By John Schmeelk
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Before I start talking about Raymond Felton, it’s important to recognize the importance of the Knicks’ win on Thursday night. The team kept its head against a physical defensive team in a tough road environment. They won a grind-it-out defensive battle, exactly the type of game they had trouble winning all season long.

Amar’e Stoudemire is rounding into form, and he even had a good game rebounding the basketball. The Knicks’ defense continues to play at a better level.

All of that is great.

But one other thing was made clear on Thursday night: Felton is just as important to this team as Carmelo Anthony or Tyson Chandler.

The Knicks were extremely fortunate to hold onto the game last night in the fourth quarter. Their offense degenerated into a Anthony and J.R. Smith isolation fest, with both often having to force shots late in the shot clock. It is important to note that the Celtics are a great defensive team, and they force teams into playing one-on-one basketball. It’s why they are tough to score against. But the Knicks didn’t even challenge them with creative sets or plays, and were way too happy to accept watching Anthony and Smith jack up contested shots. It all came down to the point-guard play.

Pablo Prigioni played point guard in the first five minutes of the game, and the Knicks outscored the Celtics, 8-6. It was no offensive explosion by any means, but Prigioni did assist two of Anthony’s makes. Once Jason Kidd checked in with seven minutes to play in the quarter, the offense turned isolation-heavy. In the final seven minutes the Knicks scored just nine points, only one of which was assisted (Kidd to Smith on his final three-pointer). Two came on a Stoudemire put-back on an offensive rebound. The fact remains that if three-pointers didn’t fall, the Knicks might very well have lost that game. If Paul Pierce doesn’t mishandle the ball twice, in part because of Smith’s defense, the Knicks probably don’t score enough to win.

Anthony is going to have to score one-on-one if the Knicks want to get where they want to go, but they asked far too much of him in the fourth quarter. On nearly every possession he was asked to start 20-or-more feet away from the basket and not only beat the initial Celtics defender, but the interior help-defense as well. It was no different for Smith. Often times both guys only got the ball in their hands with six or seven seconds left on the shot clock. No plays were run. Kidd would walk it up slowly and hold it before handing to Anthony, and everyone watched.

Felton fixes much of this.

Kidd simply is no longer an NBA-caliber point guard who can run the offense with the ball in his hand. He can still be an extremely effective player off the ball as a ball mover and spot-up shooter, but he is simply unable to create anything as a playmaker. Prigioni does a good job in the pick-and-roll, but his unwillingness to shoot makes him only a mediocre point guard. With that said, Prigioni still finished +8 in only 16 minutes, while Kidd finished -5 in more than 30. Just look at how much better Stoudemire looks when he is on the floor with Prigioni. The ball moves more and that helps everyone.

Felton, for all his faults (low shooting percentage, poor shot selection etc.), knows how to run this team. He will call out plays, run the pick-and0roll and keep the ball moving. I guarantee that if he is on the floor in the final quarter, the Knicks’ offense is far less stagnant. Chandler gets more lobs going towards the basket, and so would Stoudemire. More guys are open for threes since Felton is penetrating deep into the lane. Felton is stubborn enough to not give into the urge to simply hand it to Anthony and watch. The numbers don’t lie.

When Felton is on the floor this year, the Knicks have a 111.9 offensive efficiency rating, higher than ANY other player on the team. Before Felton’s injury, the team had a 109 offensive rating, but since his injury that rating is down to 105.9. The team’s shooting percentage has dropped about two points, and the three-point percentage about four points. Chandler was shooting 69 percent and averaging 12.5 points before Felton’s injury. Since, he is down to 10.8 points and 63 percent from the field. This can all be traced to the ball and player movement that comes from the Knicks’ pick-and-roll offense with Felton up top.

It looks like Felton will return this weekend, and it should solve a lot of the team’s offensive woes. Kidd can move to his spot off the ball and return to being a real asset rather than a liability. Chandler and Stoudemire will get more easy looks around the basket. Steve Novak will start getting easy three-point opportunities again. The offense should improve.

The old adage turned out to be true: You never know what you truly have until you lose it. Welcome back, Felton.

Schmeelk’s Snippets

– Even without a real point guard, Mike Woodson should take some heat for how he ran the Knicks’ offense in the fourth quarter. How Anthony wasn’t put in one high pick-and-roll with Chandler or Stoudemire was puzzling at best. He couldn’t even get a post look against Jeff Green. Woodson cant fall into the easy trap of isolation offense late in the game.

Stoudemire is looking more and more like his old self, and I’m becoming more and more confident that he can be a real asset to this team in the coming months. I can’t wait to see him paired with Felton again. There were times last night where Jared Sullinger simply looked incapable of stopping him in the low post. More post touches, please. Last night was also one of the best rebounding games I’ve seen him have, and while his defense isn’t close to being great, he is showing hustle rotating out to shooters. I am officially encouraged.

– Marv Albert was simply hilarious on Thursday night making fun of the Celtics for piping noise into their building. It was classic Albert, and it’s why he is still one of the best in the business.

– Smith almost shot the Knicks out of that game last night, but he hit the big three and made two defensive plays when it counted the most. He is not wowed by the moment. But his lack of hesitation to shoot with the game on the line might come back and bite the Knicks when he misses those shots instead of making them. John Starks, anyone?

– I love Kurt Thomas to death, but Marcus Camby can’t come back soon enough.

You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.

That’s quite a bold statement. Are you buying it? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…


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