By John Schmeelk
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After the Knicks lost to the Celtics, everyone — including me — focused on Carmelo Anthony losing his cool against Kevin Garnett and the Celtics. It’s a problem in its own right, but the only reason Garnett even had a chance to get in Anthony’s head was the team’s inexplicably switch-heavy defense.
Switching has been a staple of the Knicks’ defense this year, mostly when it has been at its worst.
It reared its ugly head against the Celtics, especially in the fourth quarter, when Tyson Chandler and Anthony constantly switched the Paul Pierce/Garnett high pick-and-roll. Once Anthony wound up on Garnett, the Celtics fed the post and the Knicks were forced to double team. Garnett would swing the ball, resulting in an open shot — many times on the baseline.
Pierce was also able to take advantage of the Chandler matchup, scoring on a couple of jumpers and creating a backdoor layup on a J.R. Smith double team. Were those double teams ordered or were they an undisciplined reaction to planned switches? I don’t have the answer to that, but I do know that the Knicks’ rotations have not been good enough all year to cover up after double teams.
The Celtics ran the same simple play again and again. It worked again and again. The Knicks never adjusted how they guarded it, and the Celtics just continued to score off it. The Celtics scored 26 points in the fourth quarter and shot 56 percent from the field. Overall, the Celtics shot 53 percent and scored 102 points without their point guard, Rajon Rondo. It was an embarrassing defensive effort that was at its worst in the fourth quarter. In past games the Knicks had played their best defense in the fourth quarter, but that was not the case on Monday.
The blame for this falls directly on Mike Woodson. I’ve decried the Knicks’ inconsistent effort on defense, and it was lacking at times on Monday as well.
But defensive strategy begins and ends with the coach. Woodson did not put his players in the best position to succeed on Monday night. I suppose it is possible that the players were switching on their own, but if they were disobeying their coach it would be insubordination of the highest order and a legitimate cause for benching the guilty parties.
Switching in of itself is not a bad thing if a team has the right personnel and the matchups present themselves. But for the Knicks to choose to switch into matchups that force them to double team is a strategy that can only be described as self-destructive. There is no logical reason why Woodson would tell his players to switch into matchups that are so detrimental that they force double teams. It doesn’t make any sense. It isn’t as if the Celtics were setting great screens either. Even at the slightest contact, the Knicks would switch. It was unfathomable.
Some players are more apt to switch than others, but everyone does it enough that it must be part of the game plan. It is the easiest way for players to guard the pick-and-roll, since it takes a lot more effort to fight over a screen than to call out a switch. So in some ways it comes back to effort, but especially Mike Woodson switched a lot in Atlanta, it is more than likely on the coach. When the Knicks play their best defense, you see very little switching. It is up to Woodson to make his team understand that and fix the holes in his defensive strategy. It will take more effort on behalf of the players, but it is worth it.
Doc Rivers coached the pants off Mike Woodson on Monday night, and it was that more than anything else that cost the Knicks a game. A bad switch or other small coaching decisions can cost a team a postseason game, and therefore a series.
The Knicks’ defense has been getting worse by the week, and Mike Woodson isn’t helping things. If the switching continues, the Knicks will find themselves giving up 100 points or more in many games the rest of the season.
Teams that do that don’t win many playoff games. It’s time for Woodson to get this thing fixed.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
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