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.
Boy how quickly things can turn in the playoffs. It took an overall combined effort for about three quarters for the Knicks to cap off the Pacers, until the floodgates opened in the fourth quarter for New York. This was a true game of runs, ending with a 36-4 run by the Knicks to end the game and take the win 105-79. This is now essentially a five game series now that things are once again even at one game apiece, and the Knicks’ home court advantage down the drain. So, as it’s been all post season, New York is taking the post-season one game at a time, deservingly owning the Pacers tonight and being rewarded with three days off to recoup a battered and tattered front line. There were many positives shown tonight the Knicks should build off going forward.
Where we stand as of now is pretty certain, small ball works. However, it flourishes only when the Pacers play at the Knicks pace and Indiana is not able to get Roy Hibbert and David West settled on the block. The tandem was held to a combined 19 points, ultimately the difference between game one and two. Paul George was the only consistent threat for Indiana on the night, scoring 20 points. Fortunately, the Knicks had an answer every time the Pacers took an inch, even going up by one late in the third before the Knicks unleashed for 33 fourth quarter points. This one was seemingly over, and everyone knew it, when Carmelo Anthony regained his touch.
In the first half, Anthony looked to be heading for another dismal shooting night going 4-11 in the first half. After halftime, Melo uplifted his performance and finished out the game 9-15 including 11 fourth quarter points, and leaving Anthony with his highest shooting percentage this post season at 50%. He finished the game with 32 points, the game-high scorer.
The Knicks and Pacers will now have three days to rest before the series shifts to Indiana. This will be good for the Knicks who are beat up and could use a day or two. Unlike a young team in Indiana, who would rather prefer to continue playing every other day and maintaining their rhythm. Anthony now has time to rest his shoulder, and Tyson Chandler can take some precautionary rest for his neck. If the Knicks team that showed up tonight can be the same team that comes into Indiana, the Pacers will have their hands full the rest of the series.
Rightfully so, the criticism of the Pacers’ offense is distinctly obvious. Their lack of a go-to guy is what causes them to spatter on offense, as they did against Atlanta in the first round. Paul George is not quite there yet, and unless Hibbert is constantly involved, he is not a reliable threat under the basket.
Nightly notable: Carmelo Anthony finally broke out of his slump with his 32 points. His performance really uplifted the spirit of the team as they rallied behind his heroics in the fourth. We are unsure as this point how serious of a problem his shoulder really is, but it didn’t look to affect Anthony when the game was on the line. Hopefully this long rest will do him, and the rest of the team well.
The X-Factor: Pablo Prigioni, in 20 minutes, finished with 10 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Prigs replaced Felton late in the third quarter and was the catalyst of the Knicks massive run, causing turnovers, hitting shots, and moving the ball.
Standout Stat: The Knicks won the rebounding margin for the first time in the series 37-35. Indiana also committed 21 turnovers to New York’s seven. This was all crucial in opening up the transition game for the Knicks.
Play of the night: Iman Shumpert had a monster, one-handed putback slam in the second quarter. Probably the most impressive slam by Shump all year.
What do we take away from this game? The Knicks maintained their defensive intensity for 48 minutes and had 11 steals. But they are still lacking a post presence. Amar’e Stoudemire hopes to change that on Saturday. STAT is slabbed to suit up for game three and with any luck, vitalize the offensive post for the Knicks with anywhere from 10-15 minutes off the bench. This will also help New York to manage Indiana’s depth in the front court. The more bodies they have to wrestle down low, the better off they will be trying to detain the Pacer bigs.
Lastly, I just have to rave about Iman Shumpert very quickly. He has gotten better with each passing game on both ends of the floor. His intensity on defense has been unmatched so far in the playoffs, and his offensive ability to slash and hit open threes is quietly becoming a consistent threat. Games like this are games that make me wonder how high this Knicks’ team’s ceiling really is.
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.
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.
Yeahhhh I’m talking Melo. Yeahhhh I’m talking Tyson/
And that’s a gold medal. Amar’e, he known to spike it/
And we got Thomas. Went back and copped Felton/
Mixed Prigioni with Jason and ohhhhh Lord help ‘em/
If you told me Iman Shumpert was a member of the throwback ’90s Knicks, and was re-joining his former locker room pals Camby and Kurt, I would be inclined to forget he was drafted in 2011 and believe you.
There’s no denying Shump has an unmistakable love for that #post90s attitude. He’s arrogant; He’s cocky; He talks trash; He steps to guys’ faces; He gets technical fouls for staring down opponents after yam’ing home a vicious poster dunk. Simply, he’s awesome.
But, our tower-haired guard has notedly regressed from the promise and potential he dazzled us with since the unofficial Lockout Summer League in Las Vegas two summers ago. A wonky, roller-coaster season culminated in a somber and inglorious first-round-Game-1 exit via ACL tear for Shump. His rookie campaign was over, and questions loomed about his future. Having already sustained a knee injury in his 22nd minute of official NBA action, Shump now needed surgery to repair damaged ligaments.
And it sucked.
New York Knicks fans have an undying fetish for “homegrown” talent. It’s why we fell in love with Wilson Chandler. It’s why we fell in love with Danilo Gallinari. Shit, we even gloated over Timofey effin’ Mozgov enough to propel him as the “make or break” asset in a trade deal to net the eventual 2013 scoring champ. So, when the Knicks drafted Iman Shumpert, while later jettisoning Landry Fields and Jeremy Lin, it became clear: THIS is our future.
Much to our pleasure, however, Shump has gradually rounded back to form during a sophomore season in which his head coach still refers to him as “rook” (he’s the youngest member of the Knicks by a 5-year margin and 9 years younger than the average team age of 31). Shump is back to doing general Shumpy things. He’s peppered flashes of his otherworldly athleticism with beguiling slashes along the baseline and nifty finishes at the rim. He’s honed a questionable jumper with fluid form mechanics and has become somewhat of a corner three specialist. He’s back to playing that stingy on-ball perimeter defense that enamored us to him in the first place. Simply, he’s awesome again.
Leg cramp in game 82 of the regular season aside, Shump will look to be a key component for the Knicks in the Playoffs. His corner three will probably be more valuable to a trigger-happy squad than his defense at this point, and realistically, he’s not shutting down Dwayne Wade, should New York meet Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Still, Shump is Shumpin’ again. Is anyone messing with his Knicks? We will find out shortly.
In the meantime, quit hating on the hair, haters.
- A morale destroying losing streak.
- Major injuries to multiple key stars.
- A reserve guard suddenly putting up MVP type numbers.
- A surprising seven game winning streak led by some unexpected heroes.
The Knicks’ current winning streak isn’t their only impressive win streak this season, but it’s the one that most reminds me of the history making seven game win streak they went on last season, now better known as “Linsanity”. Let’s start with a look back.
February 4, 2012. Coach Mike D’Antoni and his Knicks were desperate. After starting off the strike shortened season an encouraging 6-4, the wheels had seemingly come off the Knicks’ season. New York had just lost to the Boston Celtics, their eleventh loss in 13 games. Now, the Knickerbockers’ record stood at 8-15, with thoughts of making the playoffs rapidly seeming like a pipe dream. After missing the playoffs for six straight years, the Knicks had made it back in 2011. Now it looked like they would be going back to their losing ways in 2012.
Yet, February 4 was the day things changed. With point guard Baron Davis unavailable due to injury, D’Antoni had been trying to get by using Iman Shumpert and Toney Douglas to run the show without success. Douglas had lost D’Antoni’s confidence and Shumpert was both playing out of position and playing too many minutes. Out of other options, D’Antoni had given six minutes of playing time to journeyman point guard Jeremy Lin against the Celts. Lin was solid but unspectacular, yet D’Antoni was happy enough with solid to get Lin into the game sooner the next night against the New Jersey Nets. Lin was ready. As Lin started piling up points and assists, D’Antoni took notice and left him out there for almost 36 minutes as Jeremy put up 25 points and seven assists. That night, the Knicks beat the Nets 99-92 and everything changed.
The discovery of a good point guard buried at the end of the bench was somewhat muted by the loss of Amare Stoudemire, hurt in the New Jersey game. If this wasn’t bad enough, the Knicks lost another key star, Carmelo Anthony, the very next night against Utah. At this point, D’Antoni was willing to try almost anything and he’d shoved Lin into the starting lineup and reached down to the end of the bench for another journeyman, forward Steve Novak. Novak had struggled so far that season and only played a total of four seconds in the two previous games. Yet this night he played over 17 minutes and as the Jazz defense collapsed to try and deal with the penetration of Lin, he found himself getting open and thanks in part to Lin, getting the ball. Novak made the most of this opportunity and went five of eight from deep.
With that, Linsanity was on. Lin and Tyson Chandler led a cast of second and third tier players to seven straight victories, with Novak coming off the bench and blazing away from almost as deep as he had been buried on the bench.
No one expected anything similar to happen this season. The main reason was because this time the Knicks had loaded up pretty much their entire roster full of aging veterans, with the plus and minus of them being known quantities, so the Knicks’ at least knew the ceiling of what they could likely expect from each of them. Last season’s roster featured nine players with five years or less of NBA experience. This year, the Knicks’ have only four, and two of those players, Pablo Prigioni and James White, are in their thirties. Last season, the Knicks included seven players 27 or younger, this season they only have one, the 22 year-old Shumpert.
While this may give New York a better shot at winning big this season, it does limit the number of pleasant surprises possible from their roster. There is less discovering new young talent like Lin, and more discovering nagging injuries and players losing a step from advanced age.
March 18, 2013. Coach Mike Woodson and the Knicks were desperate. They were reeling from a crushing four game losing streak where New York lost by an average of 20 points a game. Added to this were injuries to all three of New York’s front court superstars: Chandler, Anthony and Stoudemire. Suddenly, hosting a first round playoff series wasn’t looking like such a lock, never mind winning the Atlantic Division title.
March 18 was the day things changed. With the injuries to his stars, Woodson had been mixing and matching various starting lineups, frantically trying to find a winning combination. This night he unveiled his third different lineup in as many games: Prigioni, Shumpert, Raymond Felton, Chris Copeland and Kenyon Martin. Despite playing on the road, the second night of a back-to-back against a Jazz team fighting for its playoff life, the Knicks broke their losing streak with a 90-83 victory. News of the victory was tempered by the news that Kurt Thomas had joined the bevy of injured Knicks and would be out indefinitely.
Fortunately, the Knicks were able to trade up by getting Melo back in the lineup for their next game. With a small starting lineup of Melo, Shumpert, Prigioni, Martin and Felton, the Knicks have put together their longest winning streak of the season, currently at seven and counting.
While Jeremy Lin’s emergence was clearly the biggest impetus to last season’s seven game win streak, it certainly wasn’t the only reason for it. There were other big stories as well: the emergence of Steve Novak and terrific defensive efforts from Chandler, Shumpert, Landry Fields and Jared Jefferies.
There are several major reasons for this win streak as well. Returning home to Madison Square Garden, getting Melo back in the lineup and playing some relatively weak teams certainly have helped, but that only begins to tell the story. While Melo has made a strong contribution, these games haven’t been up to the standard of excellence that he’s set earlier this season. Instead, much of the credit for the Knicks’ surprising turnaround have to go to new starters Martin and Prigioni, along with elevated play from Shumpert and perhaps most of all: JR Smith.
In some ways Kenyon Martin and Pablo Prigioni are this season’s much older version of Lin and Novak. Martin has spent most of the season unsuccessfully trying to get a team to take a flyer on him and Prigioni has spent most of the season buried on the Knicks’ bench. Martin has averaged 11 points and six rebounds a game during the streak, after basically being a garbage heap pickup for a Knicks’ team with every post player on their roster out with injuries. Those stats only tell part of the story. The 6’9” Martin has been playing out of position at center, bringing rugged hard-nosed defense every night while shooting 62% from the field.
Prigioni has also come out of obscurity to be a steadying presence in the starting lineup. It’s not a coincidence that these seven wins have also been his first seven starts of the season. Having a second point guard on the floor with Felton has increased New York’s ball movement and security. During the streak he has an impressive assist/turnover ratio of 25 to 3. Prigioni’s pesky defensive presence has also added to the improved defense that has been a key part of this streak.
Iman Shumpert has started to look more like his old self during the streak. After taking what seemed like an eternity to regain his form after returning to the lineup from last season’s injury, he’s starting to be more aggressive and more effective on both ends of the court. His biggest impact on the offensive end has been the development of a deadly long range game. During the streak, he has gone 12 of 22 from three-point range.
The biggest key to the streak though, has been Smithsanity. Most of the season the talented but mercurial Smith has been just as likely to throw away games with his poor shot selection as he has been to win them with his clutch late game shot making and game changing dunks.
Over the streak however, Smith has transformed into an overnight superstar. Despite coming off the bench, he’s averaged over 26 points a game while shooting a remarkable 54% from the field after being a career 42% shooter that’s only shooting 41% this season. He’s also attempted 60 free throws over the streak. This is an average of 8.5 attempts a game, yet for his career Smith only averages 2.6 attempts a game. This vastly increased number of times he’s getting to the line reveals the biggest reason for his remarkable transformation. Instead of constantly settling for extremely high level of difficulty jumpers when he’s handling the ball, he’s attacking the rim instead.
Smith shows no signs of slowing down, if anything, he’s heating up. In his last three games he’s scored 32, 35 and 37 points. He’s also averaging close to five and half rebounds a game over the streak, despite averaging 2.6 a game for his career. Does this mean that Woodson has finally become the one coach to fully tap into Smith’s talent after nine seasons in the league? Knicks’ fans can only hope. If JR can even come close to keeping this up, the sky’s the limit to what New York can accomplish once its big men start to get healthy.
While I don’t expect Smith to average over 30 points a game for the rest of the season, he’s not necessarily as sure to cool way off as much as the hot three-point shooting that keyed the Knicks’ six game win streak earlier this season. He’s not scoring more simply because he’s got a hot hand, he appears to have fundamentally changed the way he approaches the game offensively. He not just choosing better shots either, he’s creating better shots. If this new JR sticks around, his contract is going to look like the biggest bargain in the NBA. More importantly, the Eastern Conference playoff picture may have just gotten a lot more interesting.
All Day I Dream About Shumpert. If A.D.I.D.A.S needs a new tagline, we got you now that Iman Shumpert has been lacing up the Top Ten 2000 2wo 1ne, the Crazy 8, and now the Real Deal.
During the current six game winning streak of the Knicks, Shump has posted flicks of each new pair of Real Deal before game time. The most recent, a sparlking silver/orange/blue pair was posted on his Instagram last night before he dropped 13 points in the first quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies; he would finish with 16 altogether. In a previous game against Toronto, Shumpert showcased a black/orange/gray/blue colorway of the Real Deal, which the Knicks also won.
Is the Real Deal about to steal the spotlight from his regular rotation of the 2wo 1ne? Back in February, after the Knicks lost to the Raptors at Madison Square Garden in their first meeting, he photographed the red/black/white kit sitting on a private jet. He wasn’t in the form we’re seeing now, as, back then, he played only 21 minutes and ended the game with 5 points. Then there was the struggle of Shump being on a minutes restriction after coming back from injury. That’s a non factor now because, these days, Shump is getting back his offensive and defensive prowess we saw last season. When we’re not seeing him on the court, Shump and his flattop, are turning it up also for adidas in their adicolor commercials. Keep your eyes on the real. Done deal.
The adidas Real Deal is available in five colorways at Eastbay and Champs priced at $110.
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.
March Madness is officially upon us! For the Knicks, they have had a whole March full of Madness, since the first day of the most grueling month on New York’s schedule this season. I hope everyone’s brackets are doing well. Yeah I know, Harvard screwed most of us.
Hopefully, New York does not get screwed over by Toronto in their final two meetings of the season in a home-and-home matchup. The Knicks flew to Toronto yesterday (did everyone else see that shirt Mike Woodson wore on the plane?), and tip-off tonight at 7:30. The wounds of the road trip we will not speak of, are slowly healing, winning two games in a row and seeing a healthy Carmelo Anthony revitalize the lethargic Knickerbockers. Toronto will not be a pushover of any sorts, though. Do not let this team’s 26-42 record deceive you, Rudy Gay and company are more than capable of putting up points quickly on any given night. There is also the element of New York being winless on the season against the Raptors.
There is no room left to drop games to lesser opponents this year. Especially Toronto who has dropped two in a row, and 10 out of their last 14. New York is still looking to achieve the first goal they set this season, winning the division. Brooklyn is quickly covering ground behind the Knicks; even Boston is making a little run. 10 of New York’s 16 remaining games are against playoff opponents, which leaves little margin for era.
What to look for:
- The ball movement against Orlando, for the most part, was immaculate. When the ball moves, everyone gets involved, which is crucial for New York who has more players than less who need ball movement to operate at 100%.
- When JR Smith drives to the basket, a whole new dimension opens up on offense for New York. His defensive intensity also was a very beneficial factor in winning on Wednesday. Smith is too athletic to not be putting himself in the driver’s seat more often, lets see if he can bring the same attitude tonight.
- Iman Shumpert is expected to play tonight. The pop in his knee was deemed nothing serious, and should be at full strength tonight. Shumpert seems to have shaken off the rust, and is looking like his self from last year more and more every game.
- A win on the first night of a home-and-home, on the road, is big for a team when heading back home with momentum. New York should look to get out early, play comfortably, and get a win to stay atop of the Atlantic. A win tonight will also clinch a playoff berth for New York, something that has not been done in 10 years.
The losing streak has reached four games. The Knicks dropped the fourth game of their West Coast trip to the Los Angeles Clippers by a score of 93-80. Chris Paul was the game’s leading scorer with 20 points while passing off for eight assists. Blake Griffin registered a double-double for the Clippers with 12 points and 12 rebounds while DeAndre Jordan just missed out on a double-double of his own with eight points and 10 rebounds. The Knicks, playing without both Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, were led by J.R. Smith’s 17 points off the bench.
Just as they did this past Thursday night against the Portland TrailBlazers, the Knicks actually got off to a nice start this afternoon. The Knicks jumped out to an 8-1 lead thanks to an Iman Shumpert jumper to begin the game’s scoring and a couple of three-pointers from Chris Copeland and Raymond Felton. They would eventually stretch their lead to eight (13-5) as the combination of Copeland and Felton scored on two more baskets, looking as if each would have a big game to help the Knicks sneak out of Los Angeles with a win. Unfortunately, the good early vibes would disappear very quickly. An 11-2 Clippers run gave them their first lead of the game at 16-15. The Knicks would quickly grab the lead again on a Kenyon Martin layup but it would be their last lead of the game. A 5-1 spurt from the Clippers to end the first quarter gave L.A. back the lead and they wouldn’t relinquish it the rest of the way.
Even without their top three players and having already been blown-out in each of their first three games of the road trip, the Knicks fought hard in this game, at least in the first half. After Smith scored the first two points of the second quarter, the Clippers scored four straight on a Chauncey Billups jumper and Lamar Odom layup to extend their lead to five, 25-20. However, the Clippers had trouble extending that lead and the Knicks would eventually tie up the score at 31 on a Smith dunk attempt. Only problem was that was as close as the Knicks would get to the Clippers the rest of the game. A 13-6 Clippers run, powered by 11 combined points by Paul and former-Knicks Jamal Crawford helped L.A. take a 44-37 lead into halftime.
The Knicks opened the second half trying to fight their way back into the game, scoring the first four points on jumpers from Copeland and Shumpert to cut their seven-point deficit to three. Then the Clippers finally starting displaying the talent gap between them and the injury filled Knicks, going on an 11-1 run to push their lead to 13 highlighted by a textbook Paul to Griffin alley-oop. The Knicks quieted the storm a bit, even as the Clippers extended the lead to 16. With the score 60-47, Jason Kidd found his stroke, hitting on three straight from beyond the arc to help the Knicks get to within 12, 65-53. However, a 7-0 run from the Clippers pushed their lead to biggest Knicks deficit of the night at 19. The Knicks responded with a 7-0 run of their own, sparked by five Smith points, to end the third quarter down 72-60.
The Clippers tried ending the game early in the final period, opening the quarter with another 7-0 run to again push their lead to 19. The Knicks however did not go quietly, going on one last 14-5 run to cut their deficit to 10, 84-74. The run was just too late, even as they eventually cut it to single digits at 89-80 with 1:56 left in the game. The Knicks would not score again and the Clippers earned their second win against the Knicks this season, 93-80.
- Despite leading the Knicks with 17 points, Smith had a terrible shooting game, going 4-for-20 from the floor. Smith has shot 23-for-64 during the road trip (36%).
- Steve Novak finally broke out of his 0-for-12 slump, connecting on all three of his trey attempts.
- The starting PF/C combo of Kurt Thomas and Kenyon Martin couldn’t stay on the court consistently, as the two picked up nine fouls in their 45 combined minutes of play. Martin did manage to haul in nine rebounds in his 28 minutes.
- Felton had a nice box score line (16 points, nine assists) but the load of his scoring came early when the Knicks built their 13-5 lead and late when the game was already decided.
- The Knicks will try to salvage the final game of their road trip tomorrow night against the last team they earned a win against: the Utah Jazz. The Knicks could enter the game tied atop the Atlantic Division, if the Brooklyn Nets can earn a win against the Atlanta Hawks tonight.