By John Schmeelk
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Knicks fans should have known better.
I should have known better.
It was easy to get sucked into the winning streak at the end of the season, and the way the Knicks completely outclassed Boston in the first three games of this series. But as usual, it was all a mirage. In the end, this team is the same it’s been all season long: maddeningly inconsistent.
It doesn’t matter that they are clearly the better team in this series. J.R. Smith still did something immature (and stupid) that cost the team a game. Carmelo Anthony went into a shooting slump, reminiscent of January through March. The team still reverted to iso-ball, even when time and time again it didn’t work. The Knicks are the Knicks.
It has put them in a brutal position. They might drop a series they have no business losing.
Even through the first three games against the Celtics, all wins for the Knicks, one thing was consistent: the Knicks’ offense stunk. They averaged 100 points per game this season but haven’t scored more than 90 so far in this series — and one game went to overtime! The Knicks were the third-best offensive team in all of basketball in 2012-13, according to their offensive rating (108.6), but in the playoffs they’ve been thewfourth-worst team with a dreadful offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of just 96.3.
It’s been disgusting — and there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Some credit should go to the Celtics, one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. They were one of the best in the league against isolation offenses all season long, and that has continued in the playoffs. Of course, one might think the Knicks would see it and adjust.
One would be wrong.
Instead, the Knicks continue to force-feed Anthony and Smith in isolation even though it rarely works. Raymond Felton killed the Celtics on the screen-and-roll for two straight games, yet that play still isn’t the biggest part of the Knicks’ offense. It’s baffling. It’s mind-boggling.
The major concern with Mike Woodson when he became head coach was his unimaginative offense and penchant for relying on isolations. It has been New York’s undoing in this series. It’s not as though the Celtics have made any major defensive adjustments either. They guard the isolation well, and the pick-and-roll much less so. Yet the Knicks continue running plays that the Celtics guard best. Want to know why the Knicks haven’t had their three-point game going? The ball doesn’t move. Everyone is standing around, watching Anthony and Smith try to score on three defenders. It’s the coach’s job to put his players in the best position to score, and he isn’t doing that. His coaching on the offensive end has been atrocious.
The players aren’t without blame, either. The past two games can be laid at the feet of Anthony and Smith. First was Smith’s idiotic and immature suspension. He followed that up with an even more impressive 3-for-14 night. Carmelo Anthony, meanwhile, has shot 18-for-59 in the past two games, a wonderful 30.5 percent. Those two players, as much as anyone, have brought the Knicks down to where they are today.
If they don’t play better, things could get really bad, really quickly. Anthony needs to play like the league’s best scorer and Smith like the Sixth Man of the Year. Putting them in more pick-and-rolls and fewer isolations would go a long way toward helping them and the team. They can do it (Melo is actually one in the best of the league), yet neither has been given the opportunity. That’s on the coach.
What does it say that Felton and Iman Shumpert have been the team’s two best players since Game 3? Tyson Chandler has been quiet too. You can chalk that up to his injuries and recovery from the flu. But it also has to do with the lack of ball movement. The same goes for the Knicks’ three-point game, which has been silent. Without ball movement, which rarely starts with isolation plays, the Knicks aren’t going to find open threes. They aren’t getting out in transition either.
Great defense hid the Knicks’ offensive problems in the first three games, but the Celtics weren’t going to play that poorly on offense forever. Woodson needs to get the offense fixed, and fast. It’s been the Knicks’ strength the entire season and needs to be again.
Despite the panic of some fans, Game 6 in Boston is entirely winnable. The Knicks are still the better team — if they play the right way. They are the much better team, in fact.
If they show it in Boston, they win the game.
And the series.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
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