By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks tried hard on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. There was a defensive intensity there that was absent the first two games of the series. (Should we be surprised we only got that once Amar’e Stoudemire wasn’t in the lineup?) That was just about the only good news. The offense was putrid, disgusting, vomit-inducing; or any other negative adjective you can think of.
The easy thing to do when a season goes south is to go after the superstar and the coach, which most fans do, and I normally criticize. In this situation, however, it would be appropriate. All the good will and appreciation that Mike Woodson received (and rightfully so) for how the Knicks played in April has vanished. (Again, rightfully so.) The Knicks simply didn’t look like the same team in this series, and a lot of that has to be pinned on the coach.
One knock on Mike Woodson from his days in Atlanta was his lack of creativity on offense, which often resulted in an iso-Joe (Johnson) offensive attack. With Jeremy Lin that didn’t happen — and even after his injury there was a lot more isolation for Carmelo Anthony — but there was still plenty of ball movement to get players like Steve Novak open looks. All of that disappeared against the Heat in the playoffs.
There are plenty of excuses, whether it be the injuries to Lin, Shumpert and Stoudemire, superior Miami defense or bad point-guard play. All of those are factors, especially the point-guard play. Baron Davis was so bad in Game 3 that I looked to my brother who was sitting next to me in the upper level of the Garden and actually said, “They need to bring Mike Bibby back in the game.” Zombie Bibby, recently resurrected from corpse status, at least got the ball moving a little bit and knocked down a couple of threes. Baron Davis’ idea on offense was to simply dribble out 14 seconds off the shot, hand the ball to Carmelo or JR Smith 25 feet away from the basket and watch them force a bad shot. Master of the obvious time: That is not a good offensive strategy.
The Miami Heat are simply too good of a defensive team to only make them defend for half the shot clock, and mostly against one player in an isolation situation. Davis and Bibby are both over the hill, but it is still the responsibility of the coach to get the offense moving. You could see Woodson imploring his team to move the ball from the sideline — and he said the same thing in his postgame presser — but we didn’t see it on the court and that’s what counts. The Knicks cannot win a playoff series, let alone a title, playing offense the way they did against the Heat.
Even more damning was Woodson’s inability to figure out how to get his superstar in better position to score when the Heat constantly fronted or doubled Carmelo Anthony. We saw a few cross screens and back picks to free him, but not once was there a backdoor pass to get him an open look. With constant fronting 20 feet from the hoop, there should have been at least one chance for a backdoor play and an easy basket. We saw none. Again, some of this is on the Knicks’ ball handlers, but it’s on Woodson too. Serious questions need to be asked within the Knicks’ front office if he has what it takes offensively to make noise in the playoffs.
In the postseason, teams can do much more scouting and game planning for specific teams and players than in the regular season. The Heat could practice for three straight days how to stop Carmelo Anthony. It takes good coaching and creative sets to make sure it isn’t that easy to take away a team’s best player. We saw none of that creativity from the Knicks in this series. It should be no surprise that Steve Novak has been silent. He gets shots off of ball movement and in transition, two things the Knicks have done none of this series.
And that’s not absolving Carmelo Anthony, who shot a dismal 7-for-23 last night and committed five turnovers. He has played a terrible series, not just shooting the ball, but failing to move without it and hitting the open man once double-teamed. He has also shown an extreme lack of hustle getting back on defense a couple of times. He looked like the old Carmelo Anthony, before his improved all-around play in April. I’ll have more on Melo next week.
At halftime, the Knicks had 40 points. My brother looked at me and said they would have to score 85 to win. The Heat finished with 87 and the Knicks with 70. 30 second-half points was all they could manage. With six minutes to play the Heat took a 74-62 lead. At that point I tweeted this, “Knicks have 62 points in 42 minutes. They are down 12 with six to play. Do the math. Game over. Odds are they won’t even score 12.” The Knicks would finish with 70 points, scoring eight points the final six minutes. That’s how bad it was.
I’m not even sure I’m going to waste my time watching on Sunday. It’s going to be 48 minutes of watching a once-promising season slowly die by the hands of the team that Knicks fans hate the most. It will be painful and excruciating. It’s the life of a Knicks fan. I’ll be there.
– Tyson Chandler’s Defensive Player of the Year Award is well deserved.
– JR Smith couldn’t hit a thing on Thursday, but give him credit for working his rear end off on defense. He did a great job on that end of the floor.
– Josh Harrellson is going to be an NBA player for a long time and he should have played more last night.
– So did someone else take off the Landry Fields disguise at halftime, and then the real thing played in the second half? Or is first half Fields the real thing? The Knicks need to figure that out.
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Who is to blame for the Knicks’ lousy performance throughout this series? Offer your thoughts and comments below…