The Knicks have seen multiple win streaks come and go. With them lies the blueprint for sustained success, if they can just tap into it more consistently.
The Knicks were on a roll just a couple weeks ago, riding an eight-game winning streak, and it seemed that they had finally found their groove as a collective unit. Led by Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, New York was ready to take off; the team was firing on all cylinders and were a nightmare on the defensive end for their opponents. It would take a Herculean effort from the Toronto Raptors and 52 points from Pascal Siakam to end the Knicks winning streak. That loss clearly rattled the Knicks as they would subsequently go on a five-game slide before winning again.
One key to their previous success: during their eight-game win streak, the Knicks held opponents to under 100 points. Teams averaged 97.8 points against them while they were averaging 115.1 points in that span. The Knicks boasted the best defensive rating in the league throughout their streak at 98.9, making them the sole team with a rating under 100. That means that for every 100 opponent possessions, the Knicks held them to under 100 points. For context, the Knicks’ defensive rating for the entire season to this point is 111.6, over 12 points higher, which is good for a top-10 ranking but isn’t the shutdown indicator they showed during their streak. Holding teams to one attempt per possession was also key during the streak; the Knicks didn’t give many second chance points, allowing 10.1 points. Only the Denver Nuggets allow fewer (8.8). The Knicks are allowing 14.0 second chance points for the season, which might not seem like too much more but is good for 18th in the league.
During the win streak the Knicks got back to what has led them to success during the Thibodeau era: hardnose defense. There is a clear blueprint to how the Knicks can have sustained winning. The Knicks weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary, no individual player was overachieving; it was simply their overall effort on the defensive end, something they could recreate night in and night out. When the Knicks lost five games in a row, they ranked dead last as a defense in the league. They were also allowing opponents to score 119.6 points a game, 21.8 more points than they were allowing on during the eight-game win streak. This is glaring because the Knicks’ own scoring didn’t suffer in nearly the same way. During the win streak the Knicks averaged 115.1 points and during the losing streak they averaged 114.2 points per game, a minuscule 0.9-point difference.
Prior to their Monday night loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Knicks had regained their composure and had gone on a four-game win streak and had once again turned on the defensive intensity, exhibiting some of the same characteristics that led to their eight-game win-streak. Like in their previous streak, they were once again holding opponents under 100 points a game (98.3). It’s very clear that the Knicks need to remain fully engaged on defense; in that week-long stretch the Knicks again held the best defensive rating in the league. The blueprint for success is there, New York just needs to find a way to sustain that level of play.
In their best stretches, the Knicks have taken on the identity of their coach, whose defensive mindset and gritty style of play has brought him success throughout his career. This team is no different; when their defense is implemented properly, the Knicks are able to compete with just about anyone. They already have the scoring talent to keep up with any team and they’ve developed a legitimate defensive anchor in Mitchell Robinson. The Knicks also have younger talent with excellent defensive pedigrees like sophomores Quinten Grimes, who is quickly becoming a rising two-way threat with the starters, and Miles McBride, whose impressive defensive efforts have helped him crack the rigorous rotation of the defensive minded coach Thibs. The Knicks’ defense-first mentality has even allowed Immanuel Quickley to become a formidable defender in his own right. The Knicks continue to preach what they always have: defense. It’s just up to their more than capable players to show they want it more than their opponents every night.
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