By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks looked great in the first half on Sunday afternoon.
The effort and defense was strong, holding the Heat to 45 points and under 45 percent shooting. They moved the ball around the perimeter like a hot potato. The Knicks had 14 assists on 20 shots. Carmelo Anthony shot a high percentage and took it strong to the hoop. Even though the team shot poorly from behind the arc, they shot 57 percent from the field.
It was November all over again. It was beautiful basketball.
Then the second half started, and the Knicks looked like the team that has sputtered around for the past two months. Ball movement slowed. The Knicks relied on jump shots and shot only 31 percent from the field (2-12 from behind the arc). They had just 34 points on 12 field goals and four assists. Anthony put up eight points on 3-11 shooting as LeBron James took him out of the game. The Knicks turned it over nine times. The Heat defense had something to do with it — but New York’s play was the bigger culprit.
As it has since November, the Knicks’ effort on defense waned in the second half as they looked far too comfortable with a 14-point halftime lead. It wasn’t only James as both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had big second halves for Miami. The Heat shot 48 percent in the final two quarters and committed just four turnovers. All the defensive ferocity that the Knicks showed in the first half disappeared. Iman Shumpert playing just six minutes may have had something to do with that, too. The team switched way too much, and seemed far more concerned about arguing about calls than getting back on defense.
The last few minutes of the game exposed the flaws that have caused most of the Knicks’ struggles on both sides of the ball since their hot start to the season. The offense was stagnant, and the team struggled to score. The Knicks scored just six points in the final six minutes of the game. All those points came on individual plays — Raymond Felton driving to the basket.
Anthony only got one shot in the final six minutes, while J.R, Smith missed three shots and committed the costly turnover that sealed the win for Miami. The Knicks went away from the high screen and roll that had worked all game, and the offense often looked lost and confused. There were no creative sets or plays called by the coach. Despite being the team’s best offensive player in the second half, Amar’e Stoudemire was glued to the bench.
Mike Woodson looked lost.
The same can be said for the defense. The Knicks not only switched way too much into mismatches, but they also had a couple of miscommunications on the high screen and roll that cost them dearly. Those types of mistakes late in games can cost teams in a playoff series. On even the weakest screens, the Knicks were switching. Early in the game, the Knicks’ best pick and roll defense came when Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire trapped the Heat ball-handlers away from the basket. That rarely happened in the second half.
These are the same coaching strategies Woodson has been employing all season — decisions that have come back to bite the Knicks. The loss also highlighted the team’s structural flaws. The Knicks rely on a two very inconsistent players, Smith and Raymon , to score from the perimeter if Anthony can’t get things going. I’m not sure a team can win a championship with those two players being relied upon so heavily. I’m not sure they are good enough.
With all that said, the Knicks were two points down with just over two minutes to play. The Knicks match up extremely well with the Heat since they play small and aren’t overly physical. If they meet in the playoffs, the Knicks have a real chance of pushing Miami into a very long and competitive series. Anthony, even though he’s not at the level of James, can challenge him offensively and defensively like no other player in the NBA.
Even though this game exposed the Knicks’ flaws, it should also give fans hope. Woodson’s team can beat the Heat if they play well. Now it’s on the coach and the players to make sure that happens more consistently.
– As badly as J.R. Smith played, and as bad as some of his late-game decisions were, he missed a lot of wide-open spot-up jump shots that he’d normally make. If he makes a couple more shots, the Knicks might win the game.
– LeBron James did a good job defensively on Carmelo Anthony in the second half, but Melo still had looks he usually makes. The Knicks just went cold in the second half, something they can’t afford against a team like the Heat.
– Despite their winning streak and how good LeBron James has been, the Heat are beatable. I thought that before Sunday’s game, and I think that even more now.
– Steve Novak gave the Knicks nothing on Sunday and that has been the case for many games this season. He is not giving them enough on offense to make up for his brutal defense.
– Mike Woodson needs to figure out his starters and his rotation. James White in the starting lineup makes no sense. Amar’e Stoudemire has to play more than 20 minutes and get more than seven field goal attempts. I’ll touch on that more tomorrow.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
Do you think these Knicks have a prayer of beating LeBron & Co. in the playoffs? Be heard in the comments!