By John Schmeelk
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The New York Knicks managed to put on a good face for Phil Jackson for a couple of weeks. But it was only a matter of time before they reverted to the team we suffered through watching for the first four months of the season.
And they did it in a fashion only fitting for this disastrous season. The Cleveland Cavaliers are one of the worst teams in the NBA, playing on the road without their best player, Kyrie Irving. At this point, the Cavs are better off losing to secure more ping-pong balls in the draft lottery. They’d done a great job of it since the start of March, losing eight of 10.
The Knicks, on the other hand, were playing their best basketball of the season and had closed to within three games in the loss column of the Atlanta Hawks, who had lost two straight. The potential of a postseason birth was staring the Knicks right in the face. They took a 15-point lead into the half after being up by as many as 17 in the second quarter.
The Knicks promptly gave up the lead. How? By returning to the bad habits that have plagued them since Game 1:
1. The defensive intensity clicked down a couple of levels, and the Cavaliers began to score at will, shooting 77 percent in the second half. Yes, SEVENTY-SEVEN PERCENT! That is not a typo. Specifically, the Knicks’ pick-and-roll defense was terrible, mostly because…
2. The Knicks could not guard Jarrett Jack, who did his best Chris Paul impression on his way to 31 points and 10 assists on 10 of 19 shooting. It was yet another career high for a player (15th time it has happened this season) against the Knicks. Jack had only scored 20 or more three times before Sunday’s game, with his previous season high at 22. Ray Felton was powerless to stop him and Mike Woodson made no adjustments to assist his helpless point guard. Actually, I shouldn’t say that. Woodson decided to put Amar’e Stoudemire on Anderson Varejao on one possession down the stretch, putting the Knicks’ worst pick-and-roll defender in that exact position. Woodson also did nothing as…
3. The Knicks offense ran nothing but isolations and few pick and rolls in the second half. Rarely, if ever, was there a designed play, and more often than the not the result was a long three-pointer or a contested jump shot. It was the exact type of offense Jackson said he hated during his introductory press conference. It also didn’t help that…
4. Carmelo Anthony couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn in the fourth quarter. After playing so well for most of the game, Melo went ice cold when they needed him late. It has been a theme so far this season, with Anthony shooting under 38 percent in fourth quarters. Whether it is fatigue or something else, the Knicks’ best player has not been at his best in the biggest moments this year.
The sad thing is that those four points have been brought up again and again this season, and the Knicks appear powerless to turn them around. Now those major deficiencies have put one more nail in the coffin.
With an extremely difficult April schedule, the Knicks will need a ton of help to pass the Hawks in the Eastern Conference standings and sneak in as an eighth seed. There’s still a shot. But New York made it much more difficult on itself by not being able to beat the awful Cavaliers.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Teams will always eventually revert to who they are. We’ll see if the Knicks can bounce back to defy that identity, or if they will react poorly to a bad loss and see their season slide into oblivion.
With only three games remaining against teams out of the playoff race, the Knicks will have to play their best basketball to close out the season. It’s something they haven’t been able to do over long stretches this year.
They have one last chance to prove if they truly are a different team.
Phil Jackson will be watching.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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