As soon as I begin to converse with you, the fans of New York, news comes across that the Knicks’ orthopedist is flying in from New York City to examine the swelling on Iman Shumpert’s surgically-repaired left knee that flared up three days ago. I really do not know what to assume of this. My optimism tells me that it is a deep contusion, or a minor sprain, but I really am not counting on any shumping tonight, and I say that with a deep sadness.
The Knicks are in a pickle up front. With Shump most likely a no go (my gut feeling), and JR Smith ailing from a flu, a stomach virus, and Rihanna, the one advantage in this series for the Knicks has essentially flipped over to Indiana. There’s no telling what Mike Woodson will resort to tonight, he may just have to suit up Dave Hopla to run off screens and hit some three pointers. Seriously, though, these holes need to be mended for at least one game before the series heads back to New York, hopefully knotted up at two games apiece. Tonight will be a true “gut check,” as Carmelo Anthony called it, and the Knicks can either fight, or retreat with their tails between their legs and begin to find open slots for tee-time.
Woah, wait, let’s take a step back, and breathe.
Usually, I’m not one to view the glass half empty. I will never throw in the towel; and that’s just my tough-gritted New York attitude I was raised with. The Knicks do have a legitimate chance of winning this game tonight, crippled roster or not. It can, should, and ultimately must be done.
Carmelo Anthony was really criticized for not taking enough shots in game three, only 16. I know, the microscope of New Yorker’s is as brutal as a mean little boy pointing a magnifying glass at tiny little ants and watching the shrivel. Anthony knows what it’s going to take tonight, and rightfully so, he’s responded with telling us he will be more aggressive and look for his shot. Soon after, Tyson Chandler was very critical, and said the Knicks need to move the ball more and worry less about one man (Carmelo Anthony cough cough). I am just curious to where Tyson thinks the offense is going to come from. Unless he knows something about his former champion teammate Jason Kidd putting in extra hours behind the three-point line, please, inform us.
That being said, Woodson agreeably said he would cut Kidd’s minutes if his offense continues to diminish. As Woody twiddles his thumbs and ponders where he can find some sort of inside-out threat who can hit an open three pointer and take some pressure off Carmelo, I’ll let everyone know Chris Copeland is still sitting on the bench, waiting… Yearning.
Copeland is only a piece of this puzzle that is game four. If he does not get a chance tonight to implement some offense, I don’t think he’s getting out of the doghouse the rest of the season. His defense can’t really be that horrid, that his sweet stroke has to ride the pine every night, even with the situation we are in tonight, bodies down everywhere.
So, let’s see where we are, rotation wise. Shump most likely (once again, my gut) sitting this one out, I don’t even think JR knows what to expect from JR, and Kidd could see less minutes if he doesn’t produce early. That opens up three rotation slots, maybe about 50 minutes total. Out of that 50, Carmelo will most likely see a raise in a few minutes, and so will Felton, regardless of his play, the back line is just shortened. Then we look down the bench and see Novak, Copeland, and yes, Quentin Richardson. Out of these three, figure Copeland and Novak will see the court tonight, just hopefully not at the same time (defensive suicide). But If Woody really wants to continue his small ball, Copeland will help to spread the floor and pull whoever is guarding him out of the paint, and the same goes for Novak. The Pacer’s front line tonight will need to be adjusted to, heedlessly of who it is, because they have dominated two out of three games this series.
Lets hope there can be some generation of offense from those guys, and Amar’e Stoudemire, who can give the Knicks’ 15 hard minutes. Even if it is without scoring, help grab some rebounds, give us some second chance opportunities. Knicks’ fans appreciate the little things.
If Mike Woodson decides to rock the boat a little tonight, I hope he shuffles the starting lineup. Go Big, or go home. How figurative and literal is that for you? I would go with Prigioni, Felton, Anthony, Martin, and Chandler. Bolster your front line, prevent Anthony from being beat up, and grab some rebounds, please. Also, it would be great to see Pablo be the soul orchestrator while Felton can run off some baseline screens for open shots on the baseline. He’s been very effective at this throughout the season, and for sure it would open up his entire game from the get go, making the defense honor his jump shot and giving him the ability to take it to the hole and create. And that’s really how the Knicks win tonight, rebounding, grit, and scoring. The blueprint seems simple, but it’s going to take a team effort on the offensive end to win, and guys must hit shots. We’ll see where we are in 24 hours.
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.
Man, things are really starting to heat up…
With the Celtics now in the rearview mirror, it’s safe to say, that was more excitement and anxiety than I was expecting out of the Knicks’ first round matchup with Boston. But the green demons that haunt all Knick fans have finally been ousted and placed on the shelf, as we can. For the first time in 13 years, look ahead to the second round, beginning Sunday afternoon at 3:30 est. at Madison Square Garden. Awaiting the Knicks is another old foe, the Indiana Pacers. A team whom New York broke even with at 2 games a piece in the regular season, and this is going to be a VERY interesting series. Knicks’ fans who weren’t too fond of seeing the seasoned rival Celtics that have beaten up on the Knicks the past five years, and notorious villain Paul Pierce for six games, will not feel any friendlier toward Indiana and their relentless style of play, getting under an opponents skin, and long past with New York.
It’s actually been a decade now since the Knicks and Pacers started gaining some momentum in what turned out to be one of the most prevalent enemies of the ‘90s, starting with the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals. Reggie Miller was a Knicks assassin the next seven years. Though only getting past New York one time in 2000, Reggie had created innumerable moments that sealed the Pacers as a legitimate nemesis.
Ok, so if that didn’t get your blood boiling, check your pulse and read on. It’s 10 years later, but we can expect an equally physical matchup up between these two teams. Critics have ping ponged all year between who’s the favorite between the Knicks and Indy. Of course, the Knicks sub-.500 stretch of basketball during their 20-21 stretch lost among the middle of the season factors in, while the Pacers looked as if they were going to settle into number two and maybe even catch Miami. Until the Heat went nuts on their winning streak. Finally, New York was the last team to make their own run in March/April and silenced all the doubters who had orange and blue dead in the water. While Indiana percolated a little with New York, the Knicks winning ways continued as the Pacers dropped a few games, ultimately rewarding the Knicks with the number two seed, and home court advantage starting Sunday.
Home crowds will factor into the series tremendously. There is a blatant animosity on both ends of this relationship, from fans to players. JR Smith and Lance Stephenson will quickly escalate into something interesting; While Carmelo Anthony and Paul George look to lead their ball clubs to the Eastern Conference Finals. As I look at the matchups in this series, the Knicks’ ability to go big or small at their leisure will be an issue for the Pacers.
The Pacers are a slow paced team, matching the ideal playoff-tempo, and New York likes to push, when possible, but still take their fair share of threes, mostly off missed rotations due to catching a defense offset in transition. However, the Indiana-New York regular season sort of put up opposite numbers from how each team prefers to play. The Knicks were outscored 59-29 in fast break points during the regular season, including one game with zero. Roy Hibbert credits this to submitting to New York’s style of play.
“ We haven’t played the best against New York. We play a different style of play, for some reason, when we’re home against New York.”
The Knicks may have to adjust their play in order to defeat Indiana four times. The Pacers are another team who is tough on the perimeter and will bully you all night. I know people are already murmuring Indiana is going to stomp us inside, but Indiana has actually allowed teams to shoot 52% this year from five feet or closer. It’s more on the offensive end where they are 56% on average. This series is definitely open the door for Marcus Camby and Amar’e Stoudemire. It is going to be very difficult to keep Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin out of foul trouble against a plethora of tough interior defenders. Tyler Hansbrough even goes by the nickname of Crazy T. Well; we’ll see how crazy he is when he has to matchup with crazy K.
Joking aside, Camby had a few warm up minutes against the Celts, I feel this series is the reason Marcus was coveted as a big pick up for New York this last offseason. He should be a perfect compliment when Tyson has to come out. As for Stoudemire…
Let’s hope that doesn’t continue to be an issue when he returns. His post scoring, though, will be a boost. Mike Woodson is now pointing at game three to be Amar’e’s return date. And if Novak is still out for a game or two, the question remains if Chris Copeland will see the floor anytime soon.
Chris Copeland dropped 20 points in the final meeting of the regular season against Indiana during his April Rookie of the Month campaign, helping the Knicks clinch the two seed. Copeland presents issues for Indiana with a bigger lineup. His quick, basic first step breaks down the Pacers, while his three point shooting spaces the floor.
The emergence of Iman Shumpert against the Celtics was a sight for sore eyes. Shump’s defense dictated bits and pieces of the series, and that’s what the Knicks need to keep this push going. Shumpert will have his hands full with Paul George, but has a chance to change this whole series if he can keep George’s activity level low. Iman averaged 1.8 steals against the Celtics, but showed a significant difference in activity from game three and on.
Carmelo Anthony will be number one on the Pacers hit list. He will be matched up with David West in what is sure to be a physical matchup. Anthony will need to exploit this by running more pick and rolls with Felton. West won’t be comfortable on the perimeter with Anthony, just as Melo will not have fun banging with West on the other end of the ball. But Anthony should be able to roll with the punches as long as his temper stays under control. Anthony is coming into this series second in the playoffs in scoring with 29 points per game.
The Pacers showed at times against Atlanta that they get caught in dry spells when George and Hibbert are taken out of the game. Something the Knicks should look to exploit by trying to go up early in games. This will not be a high scoring series, nor will it be a pretty one. The Knicks are going to have to fight tooth and nail to earn a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. I don’t know how many games this series goes, but I am confident the Knicks take it. They overcame Boston and learned a great deal about what it takes to win, so they should be all braun and business. 12 more wins Knicks fans.
With their backs against the wall tonight in Boston, the Knicks, essentially, have no one to blame but themselves for the pressure that is now on them to win game six. This is going to be the third try to close out Boston, a team running off emotion, heart, and fuel added to the fire by none other than a Knicks team with disappointing comments and actions coming from a team who hasn’t advanced out of the first round in 13 years. Knicks fans have began pointing fingers anxiously in search of the reason why they cannot overcome one more win and the mental aspect of beating the Celtics. The Knicks should win tonight. The pressure is on Carmelo Anthony to deliver. But Boston is not ready to turnover and call it quits. There are a few things the Knicks can do to produce a positive outcome and avoid playing a game seven on Sunday, and there are also some things they must avoid.
Where else is there to start than with the man most of the pressure falls on? Carmelo Anthony has taken a nosedive in production the last two games, and ultimately stagnated the team’s efficiency and production with a lack of ball movement, and too much isolation. Anthony has only six assists in the 208 minutes he has played this series, and 137 attempted shots. We DON’T need any more isolation. Anthony can’t single handedly beat the Celts, but he can leave a significant mark on this game in other aspects besides scoring. Melo, you will get the ball back, your teammates know you are the first option and won’t look to force anything they don’t have. Something the Knicks also DO need is more quick cuts and flashes from Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert on the weak side of the ball looking for layups. Worst case scenario for this, Anthony draws his cutting teammate’s defender and can effectively pass out of a double team, although Anthony’s lack of production has led to less double teaming, which is hurting the rest of the team.
I think it’s safe to say Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert have been two of the best players in the later half of this series. Felton has completely exposed the Celtic’s biggest hole at the guard position, and taken advantage of the opportunity. I believe that the Knicks DO need to run their offense through Felton tonight, and not Anthony. Felton’s 21 points in game six all came from inside the arc. He has also orchestrated some beautiful pick and rolls with Tyson Chandler, which is where the Celtics have a hard time defending the Knicks. The pick and roll is the only way to soften the tight grip of Boston’s perimeter defense on the Knicks, because the defense has no choice but to collapse when there is the threat of a lob to Chandler, or Felton taking it himself. This is when Felton also finds Shumpert in the corner, where Iman has to knock down open threes. We will give Shump a pass, though, for his superior defense in game five. That was probably Shumpert’s most impressive defensive game all year, and we really see his athleticism, at least on defense, back at almost full force, which is a huge boost for the Knicks who will need to take players like Jason Terry out of the game tonight, and win the sixth man battle.
The Knicks’ sixth man will need to show up tonight if they want any chance of ending this series. JR Smith did not hit a shot until the fourth quarter in game six, and was 0-10 at one point. After all the comments made about Jason Terry, we all would of thought Smith was going to come out of the gates blazing, but he just seemed a little too excited and trigger happy. Smith has to get back to the way he was playing in game’s one and two, taking it to the basket and not settling. Credit some of this to Boston’s defense, but ball movement can easily beat their rotations and break down their defense, which JR has been such a catalyst of.
Stay intense of the defense, MOVE THE BALL, and please, stop trash talking. The Celtics have been here before. This Knicks’ team collectively has no playoff resumé and does not yet hold the right to talk until they win a round. I think the whole funereal thing really taught this team a lesson, and put them back in their place. Tonight is going to be a huge test of character, and pride. Will the Knicks lay another egg in Boston and have to play probably the most microscopic game of their season in a do-or-die game seven? Or finish this tonight, and play the way we saw them play all of March and April, like they aren’t scared of anything. Depends on which team shows up. Just finish this tonight, Knicks. We will be rooting for you.
After Wednesday night, it’s easy to view this series as the basketball incarnation of the Red Sox/Yankees playoff series in 2004, where Boston famously overcame New York’s 3-0 lead to win 4-3 on their way to the World Series. Yet, it’s really quite different, in spite of the teams being from the same cities. The differences come from the core differences in the two games. In the series in 2004, winning game five was a crucial turning point for the Sox, because they had Pedro Martinez waiting to pitch game six and Curt Schilling ready to take the mound in game seven. As a result, the Yankees were going to be facing an even better team in games six and seven than they did in game five. The other big difference is that regular season results are much more meaningful in the NBA than they are in baseball.
In game six, the Knicks will be facing the exact same team they faced in the first five games, the Celtics talent isn’t going to be getting any better. In the first four games of this series, and most of the regular season, we had every reason to believe the Knicks were the far superior team. After taking game one by seven and game two by 16, we waited breathlessly to see if things would change in Boston. Yet, New York dominated game three even more thoroughly, though “just” winning by 14.
The momentum changer has been the ejection and subsequent suspension of JR Smith. Things were rolling for New York in game three when he was ejected and they might have won by more than 14 had he stayed in the game. Game four was a golden opportunity for Boston to finally win a game: Smith was out with a suspension, the Celtics were in “win or go home” mode, the Knicks were in “we’re up 3-0 and we’ve got this” mode, plus the game was in Boston. Despite these things and an epically bad 10-35 shooting night from Carmelo Anthony (it’s not merely that he shot 29%, it’s that he took 35 shots on a night that he was shooting 29%!), the Celtics still needed overtime to pull out their first win.
So, after four games, there still seemed little doubt about the outcome. The Knicks had won three games convincingly and the Celtics had managed to steal one game where the sun, the moon and the stars had aligned just right. So how did game five suddenly introduce us to the coming of the Apocalypse?
Unlike game four, this was a game the Knicks were supposed to win: the Knicks would learn from their mistakes in game four, Smith was back in the fold and they were back in the beloved basketball bastion of Madison Square Garden where the Knicks had seemed invincible all season.
The problem was the Knicks knew they were supposed to win. One only needs to look at their pregame trash talk and sartorial antics to see how clear it was to them that this game was theirs for the taking. The Knicks’ incredible hubris was rewarded with a 92-86 loss that wasn’t as close as the score might suggest.
Yet, to suggest that the cost of the Knicks’ hubris will extend to game six and possibly even a game seven is absurd. The reasons that the Knicks won the first three games so convincingly haven’t changed. There were psychological and strategic reasons why New York lost games four and five that just no longer apply. There is no Pedro or Schilling waiting in the wings to bail out the Celtics’ anemic offense. There is a reason why the teams that dominate the NBA regular season typically dominate the playoffs and it applies here. Baseball is all about streaks. If your bats are hot or your pitching is in a funk come October, you can throw out the regular season results in baseball. In the NBA, the coaching, talent and schemes that determined your success in the regular season typically are what will determine the outcome in the postseason.
I cannot imagine that this Knicks team is approaching game six with anywhere near the measure of the overconfidence that they were clearly suffering from in game five. I also can’t imagine we’ll see another game where both teams take 22 three-pointers, yet Boston makes an incredible 11 of them and New York make a mere five of them. The key to games one and two of the series were the defensive adjustments made by Coach Woodson at halftime of those games. After two straight games of miserable offense from one of the NBA’s elite offensive teams, I expect to see Woodson make meaningful adjustments to the New York offense which will be enough to end this series in game six.
Of course, if I’m wrong, this is going to be a long offseason…
Fears of a seemingly inevitable implosion are fair at this point. Losing one game, on the road, to a veteran team facing elimination – well, that’s OK. Losing a second game in a row, on your homecourt – scary. Doing so after self-imposed blustering of what-if sweeps and opponent funerals. Unbearable.
Yes, despite the Knicks’ brazen boasts that tonight would be the end of Celtics’ series, it was quite the opposite. The Knicks are heading into the hostile home of an opponent they’ve let back into a seemingly done-and-dead series. A poor, stagnant offensive performance and too-little-too-late defensive boost put the Knicks in a hole too deep. There were several ill-fated attempts to come back – a few stops, followed by quick free throws or made baskets – but the Celtics had the assassin-like answer for each and everyone of these attempts. Now the Knicks must head up to Boston for Game 6 this Friday and try to steal one or else come back to New York facing the frightening prospects of becoming the first team to lose after leading a series 3-0.
The shocking part of this loss is the way the Knicks cooked their way to an early 11-0 lead. They came out with the clamps on a jumper-happy Boston offense and took advantage of the initial penetration opened up by Raymond Felton-Tyson Chandler pick-and-rolls. A Pablo Prigioni three-pointer, Felton curl and elbow jumper, Iman Shumpert driving layup, Carmelo Anthony blow-by for a dunk – the Knicks’ offense was diverse and seemingly well-oiled. An early regrouping from Boston changed all of that, though.
It began with Brandon Bass leaking out in transition and making smart cuts to the basket off the double-team attention given to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Bass scored nine of the Celtics’ first 11 points and seemed to open the whole thing up. Boston began exploiting mismatches with Garnett and Pierce, they quickened the tempo, moved the ball, and began to get the shots they wanted. Meanwhile, after ‘Melo briefly cooked the Celtics on jumpers and dribble drives, the Knicks got stagnant, plagued especially by a wildly inaccurate J.R. Smith forcing shot attempts.
After beginning 11-0, Boston out-scored the Knicks, 20-11 the rest of the quarter. New York led 22-20 after the first.
The Knicks’ opening quarter lineup (part of a long line of questionable calls from Mike Woodson) hurt them. Kenyon Martin more or less got abused by Garnett, while on offense, the trio of Jason Kidd, Prigioni, and Smith failed to create any flow or momentum. Chandler and Anthony were quickly brought into the game, but the Celtics had already figured out their own attack: a quicker pace, more rapid ball movement, and continually taking advantage of the Knicks’ slow double-teams and poor rotations thereafter.
The Knicks fought for awhile, though. While Anthony and Smith remained ineffective, Felton’s basket-bound barrels were successful, and Chandler fought admirably on the boards to keep possessions alive. However, a late surge by the Celtics, and a collective fart by the Knicks, turned a back-and-forth, one- or two-point game into a sizable lead for Boston.
A turnover by Smith and missed layup, missed layups from Felton and Anthony, a shot-clock violation, in addition to free throws, layup, and a Jason Terry three blew the lead up to seven at the end of the first half. Boston led 46-39.
Despite a far better offensive performance in the third quarter (or at least a better offensive game plan), the Celtics’ offense was just better. Some of it was the Knicks’ fault, as they sent more shaky double-teams and consequently missed rotations, leaving shooters open. Other times, however, no matter, the coverage, the Celtics found a way to beat it. This was especially the case in a few laughable, bang-your-head-against-wall, turn-around, fade-away jumpers from Paul Pierce along the baseline and beyond the arc. Even when the Knicks closed out hard on Jason Terry, the Celtics’ shots were falling. Terry and Pierce combined for 18 of Boston’s 24 third-quarter points.
For the Knicks, the combined ineptitude of Anthony and Smith (who was oddly checked in less than four minutes into the quarter) was unlike anything they’ve demonstrated during the season. No matter the shot, range, or coverage, neither player could find nylon. Instead, the Knicks’ offense came almost solely from the unstoppable dribble penetration of Raymond Felton. Felton, whose been arguably the Knicks’ best player in the series, continued his stellar play by repeatedly torching any Celtic covering him. Off Chandler picks or his own handles, Felton dashed his way to the basket for layups on all angles, earning himself eight points and a lob assist in the quarter.
However, the Knicks closed the quarter poorly again, having not gained any ground on the Celtics, and by leaving Jason Terry open for another three-pointer, which he sank. Boston led 69-60 going into the fourth quarter.
Things got worse before they even got marginally better. From the end of the third quarter to the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, the Knicks didn’t score a point. On field goal attempts alone, the Knicks’ play-by-play at the start of the quarter goes as follows:
Smith 3pt shot: missed, Kidd driving jump shot: missed, Anthony driving layup shot: missed, Smith step back jump shot: missed.
Meanwhile, six quick points for the Celtics, punctuated by a slam by Jeff Green put the Knicks’ in a 15-point hole. The Knicks’ comeback attempts in response were highlighted by suddenly staunch defense led by Shumpert. Though the Celtics’ own suddenly lackluster offense helped the Knicks’ cause, Shumpert played
aggressive nay, ferocious, tight defense on Pierce, prompting other Knicks to increase ball pressure and attack the glass hard. Though New York’s offense never untangled itself, they drew fouls, stopped the clock, and tried to trickle away the lead with free throws.
However, the attempts were for naught. Several times the Knicks chipped away at the lead, but the Celtics had answers. First, after cutting it to eight points, a Brandon Bass spinning layup and Terry three pushed it back to 13. Later, back-to-back Jeff Green three-pointers kept the Celtics lead at 12. Then, when the Knicks made it a five-point game from quick baskets by ‘Melo and Smith, Garnett answered with a mid-range jumper with less than a minute to go.
- There’s a lot of debate as to whether the Knicks’ funeral talk and wearing black to a game really affected anything. To me, it had a psychological effect on the Celtics and it relaxed New York too much. Trash-talking with such bravado doesn’t have a place in a 3-1 series, especially for a team that hasn’t gotten out of the first round in over a decade.
- Carmelo Anthony’s shot was astray after the first quarter, but his aggressiveness waned, too. At times, he forced, and other times, he was too reluctant to attack. Over the last two games, he’s a combined 18-59 from the field – 30.5%.
- Let’s quickly acknowledge Felton. 21 points, 10-19 FG, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 TOs. He’s been the best Knick in this series, but that’s not the formula for winning. He needs to be the second or third best player, and Anthony and Smith haven’t stepped up.
- And yeah, hey, maybe a little less J.R. Smith? Perhaps he was rusty, just out-of-rhythm, or really, plain sucky – either way, Smith just brutalized the Knicks during his time on the floor. His shots almost never came in any kind of flow, and his 0-11 start was bringing up sour memories of a John Starks performance I don’t need to go to any length to explain. His third basket – one of three – came in the final seconds with the game’s fat already sealed.
- There was a post-game near-scuffle. Jordan Crawford – he of the DNP-CD tonight – can go back to the hole he crawled from. Luckily, the incident didn’t amount to anything.
- Hey, the Knicks’ bench was a combined -38 tonight!
- Marcus Camby played 58 seconds and he tipped a shot in. #SilverLinings
- Shumpert, in my opinion, played his best defense of his season tonight. He looked quick on his feet, hands-y, strong getting over screens, bumping players on dribble drives, and while he finished with 3 steals, he nearly came up with about three or four others on 50-50 balls. #ShumpertLinings
That’s it for now. Game 6 in Boston on Friday will not be a sane time or place for me and many other Knicks fans, I imagine.
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.
The last time New York was up three games to nothing in a playoff series, a series only consisted of five games back in 2000, against the Toronto Raptors. New York has displayed stellar defense throughout the series, including tonight with a 90-76 victory over the Boston Celtics.
As soon as it seemed to begin going in New York’s favor, the foot remained on the petal for the rest of the first half, holding the Celtics to 31 points after two quarters of basketball. Pablo Prigioni gave the starting lineup an enormous lift out of the gate and has a definite impact on the game now that he is healthy, which has been displayed all throughout April. Prigs hit three three-pointers in the first half finishing the game with nine points, while preventing the ball from sticking on anyone for too long.
Boston opened the game with momentum, as expected, but the Knicks didn’t let the Celtics hang around for long leading by five after the first, and 47-31 by halftime. Anthony did struggle starting the game, but not for long going 7-12 in the second half after 5-13 in the first. Paul Pierce has steadily disappeared throughout the series, and continued to be invisible tonight, shooting 40% from the field. If you ask me, tonight was the nail in the coffin of the big Pierce-Garnett era in Boston.
Kevin Garnett quietly grabbed 17 rebounds in 34 minutes, way more of an impact than he’s had in the first two games. But Boston hasn’t been able to get any consistency out of any of their players in the same game. 17 turnovers also didn’t help out an offensive-depleted Celtics team that surrendered 11 fast break points. JR Smith was ejected on a flagrant two foul five minutes into the fourth quarter for elbowing Jason Terry in the head. Smith finished with 15 points in 24 minutes. Steve Novak looked like he finally learned how to hit a shot in playoff basketball with two difficult three pointers; we even got the see the Discount Triple Check in a playoff game! When reserves like Novak are able to contribute, the Knicks are extremely difficult to beat.
The Knicks will look to complete their first sweep since 2000 Sunday afternoon. A sweep of the Boston Celtics would mark the beginning of a new era in the Atlantic Division. Boston’s core is aged, while the rest of their team is covered by inexperienced youth. It would also give a HUGE momentum boost to New York heading into a probable second round matchup vs. Indiana. The practice time and rest between a quick round could be the perfect time to implement Amar’e Stoudemire into the rotation for the second round, assuming he stands where he tells us he is health-wise. I’m sure the Knicks aren’t even looking that far ahead from what they’ve displayed this year.
From Madison Square Garden, to TD Bank Garden, game three tonight is not going to be any stroll in the park, or should we say garden. Carmelo Anthony and company are prepared for a hostile environment and rejuvenated Boston squad playing at home for the first time since the Boston marathon bombings a little less than two weeks ago. The Celtics should have their work cut out for them again, especially on the offensive end, where they have produced a total of only 48 points in two-second halves against New York. Through the first two games for the Knicks, the level of intensity on defense is reminiscent of November when it was difficult for teams to put up 90 points. And this was without Kenyon Martin. So, there is a great deal to look forward to tonight as we get ready for an 8:00pm est. tipoff, lets give some of the essential factors in tonight’s matchup a rundown.
Keep an eye on Tyson Chandler who is working towards getting his legs back underneath himself. Chandler was beginning to look back in form down the stretch of game two with a big block on Avery Bradley, but still looks a little out of place on offense. I’m looking for Tyson to make himself more of a factor tonight in the pick & roll to help free up the perimeter if the defense decides to collapse on a rolling Chandler.
Doc Rivers is sick of the officiating so far, especially with Kevin Garnett. The NBA recently hit Doc with a $25,000 fine after game two for criticizing the referees. Rivers is a coaching wizard and the Knicks are probably just as aware of that. Expect adjustments from the Celtics to try and get Garnett going in this series. Although, there is speculation Garnett is playing through some pain, so could we see fewer minutes tonight for KG?
Paul Pierce is a different animal at home, and will carry the entire workload if Garnett gets caught in foul trouble once again. Pierce has presented an interesting mismatch for New York, who is being guarded by a smaller Raymond Felton. However, Felton does a great job of fighting over screens to harass Pierce and at most, slows down an extremely efficient scorer. The Celtics’ success tonight will be measured by how well their bench can play. Bench players are found to be more comfortable at home, so the Knicks should be prepared to keep scoring droughts and fast breaks to a minimum.
A little more scoring wouldn’t hurt. Steve Novak and Chris Copeland have each played about six to eight meaningful minutes in games one and two, but have essentially been non factors. A positive five minutes from each resulting in a few three pointers could be the difference in a close game on the road. Boston will try to keep the tempo exactly where it’s been, and the crowd will get into it early. Stealing tonight’s game from under the Celtics would presumably end the series going up three games to nothing, a deficit yet to be overcome by any NBA team. It would also make the burden of taking one game on the road less heavy, still being able to come back home and win the series in New York, if the series gets that far.
The last playoff game played against Boston, in Boston, Carmelo Anthony scored 42 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in a loss for the Knicks. Hopefully the output remains the same, but we can reverse the outcome. At least this year there’s no Jared Jefferies to attempt a game wining layup for us.
The New York Knicks will head up to Boston with a 2-0 lead over the Celtics. For the second straight game, the Knicks used a big second half, highlighted by stingy defense and efficient offense, to put the Celtics away, and seal the victory. After withstanding a strong second quarter from the Celtics, New York came out with a palpable, contagious energy to propel themselves to a double-digit lead. Led by Raymond Felton’s dribble penetration and Carmelo Anthony’s sudden precision from the field, the Knicks offense launched them back into the lead. Their stern defense, however, all but shut the Celtics down as Boston’s one-and-done arrhythmic jumpers continually clanged off the rim to the sound of their own flat-lining.
The series is far from over, especially as Boston returns to a vigorous home crowd, but for now, the Knicks are sitting pretty having dutifully protected their home-court advantage.
Both teams sputtered out of the gate, afflicted by their own general incompetence on both ends of the floor and some quick, continuous whistles from the referees. Noticeable immediately for the Knicks, however, was a seemingly more mobile Tyson Chandler and the return of Pablo Prigioni. In the early going, Chandler and the Knicks controlled the boards and Prigioni’s presence seemed to ease the Knicks stagnation on offense.
Said stagnation had a lot to do with the Celtics’ ability to blow up pick-and-rolls and Carmelo Anthony’s insistence on posting/facing up on defenders and settling for mid-range jumpers. When he attacked the basket – which he did at a decent rate – he was able to get to the free throw line, collecting critical fouls on the Celtic starters in the process. Raymond Felton got off to a good start, however, knocking down his first three-pointers of the game and turning the corner on screens to get to the paint for his own hoops or on kick-outs to teammates.his
J.R. Smith stole the show, though. Fresh off winning Sixth Man of the Year, Smith checked in, promptly dribbled the ball for ten seconds, passed up on passing, and opted for a double-pump, step-back jumper that hardly hit nylon. Smith continued his antics throughout the quarter, nailing more of his favorite fade-away jumpers, and spinning to the rack, and dumping off a beautiful pass for Kenyon Martin for the open slam. He punctuated it all by hitting one more deep jumper with six seconds to go, then forcing Paul Pierce into a turnover, and nailing a 30-foot three-pointer as time expired.
New York led 26-20 after the first quarter.
Through two games, so far, the Knicks have had one let-down quarter. In Game 1, it was the third quarter; in Game 2, it was the second. With most of the starters resting, the Knicks’ bench failed to generate momentum on offense while letting the Celtics get on a roll of their own. Smith’s magic seemed to run out, and Boston’s fortress-like defense forced the Knicks into a series of bad looks. On the other end, Boston pushed the pace, spread the floor, and punished the Knicks’ porous defense.
The turning point came early in the quarter with New York up five. A shot clock violation on the Knicks led to a basket by Jordan Crawford, followed up by a bad pass from Jason Kidd, and a jumper from Avery Bradley. Kenyon Martin turned the ball over on the ensuing possession which led to another layup from Bradley. Two missed jumpers in a row from Smith sandwiched a turn-around jumper from Kevin Garnett. To cap it all off, after yet another turnover, Jason Terry sank a pull-up three. Just like that, New York’s lead had been squandered into a four-point Boston lead.
Things didn’t get much better. Anthony checked back in and isolated and jab-stepped himself into a bevy of contested, missed jumpers. The Celtics kept coming on offense, ballooning their lead to nine twice as Paul Pierce took advantage of his sizable matchups with New York’s guards. The Knicks did a solid job closing the quarter, however, by rallying off five quick points so that they only trailed 48-42 at halftime.
Game 1 third quarter :: Game 2 second quarter as Game 1 fourth quarter :: _______ . You guessed it! The Knicks used a pivotal third quarter, just as they used a pivotal fourth quarter in Game 1 to recapture the game.
It began with Iman Shumpert knocking down two consecutive three-pointers to tie the game up. Later, after some free throws by ‘Melo, bedeviling the Celtics into foul trouble, a Felton drive put the Knicks up two. And the train kept-a-rollin’ from there. Prigioni and Chandler ran a pick-and-roll to get Chandler a layup and a foul (his only basket of the game). Anthony joined in on the fun, canning a three-pointer and then a posting up Jeff Green and hitting a difficult turn-around jumper along the baseline. Felton capped things off with crossover to get in the lane, pull-up, and hit a little floater. Just like that, New York’s 23-4 run to kick things off put them up ten, deflated the Celtics, and set the Garden crowd ablaze.
The defense was the key, though. Part of it was the Celtics’ own lack of energy, but the Knicks’ rotations were crisp all night, and in the third, their individual defense was on point. Boston tried to run their offense through Kevin Garnett, and while Chandler was slightly immobile against smaller players driving to the hoop, on Garnett’s post-ups, face-ups, and jumpers, Chandler contested very well. Boston became careless with the ball, and soon the whole team was thrown into an inescapable funk as the Knicks constricted tighter and tighter.
Anthony capped the Knicks’ explosive quarter by blowing by Garnett on a switch, and taking it to the rim for a dunk. The Knicks led 74-59 at the end of the third quarter.
The Knicks’ third quarter diligence did them well as they were able to sort of cruise through the fourth. One frightful stretch began with Steve Novak’s inability to cover Jordan Crawford, who scored five quick points, along with a Pierce three to cut the lead to nine. The Knicks rebounded quickly, however.
‘Melo flipped the switch again and splashed the net on three straight jumpers, mostly off the catch. The quick flurry all but eliminated Boston’s chances of coming back. More turnovers led to exciting moments like a Felton-Smith alley-oop on the break to put the Knicks back up 13. Kenyon Martin provided his fair share of excitement and tenacity with crowd-pleasing swats into the stands and his ensuing war cries.
Mike Woodson replaced Kidd, Anthony, and Felton in the last three or four minutes of the quarter and sent out the bench squad to ride out the victory. The crowd gave a thankful ovation as the Knicks took a 2-0 series lead over their long-time tormentors.
- The Knicks have now allowed a total of 48 points in the second halves of these two playoff games. 48. As our friend Jared Dubin points out, the Knicks’ second half defensive efficiency is 55.6, which would be the best, like, ever.
- Though Carmelo Anthony (34 points, 11-24 FG) and J.R. Smith (19 points, 7-15 FG) had the two explosive nights, I thought Raymond Felton was the key factor. In the first half, Felton was tentative to drive the lane, and was overly passive trying to distribute the ball. In the second half, Felton attacked the paint with gusto, and didn’t make, seemingly, a single mistake with the ball. He finished with 16 points on 8-15 FG, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and zero turnovers.
- Despite getting dunked on in the final 30 seconds of the third quarter, Kevin Garnett finished his third quarter by setting a very illegal, rough screen on Shumpert (didn’t get called), and then blocked Shumpert at the rim at the buzzer, and continued his constant barking. This made the Knicks’ double-digit comeback, and the Garden crowd’s “KG sucks” chants all the more delightful.
- Though the defense suffers because a guard is forced to cover Paul Pierce, it appears the Knicks’ only shot at running semi-fluid offense over the Celtics’ stern defense is to play two point guards at a time. The only real exception to this was the Knicks’ giant run to start the third quarter, though.
Th Knicks have two days off before playing the Celtics in Boston on Friday night. It’s somewhat expected that the Knicks will lose a game in Boston, but winning Game 3 would be very important to closing out the series. Historically, the team up 3-0 in the playoffs in the NBA, has won the series 100% of the time.
After the Knicks got off to a hot start at the beginning of the season, it was popular to discuss what a great candidate for Coach of the Year Mike Woodson would make. When the Knicks cooled off over the course of a mediocre midseason, so did the COY talk. Now New York has ended the season even hotter than it began and won its first Atlantic Division title in 19 years, yet Woodson remains out of the COY conversation in many experts‘ circles. I decided to take a close look at his candidacy.
There is a strong COY narrative for almost every team in the playoffs this season. The two biggest exceptions to this are the Lakers and the Bucks. After acquiring all-stars at two key positions, the Lakers were expected to challenge for the best record in the NBA. Finishing as the 7th seed in the West is too big of a disappointment to foster any serious COY talk for Mike D’Antoni. Sure, the Bucks made the playoffs, but finishing with a losing record is too much to overcome for any serious COY talk. So, as we take a look at whether Woodson should be the COY, I’ll be comparing him to the other 13 playoff coaches.
There are five major criteria commonly used for evaluating if a coach would make a good COY candidate.
- Team performance compared to the previous season. If a team’s record has a big spike in wins from the previous year, this is a huge point in favor of their coach.
- Team performance compared to pre-season expectations. Various things happen during the offseason that clearly hurt a team or improve a team. Much like the Lakers, this creates an expectation for the team’s performance (for better or worse) that may have little to do with the previous year’s results.
- Overcoming adversity. Some teams face greater challenges to achieving success than others. This usually comes in the form of injuries to key players and major losses via free agency.
- Demonstrating high level coaching technique. One thing that sets the best coaches apart from their brethren is elite technique and innovation. This often takes the form of formulating offenses and defenses best suited to personnel and finding ways to take advantage of major NBA trends, as well as starting trends using innovative methodology.
- Player development. Some coaches are just better at getting the best performance from their players. When a veteran player suddenly has a career year or a younger player suddenly blossoms, often much of the credit is due to good coaching.
Let’s see how our candidates stack up using these criteria.
Team performance compared to the previous season. This is the easiest one to measure. Normally, you could just compare the number of wins, but not this time, since last season was strike shortened to 66 games, instead of the usual 82. This is solved by using winning percentage and then measuring the increase or decrease in percentage from last season to this one. Five of our candidates actually led their teams to a worse performance this season than last season:
- Pacers -4%
- Spurs -6%
- Hawks -6%
- Celtics -8%
- Bulls -20%
This should be a serious obstacle to the COY prospects of these coaches, especially Tom Thibodeau. On the opposite end, there were five coaches that led their teams to a double digit improvement in winning percentage:
- Heat +10%
- Knicks +11%
- Nuggets +12%
- Warriors +22%
- Nets +27%
Based on our first criteria, this makes Erik Spoelstra, Mike Woodson, George Karl, Mark Jackson and PJ Carlesimo our COY frontrunners. Probably the two biggest surprises to me here are the Heat and the Nets. After winning it all last season, who knew there was room for the Heat to improve their record by 10%? This season they won an astonishing 80% of their games. The Nets are surprising because there is an absolute lack of COY buzz for Carlesimo, despite the astronomical 27% improvement. Avery Johnson actually led them to a mediocre 14-14 record at the beginning of the season, before Carlesimo replaced him and turned their season around. If you were to just consider the games coached by Carlesimo, the improvement from last season jumps to 32%. Shockingly, there is even talk about replacing Carlesimo this offseason.
Another thing to consider along these lines is the improvement shown by New York last season when Woodson replaced D’Antoni midseason. The Knicks were actually 18-24 under D-Antoni, but finished an impressive 18-6 under Woodson. If you to compare this season’s winning percentage to just last season’s record under D’Antoni, the improvement dramatically increases to 23%. Clearly New York responds much better to Woodson’s guidance than they have done to any of their other recent coaches. The Knicks won 66% of their games this season. The last time they did as well was 16 years ago, when they won 70% of their games with the guidance of Jeff Van Gundy and featured the talents of Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, Charles Oakley and John Starks.
Team performance compared to preseason expectations. For this criterion I scoured the internet for preseason NBA ranking and in incredibly scientific fashion, I chose the first three that I could find to work with: ESPN, Fox Sports and Hoopsworld. I averaged the preseason rankings of the 14 teams in question and compared them to their actual order of finish based on record. Two of the teams actually did worse than predicted. The Pacers finished eighth, after being ranked seventh in the preseason rankings and the Celtics finished 16th, after being ranked fourth. This is probably explains the lack of COY buzz for Doc Rivers and is a definite strike against Frank Vogel’s candidacy. The Heat showed zero improvement to their preseason ranking of first, but it’s pretty impressive that they lived up to that ranking.
Four teams showed an improvement of five spots or more from their preseason ranking.
- Knicks +5 (12th to 7th)
- Nuggets +5 (10th to 5th)
- Warriors +8 (17th to 9th)
- Rockets +14 (24th to 10th)
Given how dramatically the Rockets have exceeded expectations, it’s a pretty big surprise that Kevin McHale isn’t getting any COY buzz. The James Harden trade isn’t an excuse either, since the preseason rankings were posted after he was acquired. To be fair, it’s not that the Rocket’s made a big improvement to last year’s winning percentage (just +3%); it’s more that they avoided the collapse that many “experts” expected from them this year. The other surprise is just how high the expectations were for the Nets, considering their 33% winning percentage last year. They finished with the NBA’s ninth best record, but they were predicted to finish 10th.
After two criteria, four pretty clear leaders are starting to emerge: Spoelstra, Woodson, Karl and Jackson.
Overcoming adversity. Injuries to major stars were a pretty common occurrence throughout the NBA this season. The exception seemed to be the teams that experienced better health than most. This criterion is probably one of the things hurting Jackson’s COY credentials. His only major rotation player to miss more than four games was Andrew Bogut, and not only was he not on the team last season, they knew he would miss the beginning of this season when they traded for him. Last season their best player, Stephen Curry missed half the season, David Lee missed nine games (out of just 66) and Monta Ellis only played 37 games before being traded for Bogut, who played zero games. Thus it’s easy to attribute much of Golden State’s improvement to just having healthy star players in their lineup this season, rather than to elite coaching.
This is a point that also fails to work in Spoelstra’s favor. Not only did the Big Three only miss an average of eight games apiece (out of 82), but they also added more weapons this season, in the form of Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Chris Anderson. So it’s pretty hard to argue that the Heat had to overcome any major obstacles this season, other than the pressure of high expectations.
Denver has faced slightly more adversity, with Ty Lawson missing nine games, Danilo Gallinari missing 11 games and Wilson Chandler missing almost half the season. Though one could make the case missing a player to injury is less of a big deal for the Nuggets, since their rotation featured nine players that averaged 18 minutes or more and zero all stars.
New York on the other hand, has had to face a constantly changing roster of available personnel, with frequent injuries to key players. Their best player, Carmelo Anthony, missed 15 games, their starting point guard Raymond Felton 14, their starting center Tyson Chandler 16 and starting wing Iman Shumpert missed almost half the season. This is in addition to all-star big man Amare Stoudemire starting and ending the season with major injuries and only playing 29 games. Yet somehow Woodson not only kept things together, he led New York to their best season in 16 years.
Demonstrating high level coaching technique. This criterion is obviously more subjective than the previous three. One could argue that any coach that has a team do well is meeting this criterion. While I’m not going to try to argue against other coaches’ ability in this category, I will make the case in favor of Woodson. Two of the biggest ways to show a high level of coaching mastery are to adapt your offense and defense to your personnel and to be a successful innovator. Woodson shines in both of these ways. After developing a reputation in Atlanta as a defensive guru with a relatively simple isolation heavy offense that somewhat eschewed three-pointers, Woodson has completely reinvented himself and in the process, the Knicks, this season.
New York has become a team built around a complex, innovative and highly efficient offense. One of the more revealing stats relating to this is New York’s three-pointer to turnover differential of -97. This may not seem that impressive until you realize to what a degree this number led the league. In the case of the 2nd best team in this regard, the Miami Heat, they had a differential of -426! The best previous differential in NBA history was the 2005-06 Suns, who were -251. So New York’s -97 shatters the previous understanding of how much teams turn the ball over in relation to making three-pointers. This is in part due to personnel changes and in significant part to how Woodson has shaped the offense.
Woodson leaned heavily on small lineups, often with as many as three excellent ball-handlers and typically with at least two point guards on the floor at all times. This resulted in New York leading the NBA in fewest turnovers per game. In addition, Woodson has suddenly completely embraced the three point shot as a weapon, usually having four high percentage perimeter shooters on the floor at all times spacing the floor, rotating the ball and using a series of screens to set up a barrage of open three-pointers. This has led to the Knicks not only leading the league in made three-pointers, but setting an NBA record for made threes in a season. Woodson developed an offense and a defense tailored to his personnel and to the changing face of the NBA. While his innovative, constantly rotating and switching defense hasn’t always been effective, when it clicks it’s very effective, and it may well be ahead of its time.
Player development. This is another area where Woodson shines. With the oldest roster in the NBA, you wouldn’t expect too many pleasant surprises from the roster. Best case scenario, you would think players would perform to their best previous levels of performance. Yet after nine years in the league Anthony suddenly had the best season of his already impressive career. After eight seasons, JR Smith is suddenly playing like the superstar that many had finally given up in him ever becoming. Raymond Felton’s scoring and FG% are much improved from last season. Chris Copeland has gone from playing in Belgium last season to averaging nine points a game and shooting 48%. These are stats that aren’t inflated by a Mike D’Antoni style pace either. These Knicks play at the 26th slowest pace in the NBA, yet Melo still led the league in scoring.
So, while it wouldn’t be a travesty if someone like Erik Spoelstra or George Karl won the Coach of the Year, I submit that the correct choice for the honor is Mike Woodson, as he shines in every major criterion for selecting a COY. Now let’s hope the actual voters agree.