The New York Knicks’ second half explosion in Game 2 this past Tuesday – a massive 30-2 run that lasted from the end of the third quarter through the majority of the fourth quarter – will be credited and mostly remembered by Carmelo Anthony’s transformation into a scintillating fireball. Anthony, who’d been struggling shooting, suddenly came alive, knocking down 6-8 shots from all distances on the court for 16 points. Anthony was marvelous, as was the team’s overall defense, another factor that will be credited.
What went somewhat overlooked, however, was the brilliance of Pablo Prigioni during the run. From the last 30 seconds of the third quarter to the 1:24 mark of the fourth quarter, a span of over 11 minutes, Prigioni racked up 8 points on 3-3 shooting, grabbed 4 rebounds, dished 3 assists, and collected 1 blocked shot. It was this 11 minute stretch that made up for the majority of his totals of 21 minutes, 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. And no turnovers, either.
Furthermore, it all happened when Prigioni helmed the offense by himself, with Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd on the bench. A few months ago during the grind of the regular season, it would’ve been unfathomable to imagine Woodson giving Prigioni minutes as the only point guard on the floor in anything less than a 20-point game. No one could’ve foreseen such a scenario happening in the playoffs.
But Tuesday’s game is just a primary example of what’s become a trend in this postseason: the Knicks are better with Prigioni on the floor.
His overall stats are up across the board:
- Regular season: 16.2 mpg, 3.5 ppg, 45.5% FG, 39.6% 3FG, 1.8 rpg, 3.0 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.1 TO
- Playoffs: 22.1 mpg, 5.7 ppg, 43.8% FG, 47.6% 3FG, 2.3 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.7 TO
Even with those increased numbers (besides for overall FG%), his stats may not blow most people away. However, his advanced stats tell the tale of his on-court worth for the Knicks this postseason.
According to NBA.com/Stats, with Prigioni on the floor, the Knicks have their highest Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions) and their best Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). When the point guard is on the floor, the Knicks’ Offensive Rating (OffRtg) is 109.4, while their Defensive Rating (DefRtg) is 85.4 This makes Prigioni’s Net Rating (NetRtg) on the floor 24.0, the highest of any Knick receiving regular minutes. (Only James White has a higher NetRtg, and he’s played just nine minutes all playoffs, thus making his stats easily inflatable). With Prigioni off the floor, the Knicks’ OffRtg and DefRtg fall to 94.2 and 98.2, respectively, meaning, basically, the Knicks are losing when Pablo isn’t playing.
The numbers are impressive in other areas as well. According to NBA.com/Stats, the Knicks’ Rebound % (available rebounds collected when a player is on the floor) is at its highest when Prigioni is playing. It’s tough to pinpoint why this is, but it could possibly be from Prigioni’s aggressiveness in going after boards, or perhaps sound box-outs on fellow guards. It could also be that each of the five Knicks’ starters have the five highest Reb% of any regular rotation players, meaning those five as a group rebound the best.
When Prigioni is on the floor, the Knicks have an assist-turnover ratio of 1.77, best on the team. The Knicks’ better ball movement and decision-making may also lead to a higher True Shooting % (shooting percentage adjusted for the value of free throws and 3-point field goals). When Pablo is playing, the Knicks’ TS% is 55.5% – once again, the best on the team.
It’s impressive for a rookie to come to the NBA and adjust so well to a time when so many young, inexperienced players crumble under the pressure of the playoffs. However, given Prigioni’s experience playing in Europe and Argentina on major stages (Euroleague championships, Olympics, and World Championships), it’s not too surprising that Pablo is excelling at a time when many of the Knicks’ top guns are playing below their usual level.
The combination of Prigioni’s heady passing, careful ball-handling, efficienct shooting, and sound defense and rebounding have made him an indispensable part of the Knicks’ rotation. Mike Woodson would be smart to look at Pablo’s team-leading stats and give him some of the minutes going to less effective players.
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.
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 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.
“They may reach the promise land, but, for now, as the Knicks slump towards Portland, it seems they have lost their way and the wheels have fallen off the wagon.”
I wrote my last post huddled by the limited candlelight that barely illuminates “Knicks Fan Hell”. You know, that place you crawl into when the Knicks (and their limbs) are free falling, settling right into their usual bottom seeded position. While I wasted away with the season in Knicks Fan Hell, I wrote an entire column likening the Knicks’ season-ending west coast trip to a cholera-filled trek on the Oregon Trail.
The wheels, I concluded, had fallen off the bandwagon (along with many fair weather fans whose stomachs had endured one too many punches over the past ten years).
Cue Montage With Newspaper Clippings, Highlights, J.R. Smith giving Steve Novak bunny ears on the team bus, Mike Woodson laughing in the mirror as Shumpert, holding a camera, catches Coach shaping his goatee, all as The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe In Magic” blares…
12 games, 12 wins and 8,043 Carmelo Points later, the Knicks are on the verge of winning the Atlantic Division Title for the first time since 1994.
I’m not hear to tell you how it happened-Someone else can offer a much deeper analysis complete with numbers and highlights with arrows and circles and all that crap. Because honestly, I have no idea how it happened. I’m just here to react to the seemingly unbelievable fact that after 19 years, the Celtics, Nets, Sixers, (and whoever else is in our division-no but seriously-who?) will once again be looking up at our shiny behinds when it’s all said and 82 done.
It’s great, glorious, and WILDLY CONFUSING.
You see, Knicks fans use one particular classic sports cliché like they invented it: Nothing matters until the playoffs.
Every season, it’s Championship or Bust. This is Madison Square Garden we’re talking about. New York, the Mecca of basketball. Basketball is in our DNA. We are a great franchise with a history of success. These are things we tell ourselves. A division title, is “not why they play game”, as we say.
But last Friday Night’s Ceremony honoring the 1973 squad was a backhanded reminder at a very sad reality. In the scheme of “Championship or Bust”, The New York Knickerbockers have busted for 40 years in a row.
Knicks fans know this. They know its been forty years since a 7 footer went down The Canyon of Hero’s . They know the most recent basketball-related banner hanging in the rafters belongs to the New York Liberty (yep, right in the groin). They know that everyone is nostalgic for ONE season, a season MSG Network has dedicated hours of programming to, A SEASON THEY DIDN’T EVEN WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP.
So, I’m going to use this platform to tell all my fellow Knicks fans something they need to hear:
A division title is not a championship. Not even close. No one really remembers them unless, like in the Knicks case, it’s been nearly 20 years since you won one. You dont even get a trophy. But at the very least, a division title is tangible validation for Knicks fans who have been looking for a glimmer of hope to rise from a darkness rivaled only by that of Woody’s Goatee. An Atlantic Division title is shaky proof, that no, the Knicks don’t suck. In fact they’re pretty good. Objectively-better -than-8-teams-in-the-league, good. And maybe. JUUUUUST maybe, when push comes to shove…they’ll make it out of the first round.
So, you can puff up your chest and get all Stephen A. “Ill wait to the playoffs” on me… but for the Knicks fans just looking for permission to enjoy this relatively non-noteworthy feat, consider it granted.
 Having said that, I would like to add that Pablo Pirgioni is just NOT getting enough credit here. I don’t know what it is about the former Gaucho (not confirmed, but highly suggested), but holy hell has he made a difference. The streak has everything to do with Melo, JR and of course the addition of Kmart, but lets take a second and applaud the little ball thief. 12-0 as a starter. He doesn’t speak much English, but that record speaks for itself.
- 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.
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.
The Knicks got a huge win before they head home to New York by beating the Jazz 90-83 for their first win in Utah in eight years. The win kept the Knicks in first place in the Atlantic Divison, as the Brooklyn Nets blew out the Detroit Pistons in Detroit and a loss by the Knicks would have meant a virtual tie with the Nets.
The game started out ugly, but morphed into an entertaining second half, as the Knicks became much more efficient with their offense. For a team fighting for their playoff lives, the Jazz put forth a pitiful effort. They had 17 turnovers, which is what kept the Knicks in the game in the first half when they were struggling on offense, and their shot selection was horrific. However, nothing should be taken away from the Knicks because they showed incredible grit and toughness.
The Jazz went on an 8-0 run at the end of the second quarter to take a 44-42 lead into halftime and it looked like a repeat from the Portland game . However, Pablo Prigioni and Chris Copeland ran some great pick-and-rolls to get the Knicks into rhythm at the start of the thrid quarter. Prigioni made his case for more playing time and hopefully Woodson took notice after he has left him out of the rotation lately for reasons unknown.
The Knicks led 66-63 after three quarters in large part due to J.R. Smith getting to the foul line. Smith had another bad shooting game (5-13), but got to the foul line six times in the third quarter. This allowed him to finish with an efficient 20 points on those 13 shots. It was good to see him not settle for jump shots and take the ball to the rim when he was struggling shooting.
The Knicks never trailed in the fourth quarter and never trailed in the quarter. Raymond Felton was excellent, as he scored nine of his 19 points in the fourth. He hit some huge momentum shots, including a three-pointer to put the Knicks up 75-69 with 8:10 remaining and a long two-point jumper to put the Knicks up eight with 5;20 remaining. The cloest the Jazz came after that was when they got the lead down to 84-81 with 3:13 remaining. After a terrible turnover by Smith, Mo Williams missed a jumper and Smith came back and hit a jumper to ice the game,
Make fun of their ages all you want, but Kurt Thomas and Kenyon Martin were absolute men among boys out there. They outplayed a much more talented Utah front court in Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Martin had nine rebounds in 21 rebounds and gave excellent defense and energy again. Thomas was simply incredible. After there were rumors that his season was over due to a stress fracture in his foot, Thomas came out and played his best game of the season. His low post defense on Jefferson was huge, especially in the fourth quarter. Thomas did a little bit of everything as he scored six points, had three blocks, three rebounds and two assists. You can not see his true value to the win in those stats though. The Knicks won this game on defense and Martin and Thomas contributed greatly to that.
The Knicks now have an opportunity to go home and they have three winnable games in a row against Orlando and two against Toronto. A four game winning streak and getting healthy would help erase the tough west coast trip.
While the body of the Knicks’ players were in Indiana, apparently their brains and souls were still vacationing. In a performance lacking of effort, the Knicks were destroyed by the Indiana Pacers 125-91 in both of the teams’ first game since returning from the All-Star break. First time All-Star Paul George led the Pacers with 27 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Tyson Chandler led the Knicks with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Carmelo Anthony, the NBA’s second leading scorer, had just 15 points on 7-for-21 shooting.
Jason Kidd’s beginning to the 2012-13 season was basically a giant middle finger to all of his prior doubters coming into the season, myself included. Like many others, I had prematurely concluded that the Knicks had wasted their money on a 39-year old who wouldn’t be able to offer enough on the court to make up for the tied-up money and roster spot he occupied. I saw severely declining statistics over the previous three years and had low expectations about what kind of on-court tangibles Kidd could bring. The many doubters and I were wrong.
Kidd kicked off the season in fantastic form. Not only did Kidd bring the intangibles that people have raved about for the last decade – leadership, veteran poise, etc. – his on-court worth was huge to the Knicks. His accurate marksmanship from downtown, surprisingly stout defense with lightning quick hands, and a keen, unwavering sense of where to pass the ball at all times made him an essential member of the team.
The Knicks were handed their first home loss of the season from a Rockets team no one expected to snap New York’s dominance on their home court. Fittingly, one of the leaders of that Houston team was a guy who defied odds and led an underdog team back to relevance just months ago: Jeremy Lin. The Rockets and Lin, making his first return to Madison Square Garden, ran the Knicks ragged tonight, exposing an offense missing its primary weapons and a slow-footed defense, unable to contain the Rockets’ speedy ways, rim-darting guards, and three-point attacks. The Knicks lost their first game of the season in New York, falling to 18-6 on the season, thankful they’re done with the Houston Rockets this season.