After the Knicks were eliminated by the Pacers in the second round of the playoffs, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the bleak future faced by this team. To be fair, there are plenty of reasons for concern.
- The team is old, the oldest in the league. The team was beset by injuries this season and most of the injury issues should get worse, not better, due to the team’s advanced age. Most of the team’s players are on the downside of their careers, we shouldn’t expect better results from players past their prime.
- The team is facing major salary cap restraints. Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire have massive contracts and they aren’t going anywhere. The Knicks’ ability to improve through free agency or sign and trades is almost zero.
- Not only are the Knicks stuck with a hard to improve roster, but there are younger, better, still improving teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference pecking order. Based on this season, there is every reason to believe the Heat, the Pacers and probably the Bulls (especially with Derrick Rose) are better than the Knicks. In addition, all three teams are younger than the Knicks and can expect more of an upward trajectory. To make matters worse, the Knicks have to be looking over their shoulders at the Nets and the Hawks, who could easily be tougher opponents next season.
Yet, it’s too soon to pack it in and write off the Knicks for next season. For one thing, the Knicks will return the same coach and the same core of players that just won the Atlantic Division for the first time in almost 20 years and advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. These are not small accomplishments for a franchise that has spent so many years mired in losing and horrible decisions.
This was Mike Woodson’s first full season at head coach and the first year in his rotation for many members of the team. Another full training camp could be a huge boost for smoothing out the wrinkles in his system and further acclimating the players to it. Let’s take a look at what we can expect from the roster:
The Core Four
Carmelo Anthony- Almost every team that makes it to the NBA Finals has a superstar and Melo is ours. He will only be 29 next season and he’s coming of a scoring title and the best season of his career. His stats appear to be trending upward: his scoring improved by six points a game this season, his rebounding increased, his foul shooting improved and his three point shooting accuracy was a career high 38%, despite attempting 414 threes, almost twice his previous career high. If Melo learns how to work his scoring into the framework of the team’s offensive flow better and ups his intensity on the defensive end a bit, he might help the Knicks even more next season.
Tyson Chandler- Unlike Melo, Chandler may be starting the downside of his career. He’ll be 31 next season and he spent much of this season battling back issues. He certainly won’t be washed up though. He made his first all-star team this year and he won’t be playing in the Olympics this off season, so hopefully he’ll enter next season in top health. A fourth straight season of double digit scoring, double digit rebounding and a field goal percentage well over 60% should be quite reasonable. Add to that his first team all NBA defensive skills and the Knicks have something few teams have: a top tier center.
Raymond Felton- Another player entering the prime age of 29, Felton is coming off a season which saw dramatic improvements over his previous one. Higher scoring, higher FG% and better three point shooting were all a part of his return to the Big Apple. His importance to the team was never clearer than in the playoffs, where his scoring and FG% were even higher than the regular season. Unfortunately, none of the other point guards on the roster this season were able to duplicate Raymond’s ability to run the pick and roll, drive and dish, plus drive and score. Finding a young backup point guard will be one of many priorities for NY in the off season.
Iman Shumpert- The youngest member of the core four, Shump also has the biggest upside. Next season he will only be 23 and he’s already shown flashes of greatness. Being able to start the season healthy may give him the chance to realize the potential he’s shown to be an all-defensive team member. If he can combine his 40% shooting from behind the arc with an ability to attack the basket from off the dribble, he should develop into a major force on the offensive end as well. If JR Smith walks, the pressure will be on Shumpert to be the Knicks main scoring option besides Melo, STAT and Felton.
Also under contract and not going anywhere
Amare Stoudemire- He may have less impact on the court than the core four, but he’s the biggest anchor on the team’s finances. Even in the case of this soon to be 31 year-old with a history of major injuries there is an upside though. While never much of a contributor on the defensive end, he seems to be getting even better at the thing he does do well: score in the paint. This season he averaged 14 points a game in only 23 minutes a game while shooting the second best percentage of his career: 58%. Working with Hakeem Olajuwon seems to be helping his low post game and another off season working with the Dream can only help. In addition, STAT enters the off season healthy. If he can make it through an entire training camp and preseason healthy we may finally get to see what it’s like when Woody has had a chance to fully integrate STAT into his system.
Steve Novak- The New York offense is predicated on shooting threes, lots of them, which makes someone that shoots over 42% from deep have value. Unfortunately though, that’s pretty much all he does well and by the end of the season he had been almost completely dropped from Coach Woodson’s rotation.
Under contract, but really old
Jason Kidd- There can be no doubt that Jason Kidd brought lots to the table this season, but there has to be some question about how much he can bring to the table next season at the age of 40, if decides to return. Not surprisingly this season he posted the lowest scoring and assist numbers of his career, while demonstrating an almost complete inability to score at the rim. Despite averaging a career low in minutes per game, many place blame for his catastrophic showing in the playoffs on overuse on his aging and aching body during the regular season. At this point New York might be better off using Kidd as an assistant coach that they return to the court as a player only about a month before the playoffs.
Marcus Camby- Boy did this acquisition look bad this season. The 39 year old center only appeared in 24 games, he only averaged 10 minutes a game and he had almost no impact statistically in those games, though there were a few flashes of good interior defense. The combination of age and injury makes the idea of him trying to play out his contract almost unpalatable.
It would be really nice if we could find a way to retain them
Chris Copeland- While it’s clear that another year of NBA seasoning should do wonders for Cope, he showed signs of being a major offensive contributor as a 28 year old rookie. Not only did he shoot 42% from three during the regular season, he shot 48% from behind the arc during the playoffs, while most of his teammates seemed completely unable to hit from deep. Unfortunately for the cap restricted Knicks, he may have priced himself off the team with his play, though Glen Grunwald has been quoted as saying that New York may use the mini mid-level exception to keep him on board.
JR Smith- The sixth man of the year is a big reason for the Knicks improvement this season and it would be a major blow to lose him. New York has the early Bird rights to him and he has claimed that he wants to stay, so let’s hope Grunwald can find a way to get a deal done. Like Anthony, Smith had the best season of his career and there is reason to believe that we still haven’t seen the best yet.
Melo, STAT, Smith, Copeland, Felton, Novak, Chandler and Shumpert are all 31 or younger, so if New York can start the season with all eight of them under contract and healthy, they not only will have a great core to build around, they will have the same core of players as the previous season, giving them some consistency. Not only should we not start giving away our Atlantic Division title, but it might be reasonable to hope we can win even more games next season. The two biggest holes that will need to be addressed if we can retain Copeland and Smith (a big and important if) would seem to be at point guard and center. We will need someone to fill Kenyon Martin’s shoes as a backup center and not only will we need a second point guard for the starting lineup ala Jason Kidd or Pablo Prigioni, but we’ll need someone coming off the bench that can somewhat duplicate Raymond Felton’s role in the offense.
So, sure, it was disappointing watching the team implode against the Pacers, but that certainly doesn’t invalidate a terrific season. The team may be old and financially limited, but that’s what they said this season and look what happened. Let’s wait and see what Grunwald can pull off this offseason before we start to panic too much.
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.
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.
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.
From Madison Square Garden, to TD Bank Garden, game three tonight is not going to be any stroll in the park, or should we say garden. Carmelo Anthony and company are prepared for a hostile environment and rejuvenated Boston squad playing at home for the first time since the Boston marathon bombings a little less than two weeks ago. The Celtics should have their work cut out for them again, especially on the offensive end, where they have produced a total of only 48 points in two-second halves against New York. Through the first two games for the Knicks, the level of intensity on defense is reminiscent of November when it was difficult for teams to put up 90 points. And this was without Kenyon Martin. So, there is a great deal to look forward to tonight as we get ready for an 8:00pm est. tipoff, lets give some of the essential factors in tonight’s matchup a rundown.
Keep an eye on Tyson Chandler who is working towards getting his legs back underneath himself. Chandler was beginning to look back in form down the stretch of game two with a big block on Avery Bradley, but still looks a little out of place on offense. I’m looking for Tyson to make himself more of a factor tonight in the pick & roll to help free up the perimeter if the defense decides to collapse on a rolling Chandler.
Doc Rivers is sick of the officiating so far, especially with Kevin Garnett. The NBA recently hit Doc with a $25,000 fine after game two for criticizing the referees. Rivers is a coaching wizard and the Knicks are probably just as aware of that. Expect adjustments from the Celtics to try and get Garnett going in this series. Although, there is speculation Garnett is playing through some pain, so could we see fewer minutes tonight for KG?
Paul Pierce is a different animal at home, and will carry the entire workload if Garnett gets caught in foul trouble once again. Pierce has presented an interesting mismatch for New York, who is being guarded by a smaller Raymond Felton. However, Felton does a great job of fighting over screens to harass Pierce and at most, slows down an extremely efficient scorer. The Celtics’ success tonight will be measured by how well their bench can play. Bench players are found to be more comfortable at home, so the Knicks should be prepared to keep scoring droughts and fast breaks to a minimum.
A little more scoring wouldn’t hurt. Steve Novak and Chris Copeland have each played about six to eight meaningful minutes in games one and two, but have essentially been non factors. A positive five minutes from each resulting in a few three pointers could be the difference in a close game on the road. Boston will try to keep the tempo exactly where it’s been, and the crowd will get into it early. Stealing tonight’s game from under the Celtics would presumably end the series going up three games to nothing, a deficit yet to be overcome by any NBA team. It would also make the burden of taking one game on the road less heavy, still being able to come back home and win the series in New York, if the series gets that far.
The last playoff game played against Boston, in Boston, Carmelo Anthony scored 42 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in a loss for the Knicks. Hopefully the output remains the same, but we can reverse the outcome. At least this year there’s no Jared Jefferies to attempt a game wining layup for us.
The New York Knicks will head up to Boston with a 2-0 lead over the Celtics. For the second straight game, the Knicks used a big second half, highlighted by stingy defense and efficient offense, to put the Celtics away, and seal the victory. After withstanding a strong second quarter from the Celtics, New York came out with a palpable, contagious energy to propel themselves to a double-digit lead. Led by Raymond Felton’s dribble penetration and Carmelo Anthony’s sudden precision from the field, the Knicks offense launched them back into the lead. Their stern defense, however, all but shut the Celtics down as Boston’s one-and-done arrhythmic jumpers continually clanged off the rim to the sound of their own flat-lining.
The series is far from over, especially as Boston returns to a vigorous home crowd, but for now, the Knicks are sitting pretty having dutifully protected their home-court advantage.
Both teams sputtered out of the gate, afflicted by their own general incompetence on both ends of the floor and some quick, continuous whistles from the referees. Noticeable immediately for the Knicks, however, was a seemingly more mobile Tyson Chandler and the return of Pablo Prigioni. In the early going, Chandler and the Knicks controlled the boards and Prigioni’s presence seemed to ease the Knicks stagnation on offense.
Said stagnation had a lot to do with the Celtics’ ability to blow up pick-and-rolls and Carmelo Anthony’s insistence on posting/facing up on defenders and settling for mid-range jumpers. When he attacked the basket – which he did at a decent rate – he was able to get to the free throw line, collecting critical fouls on the Celtic starters in the process. Raymond Felton got off to a good start, however, knocking down his first three-pointers of the game and turning the corner on screens to get to the paint for his own hoops or on kick-outs to teammates.his
J.R. Smith stole the show, though. Fresh off winning Sixth Man of the Year, Smith checked in, promptly dribbled the ball for ten seconds, passed up on passing, and opted for a double-pump, step-back jumper that hardly hit nylon. Smith continued his antics throughout the quarter, nailing more of his favorite fade-away jumpers, and spinning to the rack, and dumping off a beautiful pass for Kenyon Martin for the open slam. He punctuated it all by hitting one more deep jumper with six seconds to go, then forcing Paul Pierce into a turnover, and nailing a 30-foot three-pointer as time expired.
New York led 26-20 after the first quarter.
Through two games, so far, the Knicks have had one let-down quarter. In Game 1, it was the third quarter; in Game 2, it was the second. With most of the starters resting, the Knicks’ bench failed to generate momentum on offense while letting the Celtics get on a roll of their own. Smith’s magic seemed to run out, and Boston’s fortress-like defense forced the Knicks into a series of bad looks. On the other end, Boston pushed the pace, spread the floor, and punished the Knicks’ porous defense.
The turning point came early in the quarter with New York up five. A shot clock violation on the Knicks led to a basket by Jordan Crawford, followed up by a bad pass from Jason Kidd, and a jumper from Avery Bradley. Kenyon Martin turned the ball over on the ensuing possession which led to another layup from Bradley. Two missed jumpers in a row from Smith sandwiched a turn-around jumper from Kevin Garnett. To cap it all off, after yet another turnover, Jason Terry sank a pull-up three. Just like that, New York’s lead had been squandered into a four-point Boston lead.
Things didn’t get much better. Anthony checked back in and isolated and jab-stepped himself into a bevy of contested, missed jumpers. The Celtics kept coming on offense, ballooning their lead to nine twice as Paul Pierce took advantage of his sizable matchups with New York’s guards. The Knicks did a solid job closing the quarter, however, by rallying off five quick points so that they only trailed 48-42 at halftime.
Game 1 third quarter :: Game 2 second quarter as Game 1 fourth quarter :: _______ . You guessed it! The Knicks used a pivotal third quarter, just as they used a pivotal fourth quarter in Game 1 to recapture the game.
It began with Iman Shumpert knocking down two consecutive three-pointers to tie the game up. Later, after some free throws by ‘Melo, bedeviling the Celtics into foul trouble, a Felton drive put the Knicks up two. And the train kept-a-rollin’ from there. Prigioni and Chandler ran a pick-and-roll to get Chandler a layup and a foul (his only basket of the game). Anthony joined in on the fun, canning a three-pointer and then a posting up Jeff Green and hitting a difficult turn-around jumper along the baseline. Felton capped things off with crossover to get in the lane, pull-up, and hit a little floater. Just like that, New York’s 23-4 run to kick things off put them up ten, deflated the Celtics, and set the Garden crowd ablaze.
The defense was the key, though. Part of it was the Celtics’ own lack of energy, but the Knicks’ rotations were crisp all night, and in the third, their individual defense was on point. Boston tried to run their offense through Kevin Garnett, and while Chandler was slightly immobile against smaller players driving to the hoop, on Garnett’s post-ups, face-ups, and jumpers, Chandler contested very well. Boston became careless with the ball, and soon the whole team was thrown into an inescapable funk as the Knicks constricted tighter and tighter.
Anthony capped the Knicks’ explosive quarter by blowing by Garnett on a switch, and taking it to the rim for a dunk. The Knicks led 74-59 at the end of the third quarter.
The Knicks’ third quarter diligence did them well as they were able to sort of cruise through the fourth. One frightful stretch began with Steve Novak’s inability to cover Jordan Crawford, who scored five quick points, along with a Pierce three to cut the lead to nine. The Knicks rebounded quickly, however.
‘Melo flipped the switch again and splashed the net on three straight jumpers, mostly off the catch. The quick flurry all but eliminated Boston’s chances of coming back. More turnovers led to exciting moments like a Felton-Smith alley-oop on the break to put the Knicks back up 13. Kenyon Martin provided his fair share of excitement and tenacity with crowd-pleasing swats into the stands and his ensuing war cries.
Mike Woodson replaced Kidd, Anthony, and Felton in the last three or four minutes of the quarter and sent out the bench squad to ride out the victory. The crowd gave a thankful ovation as the Knicks took a 2-0 series lead over their long-time tormentors.
- The Knicks have now allowed a total of 48 points in the second halves of these two playoff games. 48. As our friend Jared Dubin points out, the Knicks’ second half defensive efficiency is 55.6, which would be the best, like, ever.
- Though Carmelo Anthony (34 points, 11-24 FG) and J.R. Smith (19 points, 7-15 FG) had the two explosive nights, I thought Raymond Felton was the key factor. In the first half, Felton was tentative to drive the lane, and was overly passive trying to distribute the ball. In the second half, Felton attacked the paint with gusto, and didn’t make, seemingly, a single mistake with the ball. He finished with 16 points on 8-15 FG, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and zero turnovers.
- Despite getting dunked on in the final 30 seconds of the third quarter, Kevin Garnett finished his third quarter by setting a very illegal, rough screen on Shumpert (didn’t get called), and then blocked Shumpert at the rim at the buzzer, and continued his constant barking. This made the Knicks’ double-digit comeback, and the Garden crowd’s “KG sucks” chants all the more delightful.
- Though the defense suffers because a guard is forced to cover Paul Pierce, it appears the Knicks’ only shot at running semi-fluid offense over the Celtics’ stern defense is to play two point guards at a time. The only real exception to this was the Knicks’ giant run to start the third quarter, though.
Th Knicks have two days off before playing the Celtics in Boston on Friday night. It’s somewhat expected that the Knicks will lose a game in Boston, but winning Game 3 would be very important to closing out the series. Historically, the team up 3-0 in the playoffs in the NBA, has won the series 100% of the time.
Yesterday, Tyson Chandler made his first playoff start against the Boston Celtics. He, along with Carmelo Anthony, Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton, and Chris Copeland served as one of the bigger lineups to match the size and skill of the Celtics. For 20 minutes, Knicks fans waited for the Tyson Chandler from the regular season to show up. He was a non-factor on offense during the 20 minutes he played. It really doesn’t matter at this point, given that the Knicks earned a “W” against their Celtic rivals and since there’s plenty of time for Chandler to return to form as he did during the regular season.
Before a bulging disc in Chandler’s neck put him on the injured list, his patented contributions to the Knicks offense was worthy of being a registered trademark. Chandler and Raymond Felton were the 1-2 punch for the Knicks executing the pick-and-roll to a T. Back on February 3rd, when the Knicks played the Sacramento Kings, they reached a season high of 19 pick-and-roll plays, according to ESPN. Many of which could be credited to Chandler’s chemistry with Carmelo Anthony and, of course, Felton, the Knicks’ point guard. When Felton went down with his injured finger, he became the missing catalyst to this part of Chandler’s game.
Throughout the 2012-13 season, Chandler’s game has probably put him on the radar of every team in the league because of how effective he is in tapping-out the ball to his teammates. Whenever I see another player crashing the boards, and not actually grabbing the ball, but tapping it out to another player to create a second chance opportunity to score, I automatically think they’re jocking Tyson Chandler. After all, imitation is the best form of flattery, right? I’d like to see another player tie their team’s franchise record for rebounds the way Chandler earned 20 rebounds over the course of three consecutive games. When he makes a clean tap out of the ball directly to his teammate, that’s logged as a rebound too. Even Mike Breen, one of MSG’s broadcasters even cosigned Chandler’s tap out consistency when the The New York Times profiled the trend earlier this year.
We didn’t see much of the old Tyson Chandler against Boston on Saturday afternoon. The point is he played. The dude played through his neck injury for as long as he could, even in one of their biggest wins of the season, the last showdown of the regular season against the Miami Heat. He played 24 minutes and only made 2 rebounds in that game. His effort is commendable on all accounts. The individual statistics can put a notch in his belt, but there are intangibles to Chandler’s game that make him a presence on the court, like shadowing Kevin Garnett on defense. So even though yesterday he might have seem rusty, once he’s back in full form, expect the volcano of the Knicks’ big men to erupt in a major way.
If we take an NBA snapshot right now, the Carmelo Anthony trade sure looks good for the Knicks. First, let’s review:
The Knicks gave up:
- Raymond Felton
- Danilo Gallinari
- Timofey Mozgov
- Anthony Randolph
- Wilson Chandler
- Eddy Curry
- 2014 draft pick
- Carmelo Anthony
- Renaldo Balkman
- Chauncey Billups
- Sheldon Williams
- Anthony Carter
- Corey Brewer
How are these players doing now?
Raymond Felton- At 28, Ray’s still in his prime. This season he’s averaging 14.1 points/game, while shooting 43%FG, 36% on threes and 79% from the line, all of which are above his career averages. His assists are down slightly, but so are his turnovers. The kicker, of course, is that he’s doing all this for the Knicks, not the Nuggets. To be fair to the Nuggets, they traded him away for Andre Miller, who’s giving them 10 points and 6 assists a game this season.
Danilo Gallinari- The 24 year-old was averaging 16 points and 5 rebounds a game this season, while showing signs that he might have the potential to eventually be an all-star. Unfortunately, he is currently out of the Nuggets’ lineup with a season ending knee injury.
Timofey Mozgov- The 26 year-old center has been unable to crack the Nuggets’ rotation, as he averages less than nine minutes a game.
Anthony Randolph- At 23 he still has time to blossom, but like Mozgov he’s languishing at the end of the Nugget’s bench averaging less than eight minutes a game. In the actual trade he was sent to the Timberwolves, who sent Kosta Koufos to Denver. The 23 year-old Koufos is giving the Nuggets 8 points and 7 rebounds a game.
Wilson Chandler- The 25 year-old Chandler is the actual only member of this trade really contributing to the Nuggets at the moment, putting up 12.5 points and 5 rebounds a game.
Eddy Curry- This was just about his expiring contract. He hasn’t played more than 14 games in a season since 2007-2008 and his career seems effectively over.
2014 draft pick- It remains to be seen who this will end up being, but the Nuggets used this pick to help them acquire 29 year-old Andre Iguodala, the one player on their roster who’s played in an all-star game (last season) and he’s averaging 13 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds a game.
Carmelo Anthony- At 28 Melo’s having the best season of his career, averaging a league best 28.7 points a game, along with 7 rebounds a game.
Renaldo Balkman- Out of the NBA.
Chauncey Billups- The 36 year-old is averaging 8 points a game for the Clippers. The Knicks amnestied his contract, which enabled them to sign 30 year-old center Tyson Chandler, who is currently the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and an all-star this season.
Sheldon Williams- Out of the NBA.
Anthony Carter- Out of the NBA.
Corey Brewer- The 26 year-old is back with Denver, where he’s averaging 12 points a game.
So, basically, the Knicks ended up with Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, while the Nuggets have Gallinari, Chandler, Mozgov, Miller, Koufos and Iguodala. Both teams are headed to the playoffs this season. With Gallinari out for the season, Denver is currently getting 45 points and 21 rebounds a game from the players they got courtesy of the Knicks. Anthony and Chandler are giving the Knicks 39 points and 18 rebounds a game. While this seems to give the Nuggets a slight edge, you need to consider that Denver is getting that production from a total of five players and NY is getting almost as much from only two players. Both Anthony and Chandler made the all-star game this season and no one from the Nuggets made the Western Conference team.
Quality is a much bigger deal than quantity when it comes to NBA players. It’s not like the Knicks are being forced to play with less players than Denver. Players that give you 10 points and 5 rebounds a game are relatively easy to find. NY recently picked Kenyon Martin up off the NBA scrap heap and he averages 7 points and 5 rebounds a game. All-star quality players are obviously a much rarer and more precious commodity in the NBA.
While Denver is obviously hoping to change this, the NBA title has never been won by a team without an all-star player on the roster. Denver’s entire roster has one all-star appearance between them. It was made by Iguodala, but it was before he became a Nugget. Anthony and Chandler have seven all-star appearances between them and they were both selected this season.
While this trade looks great for the Knicks, it was good for Denver too. Melo wanted out of Denver, so they had to at least try to get something in return, rather than see him walk at the end of the season and get nothing. The Nuggets currently have five decent players under 30 years old on their roster because of this trade. Miller, Koufos, Chandler, Gallinari and Iguodala are a huge part of the reason they’re going to the playoffs this season and Denver already has more wins this season than their last full season with Melo on their roster. If Gallinari, Koufos or Chandler eventually has a career spike and becomes an all-star, this trade may be one of the best moves they’ve ever made, up there with drafting Anthony.
Yet the positive impact in New York has been much greater. In their last full season without Anthony on the roster, they finished 29-53. This season, thanks in large part to Anthony’s career year, they already have more than 50 wins and their first Atlantic Division title in almost 20 years.
In a league dominated by superstars, the Knicks found a way to acquire one without having to get lucky in the draft lottery. Since the 1986-87 season, nine different players have won the NBA scoring title. Six of them have helped their team win championships and two of the others, Kevin Durant and Allen Iverson, helped their teams reach the finals. There is a very good chance Carmelo Anthony will win the scoring title this season, now let’s see if he can help the Knicks make it to the Finals.
The New York Knicks have just five games remaining in their 2012-13 regular season campaign. Where the other 77 games went, we have no idea. Currently, the Knicks sit in second place in the East right now, having won 51 games, and they just locked up the Atlantic Division for the first time since the ’93-’94 season. With the playoffs right around the corner, a lot of different storylines are hanging over the Knicks’ collective heads.
To discuss this exciting time and the surely exciting weeks ahead, The Knicks Wall team sat down and answered some questions.
1.) The Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, and Boston Celtics are all jockeying for seeds 5-7 in the East. Who do the Knicks have the best chance against and why?
Scott Davis (@WScottDavis): I want no part of the Chicago Bulls in the first round, whatsoever. Though they’re a slightly bruised bunch as well, they’ve shown utter disregard at playing short-handed. Furthermore, they’re a step closer to sweeping the season series with the Knicks (and those first three wins came pretty handily). The thought of knocking out the Celtics gets my blood rushing, but they remain (cliche coming) a veteran team with experience. And I don’t trust Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to not pull a Tonya Harding on ‘Melo’s knee before Game 1. It seems that the best option is to hope to get the Hawks – a good team, but a team I feel confident the Knicks could be four times in seven games.
Jonah Kaner (@TheKnicksWall): While it would be awesome to defeat, better-yet, sweep, the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, I think the Knicks have the best chance against the Atlanta Hawks. Simply put, the Hawks don’t really have a go-to guy that they can rely on down the stretch of crucial games.
Steve Meza (@ecualibrium): Nothing would bring me joy more than eliminating Boston in a playoff series for undisputed supremacy over the Atlantic Division. The sweet glory of Carmelo Anthony performing a 40-point-per-game series-style exorcism, assisted by JR Smith and his catch-and-shoot holy water, on the green clad demon neighbors would be an ecstasy beyond belief. Alas, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and the bottomless wisdom pit that is Doc Rivers’ brain scare me enough to look elsewhere. Even lacking their granite faced star, the Bulls flaunt a defense so ferociously zany, it would serve the Knicks better to hope Nate the Great and company soften up the Heat for 6 games before the ECF. So, kinda by default: the Atlanta Hawks.
David Vertsberger (@_Verts): It’s got to be the Atlanta Hawks. The Chicago Bulls’ defense has stifled the Knicks to no end, enough so to keep New York from taking a win in the season series thus far. The Boston Celtics are still the Boston Celtics, and although they are a more depleted version of them, they still play with tremendous enough effort that no series they’re involved in will be an easy get-by. The Knicks have had an edge against the Atlanta Hawks all year, not surrendering a single game to them and matching up with them quite well. Tyson Chandler has done a terrific job defending Al Horford, and there’s no player on Atlanta that can hope to contain Carmelo.
Rami Levi (@RamiofTeaneck): Like many Knicks fans, I’m hoping the Knicks hold onto that 2 seed and the Hotlanta Hawks drop to 7. It has become blatantly obvious in the past couple of seasons that teams need a superstar in the playoffs. We have ours. The Hawks? While the Knicks have made Kyle Korver look like Larry Bird, and I’ll concede that Josh Smith is an above average player, the Hawks have nobody who can seize the collective hearts of Knicks Nation and eat them. Paul Pierce can do that. Without Rose, the Bulls don’t necessarily have a superstar, but they do play a brand of bruising basketball that tends to result in a barrage of Knicks Ts, not 3s. I am also scarred by soul crushing series losses of years past to the Bulls and Celtics. Give me the Hawks!
Tony Arnoldine (@tonyarnoldine): The Knicks have fared worst against the Bulls this year, going 0-3 vs. Chicago ahead of their Thursday night clash. The Bulls give the Knicks fits because they have a strong interior presence. The best matchup is probably Boston, thanks to Rajon Rondo’s injury and Kevin Garnett also being banged up.
Matt Clark (jmatthewclark): As much as I’d love to eliminate Boston from the playoffs in the first round there is only one team on that list I want to see: the Hawks. The Bulls are a well-coached, defensive juggernaut with some versatile scorers, and are possibly one healthy Derrick Rose away from being the 2-seed in the East. I can say the same about Boston. And Paul Pierce would probably still find a way to kill us! So, that leaves the Hawks and while Larry Drew has done a good job with that roster, they are still not a very good basketball team.
Bryan Gibberman (@Gibberman10): Out of the Bulls, Hawks, and Celtics, the team I am most comfortable with the Knicks facing in the first round is the Hawks. Despite the fact Atlanta has advanced to the second round in three out of the last five years, I don’t trust them in a playoff series. New York is 4-1 against Atlanta over the past two seasons.
Steve Scafidi (@Steve_Scafidi): All three teams would present a great test early in the playoffs. Boston, however, is not the Boston of years past. The momentum coming off a tough-fought series win beating the former rulers of the Atlantic Division could probably carry us all the way through the second round. Boston’s bench is pretty thin, and young, which will end up in more minutes on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The speed of the Knicks will probably be too much to handle in a seven-game series.
Matthew Bove (@RAYROBERT9): I would most want the Knicks to play Atlanta. I think the Knicks would beat Atlanta or Boston easily in around five games. The Knicks have beaten the Hawks twice this year and Melo scored 40 in both games, so clearly they have nobody to guard him. The only thing about the Hawks that scares you is that Jeff Teague is a quick point guard who can give the Knicks issues.
Eduardo Guerrero (@DannyG_NYC): Based on the regular season, I’d have to say the Hawks. Bulls have handled the Knicks pretty well while all three wins vs the Celtics came against battered Celtics squad (no Rondo for first win, no Rondo & KG in last two wins). It did take a fantastic game from Melo to beat the Hawks in MSG earlier this season, but the Knicks then took them apart in Atlanta. As long as Tyson and K-Mart are healthy come playoff time to hold down Al Horford, I don’t see the Hawks being much of a challenge to the Knicks.
2.) What is essential for the Knicks’ success going forward into the playoffs?
SD: I feel like I’ve seen this movie before. Carmelo Anthony’s right hand hot enough to fry an egg, the Knicks executing with machine-like precision, injuries slowly dwindling the ranks…. Things are kinda really great and really bad at the same time. Going forward, getting a player taller than 6’10″ back on the court (and healthy, too) is really important, as is the Knicks’ ability to drain three-pointers at a laughably insane rate. I’m scared to see what happens if the Knicks go through an ill-timed shooting slump. And don’t get me started with an injury to ‘Melo….
JK: Ball movement. This season, we’ve seen two completely different Knicks teams. One moves the ball around, the other doesn’t. The former gets pooped on, while the latter poops on opponents — It’s that simple.
SM: Health. The Knicks’ front line has been unmercifully ravaged by the injury bug. It’s been more like a locust-infested injury plague. On the flip side, the Knicks have been remarkably adept with the small ball lineups. The crisper ball movement and the reemergence of the 3-point weapon could motivate Woodson to throw Chris Copeland more minutes. That, and the fact that he really has no other choice at this point.
DV: It’s a multitude of things: stay healthy, don’t lose composure in physical contests, don’t iso-Melo your way through the offense, don’t try out any new lineups, play the ones that work well, like dual point guards and ‘Melo at the four. If a successful playoffs for the Knicks is getting out of the first round, then you don’t have to do all of these things. But if the standards are much higher, which I hope they are, all aforementioned keys are pivotal to having a great playoffs run.
RL: Obviously health is a critical factor when it comes to the Knicks’ playoff success. And yes, the belabored point of “they need to keep knocking down shots” holds true. But I firmly believe it comes down to composure. As we’ve seen throughout this streak, the Knicks are at their best during a blowout. The best player on the Knicks is their confidence. This does not happen in the playoffs. With exception of the occasional blowout, you gotta slog through a seven game series. Throughout the season, the Knicks have struggled in grind-em’-out-games…they lose their composure. If they can stay strong mentally, they can move on in the playoffs.
TA: The key to Knicks’ playoff success is their health and the continued high-level play of Carmelo Anthony. Melo is playing like an MVP and providing defense and rebounding along with his usual high-octane scoring. If opposing teams key in on Melo and slow down his offense, he can still make everyone around him better with great passing and drawing double teams. It will then be up to the perimeter scorers to hit shots.
MC: Health, of course, but the real key is going to be ball movement and the ability to catch and make three-pointers. I don’t need to revisit how deadly this team was in the first 25 games of this season or how good they are right now; but it all comes down to the ability to knock down open threes. In order for Melo to be truly devastating we have to always pose the threat that if you double him or collapse on him in the post, our shooters will make you pay. This gives Melo more one-on-one opportunities, and I’d argue with anyone about there being a better player in the league in that scenario.
BG: For the Knicks to have success in the playoffs it will be following the same pattern they did in the regular season – a highly efficient offense and an average defense. This blueprint got the Phoenix Suns to the Western Conference Finals in 2009-2010 and it can do the same for the Knicks this season.
SS: That has to be JR Smith. We all pretty much are assured Anthony will be locked and loaded when the playoffs get rolling—if Smith can maintain his efficiency and rebounding, it will be tough for opposing defenses to try and keep tabs on both Anthony and Smith.
MB: The Knicks need to be healthy first and foremost. Their last two postseasons have been derailed by injuries and it cannot happen again. They need to do whatever they can to get Chandler and Martin healthy. Secondly, they need to hit their threes, as they attempt the most in the NBA and hit on 37.7% of them. The majority of them have come in the flow of the offense this year and if playoff teams are taking them away they cannot force them. The offense is what has gotten the Knicks this far and will determine how far they go.
EG: Health. It’s seemed like everyone on the team has had to deal with injuries this season. Now that Tyson is banged up and with K-Mart hurting his ankle, the team needs to get as healthy as possible for the playoff. The pieces are in place for a deep run. They just need to stay healthy.
3.) How far is this Knicks team capable of going into the playoffs?
SD: It always depends on a number of variables: ‘Melo’s jumper, the health of the big men, efficiency of the offense, and obviously, the opponents. I feel fairly confident the Knicks could get past anyone in the first round. Assuming they play the Pacers in the second round… it could get scary. But the Knicks have generally persevered through injuries, and at their worst, they played slightly better than .500 ball. With a few lucky rolls, I could see this team making it to the Conference Finals. After a decade in basketball doldrums, that’s a successful season to me.
JK: Assuming the team is playing solid basketball (ball movement, knocking down threes, defense, etc), I see no reason for them to not get to the conference finals, setting up an interesting series with the Miami Heat. Should they get that far, I see the Knicks v. Heat series going 7 games, with the Knicks winning. As a Knicks enthusiast, Knicks in 6 over the Clippers.
SM: If the universe feels like blessing New York with a reversed 1999 Finals run campaign, when it seemed like the Knicks lost a player to injury in every round (seriously, the Knicks started CHRIS DUDLEY at center against The Admiral), the Knicks can bully their way to the ECF and potentially beyond. If Kenyon Martin, Tyson Chandler, and either Rasheed Wallace or Marcus Camby can return healthy and provide some staunch paint defense, I’m sure (or, I hope) Carmelo Anthony will oblige by putting on a net-splashing parade on the other end. Here’s to hoping.
DV: The peak is likely the Eastern Conference Finals. The Knicks can take on any team that isn’t in Miami, and if they maintain the second seed, they won’t have to up until round three. Once they get there, well, the season’s probably over. It’ll be a tight series – Miami won’t walk away easily like last year – but they will once again be victors.
RL: I’m having too much fun to let my overwhelming skepticism put a limit on this team. I have reason to believe they don’t even make it out of the first round. But you know what? 16 wins, and you call yourself a champion. The ‘Bockers are riding a 13-game winning streak right now – who’s to say they can’t do it in the playoffs? Nobody wants it more than a ring-less ‘Melo right now, and just maybe the basketball gods will smile on NY once more.
TD: If the Knicks are the No. 2 seed in the East, they should make it to the Conference Finals. Although the Pacers – the likely No. 3 seed – would give them headaches in the second round, the Knicks should be able to take them in a seven game series if they continue to play at the level they have been. All of this, of course, is dependent on everyone staying healthy.
MC: If K-Mart, Camby, and ‘Sheed can return from injuries and contribute, then we can beat the Heat. Grunwald and company built this team to beat Miami, and I believe that the big men are the crucial piece there. The Bulls showed the entire league how to beat Miami when they snapped their 27-game winning streak, and that is to be be bigger, tougher and more physical. If you can force their role players to make plays, you can beat the Heat.
BG: I think the Knicks’ ceiling is the Eastern Conference Finals. I do think the Knicks will put up a fight against the Heat, but in the end will fall short. New York matches up pretty well against Miami compared to others teams across the league because their offense has the ability to exploit Miami’s defense. In the end, going up against LeBron James will be too much to overcome.
SS: A realistic expectation would be the Eastern Conference finals if the Knicks stay on the level they’re on now. Indiana will most likely face New York in the second round – a team that has given them trouble all year. Our big men will need to be healthy for a deep run. Having our big men available at the same time would supply an endless amount of options for Woodson to use matching up against a big Indiana team, and eventually, Miami.
MB: The Knicks are capable of making the Eastern Conference Finals if they are healthy. If the Knicks were to lose in the first round, it would be a disaster, and a loss in the second round would be disappointing as well. If they make the Eastern Conference Finals, anything after that would be gravy. Is it impossible that they could beat the Heat? No, but obviously it’s not likely. The Knicks have played the Heat well this year; however, if Lebron James plays at the level that he has this season, there really is no beating them.
EG: Being that I think they’ll get the 2nd seed, I don’t see how the Knicks don’t get out of the first round. I don’t see the Bulls falling to 7th, so it’ll either be the Hawks or Celtics in the first round, and I believe the Knicks will beat either of them. As for the 2nd round, I can see the Knicks getting past either Indy or Chicago, but I can also see the other two advancing as well. The one advantage I do believe the Knicks have in their favor against Indy or Chicago is having Melo. The other two don’t have that guy who can get them a basket whenever they need on. To answer the question simply, I can see the Knicks getting to the Conference Finals….or losing in the second round.
As the Knicks roll into a big time match-up with the Oklahoma City Thunder on an 11 game winning streak, there are lots of things going right for New York. Carmelo Anthony is red hot, scoring 40+ points in three consecutive games, making New York fans hoarse from cheering at their TVs as he’s embarrassed opposing defenses; JR Smith has scored 30+ points coming off the bench four times during the streak; Iman Shumpert hit 17 three-pointers in the first nine games of the streak; Kenyon Martin has resurrected his career in glorious fashion and Raymond Felton is playing some of his best basketball of the season; Even Pablo Prigioni has gotten in on the action, breaking into the starting lineup and helping stabilize the back court with his solid play.
Yet, the Knicks have been a solid offensive team all season, averaging over 99 points a game, making over 800 threes and having the third highest offensive rating in the league. The problem the Knicks have experienced during various points in the season where they have struggled is with their defense or the lack of it. The Knicks’ defensive rating ranks 16th in the NBA.
The biggest key to the streak has been a re-invigorated defense. Over the 11 game span, the Knicks have given up 89.7 points a game. To put that into perspective, the Memphis Grizzlies, which lead the league in fewest points allowed this season, give up 89.8 points per game. No team has hit more than 50% from the field against New York during the streak and twice they’ve held opponents to 38% shooting. Five times, New York has held their opponent to 85 points or less and the most they’ve given up is 102 (ironically to the basketball challenged Bobcats).
This defensive renaissance has been somewhat surprising, given that, for most of the streak, the Knicks have been without their defensive backbone, current Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler, who’s been nursing a sore neck. Not only did the Knicks’ defense not collapse in his absence, it prospered.
Perhaps the biggest reason has been the play of Kenyon Martin. A few weeks ago this would have been like saying the biggest reason Star Wars is a good series of movies is the character of Jar Jar Binks. Martin was a man without a team, seemingly too old and too diminished for a team to take a chance on him. Then with Chandler going and joining New York’s long list of injured big men, Martin was asked to be their starting center. Well undersized in the middle at 6’9”, Martin was expected to shake off the rust and hold his own against centers that were younger and bigger.
He’s done more than hold his own. It’s not a coincidence that this winning streak and in particular this streak of good defense has coincided with Martin getting big minutes for New York. In the 14 games where Martin has played 20 minutes or more the Knicks are 11-3. New York has given up more than 105 points in those games only once. His Defensive Rating is 104, the same as Chandler, and Jason Kidd is the only rotation player on the team with a better one: 103. His defensive numbers per 36 minutes are solid: 7.9 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks, but this hardly tells the full story. His physical style of play seems to inspire the whole team to greater effort while at the same time making the other team think twice about coming into the paint. His 5.2 fouls per 36 minutes lead the team and he somehow makes it seem like a virtue. His fouls, though plentiful, are usually well timed and seem to have a positive effect on the team’s defensive intensity.
This streak is very reminiscent defensively of the beginning of the season. New York started the season 8-1, allowing more than 100 points only once. At that point, many were hailing the Knicks as an elite defensive team. Yet after starting the season strong, New York’s defense slid into mediocrity and so did their results, as they followed their 8-1 start with a 30-25 record. The entire season the one constant has been offence. Both of their streaks of sustained excellence have been highlighted by superior defense. Hopefully having both a healthy Chandler and Martin available at the same time will only help and New York will be able to carry their new found defensive vigor and excellence into the postseason. Of course when we’re talking about the Knicks, sometimes having players stay healthy seems like a lot to ask.
- 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.
First and foremost, from what we already do know, Kevin Garnett is out for two weeks with an inflamed ankle. On the other hand, Tyson Chandler is listed as questionable tonight against Boston; so we probably will not know until a little later if he will be active tonight or not tonight.
Boston has been trotting out a relatively small starting lineup, similar to the Knicks’ with Kenyon Martin at the five spot. Jeff Green and Brandon Bass present a great matchup for Carmelo Anthony and K-Mart, which brings up the question to if Chandler, who’s neck is still not 100%, should play tonight against a worn-down Celtics squad. Would it be better if Chandler took the night off and returned tomorrow night at home against a frontcourt-dominant Grizzlies squad?
Without Garnett manning the middle, Boston’s defense and rebounding have plummeted significantly. They have allowed over 104 points in three of their four games during their losing skid. New York’s four in a row will meet Boston’s four in a row tonight, in what could potentially be a first round matchup.
Now ask yourself, how much will Chandler truly be needed tonight? Yes, Boston is a hostile environment, and Chandler is our number one guy on defense. But the lack of a true post scorer for Boston has resorted to a heavy reliance on Jeff Green and Paul Pierce to produce points—Both whom like to pick-and-choose their spots on the floor. Kenyon Martin has resurrected himself in Chandler’s absence, averaging 12 points and 7 rebounds, while filling the defensive captain role Chandler plays for the Knicks.
While tonight’s matchup will most likely come down to the last few minutes, New York should be more worried about giving up open looks on the wings to shooters, than slashers that will break down the Knick defense. Not to mention Marcus Camby is available if needed. But without Garnett, Brandon Bass is Boston’s biggest player at 6’10, and can easily be handled down low by Martin, the way he has been playing over these last six games.
It is a division game tonight, and a chance to build on a second place lead in the conference, but it can be done resting Chandler for tomorrow, as Mike Woodson probably hopes he can limit the minutes of most of his players on the first night of a back-to-back. Also knowing that Chandler is not fully healthy just makes his case to rest-up more plausible. We all know, though, how much of a competitor Tyson is, and how hard it will be to keep him out of tonight’s game if he wants to play. If he is completely healthy, by all means play tonight. His week off probably did wonders, as he has had no time off since his Olympic stint in London last summer. It can ultimately go either way, and I guess Woodson will let us know sooner or later.
Props to NBA.com for providing stats.