By John Schmeelk
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A couple of months ago I wrote an article calling the Knicks an arrogant team.
It got more angry responses from loyal Knicks fans than anything else I’ve written this year. Well, guess what? The team’s behavior since it grabbed a 3-0 lead against Boston has been just as despicable as its midseason attitude and effort.
A friend pointed out that this series has been a microcosm of the 2012-13 season. New York got off to a fast start (much like November and December), tailed off in Games 4 and 5 (January, February and part of March), and now it’s time for the Knicks to close the deal (March and April).
J.R. Smith’s elbow, his trash talk on Tuesday and the team’s dopey black funeral attire — all annoying. But nobody would have cared about any of it had they just hit a couple of shots and closed out the series. All the endless talk was a complete waste of time. Everything not related directly to basketball needs to be put aside and forgotten. The Knicks are still the better team, and if they play their game they will win Game 6, even though it’s in Boston.
If they don’t close it out? There will hell to pay. Carmelo Anthony will never be able to wipe the stain of blowing a 3-0 lead in a playoff series (to a No. 7 seed) off his record. It could leave such a mark that his legacy here would never recover unless he wins a championship. Some Knicks fans already have it out for Melo, and most won’t ever forgive him if he plays poorly in the next two games and the team loses. Mike Woodson, despite his stellar regular season, would be in danger of losing his job. Smith’s dreams of a big contract this offseason would seriously diminish.
Blowing this would be considered the worst playoff debacle in the history of the Knicks franchise. That’s no small thing considering the organization’s history (of not winning) over the past 40 years.
If this series goes seven games, watch out. There’s a good chance the Knicks would completely unravel under the pressure. When this team faces adversity it has the tendency to revert to its worst ways. It’s a destructive cycle that can be avoided with a win Friday night.
If this gets to Sunday, the Garden will be wrapped just as tight as Yankee Stadium back in 2004.
How’d that work out?
Not so well.
Of course, winning Friday will require some changes on the floor. The Knicks’ poor offense, and bad shooting by Anthony and Smith, has everything to do with their approach. Woodson has said all the right things seems to realize the problem comes from lack of ball movement. Either he can’t correctly communicate that to the team or the players simply can’t execute. I went into detail Thursday about how the Knicks can fix their offense and create more ball movement with less isolation and more pick-and-roll plays. But there’s a much easier way to solve the Knicks’ problems: RUN.
The best way for the Knicks to get open threes — and easier looks for Anthony and Smith — is to get out in transition. The Celtics are difficult to score on when they have a chance to set. By pushing the ball early and often, the team will find more open threes and give their stars room to operate. Anthony has been better all year-long when he makes quick decisions and doesn’t hold the ball. He needs to get back to that. It’s an easy solution.
The other easy way for the Knicks to score: grab more offensive rebounds. The Celtics are one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA, but the Knicks haven’t taken advantage of it. Other than a 16-offensive-rebound performance in Game 4, New York’s advantage has been minimal. Anthony has one offensive rebound. No, not one per game, just one. Total. Coaching aside, Carmelo needs to work harder for his points — and hitting the offensive glass will help tremendously. It also shows how far Anthony has been from the basket offensively. He should try to catch the ball within 15 feet of the hoop instead of starting from behind the three-point line.
Running and hitting the offensive glass — it’s an effort thing. The Knicks have put forth a good effort this series on the defensive end, but it’s waned a bit in the past two games.
The Knicks have flipped the switch on and off all year. It’s time to turn it on again, or the they’ll be facing truly terrible consequences this weekend.
They have the skill, but do they have the will and fortitude to do what it takes to win?
I think they do.
Knicks in six.
Besides the broader offensive changes mentioned above, there are other tweaks the Knicks need to make in order to take this thing home in six games:
– Either Raymond Felton or Iman Shumpert need to be on Paul Pierce at all times. Both players have had great success against him this series, and the last thing the Knicks need is for Pierce to get going. Jason Kidd has struggled against him and needs to be kept off the job.
– Pablo Prigioni needs more minutes. He facilitates ball movement, and is one of the Knicks’ better defensive guards. Kidd needs to step up and play a big game. He’s been too quiet. Woodson seems to have figured out that Kidd can’t be the only point guard in the game by himself. It doesn’t work and stagnates the Knicks’ offense. This means more Prigioni.
– With Steve Novak out, Chris Copeland has to play. Maybe he can help give a spark to a Knicks offense that has been borderline unwatchable.
– Tyson Chandler is looking like his old self. Felton and the rest of the Knicks needs to find him rolling to the basket. Chandler, for his own part, might want to come up with one of his 20-rebound games and dominate on the offensive glass.
– Someone needs to remind Smith to take it to the basket and not settle for jump shots, especially when he misses early.
– There’s absolutely no one on Celtics that requires a double-team. Make the Celtics score one-on-one.
– The Knicks are a three-point shooting team, and they need to get back to it.
– Of the 16 teams in the playoffs, the Knicks have been the third-best defensive team and the 13th-best offensive team. It’s like the team is the bizarre version of the one that played in the regular season. The Celtics and their style have something to do with it, but it’s still bizarre. It would appear the Knicks’ ability to turn on their defensive intensity in the playoffs was more than just a theory.
– In the regular season the Knicks ran 15.9 isolations per game. In the playoffs? 26.6! That would be the most for any playoff team since 2004 (as per Synergy, and ’04 is as far back as they go, so it could be longer). On those 26.6 isolations, the Knicks are scoring .707 points per possession, worse than any other playoff team. Does this make any sense? Nope. If the Knicks lose the series, that stat is why Woodson could get fired, and Anthony would be the focus of so much wrath.
– I actually feel good about the game tonight. As long as the Knicks shoot reasonably well, they should win. If Woodson adjusts his offense just a little bit, they should win. Will they? It’s the Knicks. Who the heck knows.
– Excellent win by the Nets to push it to a Game 7. It’s amazing how hard the Bulls play on every possession. It’s a credit to their coach. The Nets are the more talented team and I’ll stick with my prediction that they win the series in seven games.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
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