By Charlie Widdoes
By the time players and coaches spoke to the media after a hard-fought loss to the division rival Celtics, the Knicks locker room had come to a consensus. The physical style of the game created an electric atmosphere in the arena and on the court, and ultimately dictated how both teams executed their plans of attack.
Boston came into the game ranked in the top 10 in the NBA in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions), and had been even better since the return of guard Avery Bradley four games ago. Last night, they were able to disrupt the Knicks’ flow enough to come away with the win, but as we take a closer look at some of the numbers, it’s clear that there was plenty to like about the effort from the home team.
- Tyson Chandler said at his locker, post-game: “We had good ball movement in the first quarter. Then we slowed down took us out of what we wanted. They dictated where they wanted the shot to come from and got us out of our rhythm.” To a man, his teammates echoed the latter sentiment, but Chandler’s initial point came from first-hand experience. He was part of a lineup that displayed very impressive, if brief, synergy that could continue going forward.
When Carmelo Anthony was forced to sit after picking up his second foul just four minutes and 19 seconds into the game, the score was tied, 7-7. In came J.R. Smith, followed by Amar’e Stoudemire, and for the next couple minutes, the Knicks offense hummed. Chandler spoke of crisp player and ball movement, and at no point in the game was this more evident than during this span.
The lineup was: Jason Kidd, Smith, Ronnie Brewer, Stoudemire and Chandler. Starting with energy and cohesive rotations on the defensive end, this group was able to get stops, get out into the open floor, and initiate offense that led to high-percentage looks at the rim, the free-throw line and behind the 3-point arc – the three most efficient areas on the floor. The result was an 11-0 run and an early 18-7 lead just over two minutes later.
- Most interesting about the aforementioned unit was that while they had yet to play together this season before last night, they managed to attack the Boston D and get open looks for each other in their favorite spots. Furthermore, they did so with Smith doing most of the ball-handling, not Kidd.
With J.R. assuming a greater share of the point guard duties, the offense didn’t miss a beat. On one play, Kidd got an outlet pass, fired it to Smith on the wing, who ran a quick-hitting pick-and-roll with Chandler that led to a dunk. Amar’e knocked down an open 19-footer and also got to the line, where he sunk both free throws. Smith, himself, drained a wide-open 3-pointer off of an assist from Brewer. If coach Woodson is looking for footage for his highlight reel, these were two minutes of great spacing and unselfish play leading to high-quality scoring opportunities.
- After the game, Steve Novak and others pointed out that the Celtics mixed up their coverages, which proved effective against the Knicks. They played zone, they played man, they trapped, and on this night, they even lucked into some success leaving shooters wide-open. But even in a loss, the Knicks showed positive signs.
In the three previous games since Bradley’s return, Boston had allowed a paltry 86.5 points per 100 possessions. Last night, the Knicks managed to grind out 111.6 points per 100 possessions by doing what they do best: attacking the basket and shooting from deep. They were 14 for 32 (44 percent) from behind the arc, and there were a handful of other plays where a couple passes led to open looks that just didn’t fall.
In a physical game, the Knicks also managed to rise to the occasion and get to the free-throw line 26 times to Boston’s 20. They struggled to convert from the mid range (they were only 3 for 19 from 10-23 feet), but they stayed aggressive. For a team that normally converts a high percentage from three, that bodes well for future matchups -- like the one that looms later this month (January 24th, in Boston).