averaging 5.8 assists per game, down from his career average of 6.6 a game and only good for a four way tie for 25th best in the league. Of course Felton’s stats may be hurt by the slow pace the Knicks play at (25th in the NBA), but Greivis Vasquez and Deron Williams are both in the top five in the league in assists and they play for teams with an even more glacial pace than the Knicks (29th and 30th!) Rajon Rondo leads the league in assists with 11.1 per game and the Celtics have the 20th slowest pace. Not only is there little evidence to suggest that a slow pace prevents a playmaker from racking up big assist numbers, but the opposite almost seems true. Obviously some teams rely heavily on their playmaker to create shots out of half court sets.
In theory the Knicks would like to be one of them. Much of their offense is intended to revolve around pick and rolls orchestrated by Felton; giving him the opportunity to get assists by setting up the roll man or feeding an open shooter. Despite this plan, entirely too many of the Knicks’ offensive possessions boil down to Carmelo Anthony or JR Smith trying to create their own shots in isolation.
While it may seem obvious that the more assists the better, this specific stat seems to be particularly revealing in the case of the Knicks. In games where the Knicks have made fewer than 17 assists this season, they are 2-11. In games were they’ve made 23 or more assists, they’ve gone 14-2. For a team that’s one of the two worst assist producing teams in the NBA, this correlation is quite troubling.
This has been especially glaring over New York’s last 17 games. Over that span they’ve averaged a meager 17.3 assists, Raymond Felton has had more than 5 assists in a game only once and the Knicks have gone 7-10.
Obviously there are lots of reasons the Knicks have been struggling recently. The past week and a half have been particularly rough with the knees of all three of the Knicks’ frontcourt superstars breaking down at the same time. Despite this kneepocalypse or perhaps because of it, it’s no time to panic. Unfortunately, the Knicks are not acting like the team that started the season 8-1 without having Amare Stoudemire available to play. Instead of sharing the ball, finding open shooters and trying to create the most efficient offense possible, the Knicks seem to be relying on individuals like Melo and JR to create their own offense more than ever.
If New York is going to overcome the loss of so much star power to this kneegeddon and pull themselves out of their awful tailspin, they’re going to have to work as team, now more than ever. They can start by sharing the rock and finding some good shots. Failing that that could always try playing some great defense, but I don’t want to get too crazy.
After undergoing a debridement surgery in October on his left knee, Amare Stoudemire will need to undergo a right knee debridement. The debridement will take Amare away from the court for an estimated six weeks, and he’ll undergo the procedure in the coming week.
Stoudemire excelled this season after coming back from the right knee debridement, but Stoudemire recently underwent a stretch of three games in which he played an extending role. Stoudemire said his knee was sore and an MRI showed the need for debridement.
A debridement surgery essentially cleans the knee of dead, un-needed tissue around the knee.
I feel horrible for Stoudemire, as he was just beginning to find his stride again.
The Knicks defeated the short-handed Golden State Warriors in an absolute barn-burner to spoil Stephen Curry’s eruption for an NBA season-high, 54 points. What looked like it was going to be breezy win for the Knicks in the early going turned into an edge-of-your-seat, big-play-after-big-play trade-off between two teams who desperately wanted to come away with a win. Curry nearly gave the Warriors the game, throwing them on his shoulders as he repeatedly launched from downtown, lighting the Garden ablaze with a multitude of long shots, contested and open. In the game’s final minutes, J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony each scored big baskets for the Knicks, and Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler, and Iman Shumpert contributed big plays on the defensive end to give the Knicks the edge.
The first quarter was hardly indicative of what was to come later in the game. Both teams struggled out of the gate, the Warriors missing two-thirds of their frontcourt with Andrew Bogut out with a cranky back, and David Lee suspended because of his scuffle with the Indiana Pacers Tuesday night.
The Knicks, meanwhile, defended more ably than we’d seen in opening quarters in quite awhile. Their offense, however, took awhile to get going as Anthony continued his mini-slump from outside, while Jason Kidd and Iman Shumpert both laid bricks. The positive for the Knicks was Tyson Chandler’s youthful energy as he ravished the boards, collecting 10 rebounds in a matter of six minutes. He also skied to finish alley-oops and clean up misses from his out-of-tune teammates.
The Knicks’ defensive energy stemmed largely from Chandler’s dominance on the boards and Shumpert’s sudden aggressiveness in his on-ball defense. Shumpert bounced back and forth guarding Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, and Steph Curry, and was able to pester each of them, nabbing three steals in the opening period, showing signs of his exciting rookie year D. Chandler, too, bothered the Warriors into a couple turnovers, after which the Knicks generally looked to push the pace. One particularly splendid Shumpert steal from Curry led to a fastbreak dunk for Smith.
The Warriors struggles forced Mark Jackson to go very small, putting the 6’8″ Carl Landry at center, with Barnes at power forward, Thompson at the three, and Curry and Jarrett Jack in the backcourt. This small lineup prompted Anthony to go down on the right block where he continually abused whomever tried to guard him. Even when he missed, Chandler was able to finish over the much smaller Warriors. Anthony and the Knicks finally got some rhythm on offense and finished the quarter up 27-18.
The Knicks snapped a four-game losing streak by defeating the Philadelphia 76ers, and retaining first place in the Atlantic Division. Heading into the game, the Knicks had been mired in a major slump on both ends of the floor, undoubtedly playing their worst basketball of the season. A last-minute loss to the Toronto Raptors on Friday seemed to be the tipping point, the time where the panic button ought to be pushed. Granted, it was against a weaker opponent, but tonight’s win over the Sixers displayed better effort and determination for longer stretches than we’d seen in recent weeks.
Anytime a team exceeds expectations, it’s natural to point to two things: a great coaching effort and good personnel changes. While the Knicks are in a bit of a tailspin at the moment, one of the things that make it such a big deal is that up to this point the Knicks have greatly exceeded expectations. As of this writing, the Knicks are 32-20, 12 games over .500, despite their current four-game losing streak. Last year, after 52 games, they were 26-26 and they finished the season just six games over .500, barely making it into the Eastern Conference playoff field. The Knicks entered this season with a roster built around the same three core stars, having lost Jeremy Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire starting the season on the sideline. There were hopes that the Knicks would respond well to a full season under Mike Woodson, but few prognosticators had the Knicks in line to win the Atlantic Division. While the Knicks have benefited from both excellent coaching and some good moves by management, perhaps the most significant change has been to the offensive game of their returning star, Carmelo Anthony.
While the body of the Knicks’ players were in Indiana, apparently their brains and souls were still vacationing. In a performance lacking of effort, the Knicks were destroyed by the Indiana Pacers 125-91 in both of the teams’ first game since returning from the All-Star break. First time All-Star Paul George led the Pacers with 27 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Tyson Chandler led the Knicks with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Carmelo Anthony, the NBA’s second leading scorer, had just 15 points on 7-for-21 shooting.
The Knicks had somewhat quietly won three games in a row before bursting out with a 39-points squashing of the Sacramento Kings this past Saturday. The Knicks continued to make noise tonight, winning their fifth straight game – and their fourth by double-figures – by knocking out the Detroit Pistons tonight, 99-85. A fiery hot start for New York blasted them off to a 20+ point lead for most of the first half and, thankfully, buoyed them through a sluggish second half. When the Pistons cut it close in the fourth quarter, some timely three-pointers – a trend on the night – kept them at bay and gave the Knicks the win.