By Steve Kallas
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An exciting Game 4 Knick win, a snap-the-all-time-NBA-playoff-losing-streak win, a probably-guarantee-that-Mike-Woodson-gets-hired win.
But what does it really mean?
A GOOD SEASON
All in all, it’s been a good season for the New York Knicks. Not really for what they’ve done this season (certainly, at a minimum, they were expected to be a playoff team). But for what they’ve done looking forward to next season. The Knicks were well on their way to going nowhere this year when the accidental, Jeremy Lin miracle occurred. Lin, arguably, the MVP of the NBA in February, turned the Knicks around and made them relevant again. While there are still some who don’t understand what he brings to the table (court vision, fearlessness, an ability to make other players around him better), it’s clear that he is already, with virtually no NBA experience, a good to very good NBA point guard (see Kallas Remarks, 2/16/12). Those who think he can’t go left don’t know what they are talking about (see Kallas Remarks, 2/17/12)
WHAT ABOUT THIS WIN?
Well, it was important for this Knick team to win a playoff game. It’s good for their collective psyche, it did end a terrible record (13 playoff losses in a row) and it does set them up for a belief that, next year, they can do better.
WERE THEY FORTUNATE TO WIN?
They were, but they hung in there, they lost yet another point guard, they lost their defensive star very late in the game and still held on to win. That will stand them in good stead when they play a series that they can actually win. Next year.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED DOWN THE STRETCH?
Well, the Knicks, as they are wont to do, gave Miami every chance to stay in and win the game. In the modern NBA, foul shooting, for the most part, has become an afterthought. Carmelo Anthony misses the first two of three foul shots up three with 25.9 seconds left in the game. Amar’e Stoudemire, who may be given, in the modern NBA, the Comeback Player of the Series Award (for coming back from a self-inflicted injury), misses one of two foul shots with 14.8 seconds, leaving Miami down two with the ball with 13.2 seconds left.
Miami obviously made a decision to let Dwyane Wade take the final shot (despite his own horrific 4-11 from the foul line). So Wade gets the ball inbounds, gets a switch he wants to Amar’e, makes a move to the basket, loses the ball, gets it back and misses a forced, contested, fall away three at the buzzer to give the Knicks their first playoff win since 2001.
While some people actually think that Wade and Miami wanted to take a three to win the game, that reasoning is ridiculous. Wade really had no choice after he made his move and lost the ball. Here is his quote after the game: “I had a lane and then I kind of lost the ball. When I lost it, I knew they’d recover by then so it made me dribble out. We got the switch and I got a little step on Amar’e and I was about to go to my shot. I was about to go to my shot but I fumbled the ball a little bit.”
Clearly the plan was to tie up the game. The Knicks, by the last possession, had already lost their only point guard (Baron Davis, the once-upon-a-time “savior”) and, more importantly for purposes of a potential overtime, had lost their best defensive player (Tyson Chandler, who had fouled out with 20.3 seconds left).
If the game went into overtime, Miami was a virtual lock to win it.
And while the Knick win most likely just puts off the inevitable, it is a big win for the team, the fans and the future.
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, STEVE NOVAK?
Well, you didn’t really have to have a deep understanding of basketball to realize what was going to happen to Steve Novak in this series. A wonderful story, a guy who has clearly made himself a place in the league, he’s simply not a guy who can create his shot. It was pretty obvious months ago that, the day a team decided to focus on Novak, he simply wasn’t going to be able to get his shot (see Kallas Remarks, 2/16/12).
He was so good this year that Miami decided to shut him down. Again, once that was decided, it was a done deal. How do we know? Well, Novak himself was quoted as saying that whenever he came into a game, all five Miami guys were yelling “Novak’s in, Novak’s in.” That’s not a good sign for Steve Novak.
But it was even more obvious from the actual play of the Heat. Early in the series, Carmelo got a pass at the foul line and turned to go to the basket. He went in for an uncontested, thunderous dunk that was played in every highlight real. What was missed, however, was the fact that, when Carmelo turned and went to the basket for the one-dribble dunk, Mike Miller was actually there.
What did Miller do? Well, against all common (basketball defensive) sense (you know, stop the guy going to the basket), Miller literally ran out to the corner because Steve Novak was waiting there all alone. Miller paid more attention to a guy standing behind the three-point line than to the Knicks’ best scorer going in for an uncontested dunk. THAT’S how badly the Heat had decided that Steve Novak wasn’t going to hurt them.
So the numbers are not at all surprising: over 20 minutes a game (a total of 82 in the four games) and only NINE shots (making four of seven from three, by the way).
Unfortunately, this is what a team can do to Steve Novak once they decide to shut him down. What about the notion that the Knicks would have gotten Novak a lot of open looks if Jeremy Lin, who can get his own shot, had played in this series? Another mistake since, clearly (see the Mike Miller example above), the Heat had made it part of their game plan to shut down Novak.
And, frankly, it worked to perfection (people who continued to say that Novak had to “go off” in this series simply didn’t understand what they were watching). The only way Novak “goes off” in Game 5 is if Miami changes its defensive strategy (unlikely, given their rousing success so far).
Steve Novak has a good future as a Knick but he might actually be better off with the Heat, the best team in the NBA for getting guys open threes (cause if a team cheats off of guys named Lebron and Wade to stay home with a three-point shooter, those two will each score a lot more per game than they already score).
WHY BRING BACK JEREMY LIN?
What’s the point? It was only a matter of time before Lin got hurt this season. With the compressed schedule (one that has lead to an incredible amount of injuries – did the Players’ Association understand this when they agreed to this wacky 66-game schedule?) and Lin’s limited playing time until the miracle occurred (remember Mike D’Antoni with his ill-fated “I’m going to ride him like friggin’ Secretariat” quote – how did that work out?), you had a sense it was going to happen. Especially given Lin’s propensity to drive in among the trees (which is one reason he has made it in the NBA).
The notion that the Knicks can win this series is a dream. No team has ever come back in the NBA after getting down 3-0. This is not the year (nor is this the series) for that miracle to happen.
If Lin sets foot on the court during Game 5, no matter what he does, it’s a big mistake.
Why potentially sacrifice the future?
BRING BACK MIKE WOODSON
This guy has easily handled the pressure of New York and, even if he did benefit from Carmelo playing harder after D’Antoni quit (or got fired?), he deserves the job. Whatever you think of the odd timing of D’Antoni’s departure (he decides to coach non-winnable games on the road in Boston, back-to-back in Dallas and San Antonio, etc. and then leaves when the Knicks are going to play a dysfunctional Portland team at home and other winnable games (Indiana home and home and Toronto at the Garden)? Come on), Woodson got these guys to play hard and even buy in defensively.
That’s a tough thing to do in today’s NBA.
Besides, why would Phil Jackson want to hurt his legacy by proving Red Auerbach right? (you know, Jackson never built a championship team from scratch or coached a championship team without multiple superstars).
Maybe the Knicks can get another one in Miami.
But it says here that’s highly unlikely.