When the ball is bouncing in the wrong direction, the shots are simply not falling, and injuries hinder key players at crucial moments in the season, there is one safety net in basketball.
A deep focus on the defensive side of the floor will always provide a glimmer of hope for any team. Over the last eight games, the Knicks have not only registered some incredible defensive statistics but they have made defense their calling card, which has directly led to seven victories in those last eight outings.
“There are going to be nights where we bust loose and make shots and put up big numbers,” interim head coach Mike Woodson explained. “What has to be a given has to be our defense. We have to continue to defend and rebound. If we do that, we will put ourselves in position to win games.”
Shortly after the team discovered the news that Amar’e Stoudemire was diagnosed with a bulging disk in his back and out indefinitely and Jeremy Lin’s sore knee would keep him sidelined on Monday, New York rallied behind another sparkling defensive effort.
During the first half, Milwaukee bucked the defensive trend from the Knicks by scoring 52 points, led by an unexpected 24-point outburst from Mike Dunleavy. In the following 24 minutes of action, New York’s D was absolutely suffocating as the squad only allowed 28 Bucks points in the second half and handcuffed Dunleavy to just two points. Impressively, prolific guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis were stifled, only shooting a combined 8-of-36 from the floor.
The 89-80 result was an essential win for the postseason chase and another glaring example of how the Knicks can succeed at a high level.
So, what exactly has led to the unified defensive mindset that has lifted New York to a 16-1 record when holding its opponent under 90 points?
“Just being active. Since Coach [Woodson] has taken over we have just been really active defensively and forcing to play one-on-one-basketball,” guard Baron Davis observed.
The Knicks are only allowing 86 points per game in the recent 8-game stretch while they are streaking at 7-1. The top team in that category is the Philadelphia 76ers and they are allowing an average of 87.6 for the season. In the last meeting in Philly, New York limited the Sixers to 11 first quarter points in an 82-79 division win.
Fans can certainly appreciate the defensive aspects on the hardwood, watching the Knicks quickly rotate, remain in contact with each of the five opposing players on the floor, fighting through hard screens, trapping the dead ball, and jumping passing lanes for momentum altering steals. In fact, New York ranks second in the league in steals with an average of 9.6 per game.
A major part of New York’s evolving defense is the man in middle – the anchor and guardian in the paint. The key 2011 summer acquisition, Tyson Chandler is not surprised by the defensive resurgence, “When you play defense like this, you can beat any team in the league. We have 10-12 guys coming in at different times and applying pressure as well as get out on the fast break and provide points, it’s tough for a team to match that for 48 minutes.”
Chandler is absolutely correct in his assessment, considering the Knicks feature one of the deepest and most athletic rosters in the NBA. New York owns size and length in the backcourt to compliment Chandler’s protection inside the paint.
The beauty of the spotlight shining on the Knicks defensive prowess is the offensive firepower that still exists on the roster. Despite the recent injury news, Anthony is an All-Star starter with one of the most dangerous offensive arsenals in the league. Lin will return, Davis is capable of impactful games, and J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Steve Novak are explosive options for the Knicks offense.
“Offensively, I’m not really worried about it. They system is in place if we can just continue to be unselfish – offensively, we’ll make shots. But, defensively, we have to be there every night,” Woodson stated.
The output on the offensive end of the court is now icing on the cake but rest assured the Knicks are a team powered by their defense. From this point forward the defense will act as the safety net, a safeguard against possible adversity.