By John Schmeelk
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Before we even start, let’s get something straight. The Knicks had no business even being in the game against the Thunder last night.
They were playing their fourth game in five days, and were without leading scorer Carmelo Anthony. The Thunder are a top three team in the NBA. Thursday’s matchup should not have been close. But it was — and for that the Knicks deserve credit.
New York’s’ effort has been inconsistent this year, and downright deficient at times. Against Oklahoma City, the Knicks put forth the type of effort that can make them a real threat in the playoffs. After a lethargic first quarter in which the Thunder put up 35 points and shot 52 percent (not to mention making 10 free throws), the Knicks played hard the final three quarters and held the Thunder to just 60 points the rest of the way on 40-percent shooting.
If the Knicks can play that sort of ‘D’ the rest of the season, they will win a lot of basketball games. As usual, the team showed they are more than capable of getting up and playing well against the better clubs in the league.
On Thursday, the defense was needed. Amar’e Stoudemire had one of his worst games in some time, shooting just 5 for 16 against the long and athletic Serge Ibaka. Ray Felton shot just 6 for 16, and other than J.R. Smith, the team shot only 4 for 18 from behind the arc. Smith’s amazing shooting was the only reason the Knicks were in the game. Through three quarters he was 12 for 20 for 31 points. He cooled off in the fourth was just 2 for 9, the same number of shots as the rest of his teammates took in the quarter (they only made two of them as well).
The point is not to kill Smith. The Knicks needed him last night. He was bound to go cold, and Mike Woodson needed to have a Plan B.
There wasn’t much of one.
Despite the Thunder shutting down the Knicks’ pick-and-roll most of the night (Chandler and Stoudemire got few looks at the basket), Woodson went to it again and again with very little success. Even though he had struggled with Ibaka, Stoudemire needed to get more post touches down the stretch. He barely touched the ball in the closing minutes and was not involved in either of the final two Knicks possessions. He hit all four of his free throws in the quarter, but only got up one field goal attempt.
Woodson didn’t even run a play the final possession of the game, just letting Smith go one-on-one with Russell Westbrook. It’s easy to say he should have driven it to the basket, but Westbrook is quicker than Smith, who looked gassed. Why not run some kind of screen for him, or some kind of action off the ball?
It’s a disturbing trend. The Knicks never do anything creative with their late-game and final possessions. It’s often a simple isolation that turns into a low-percentage shot. Teams don’t win playoff games that way, even with a star like Anthony.
I also didn’t like Woodson’s substitution pattern late in the game. Tyson Chandler is the Knicks’ best player with Anthony out, and he has to be on the floor late in the game. Woodson made the point that he had to match the Thunder, who were going small, but why not make OKC match up with the Knicks?
A couple of Chandler offensive rebounds and put-backs over smaller players would have been useful in a quarter in which the Knicks couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn and got zero O-rebounds on 14 misses.
Is it really better to have Jason Kidd on the floor than Chandler? How about Steve Novak? And it doesn’t make sense to have Stoudemire on the floor instead of Chandler if you aren’t going to run any post-ups or isolations for Amar’e.
This was not a bad loss for the Knicks. It was one they had no business being in to begin with. Their effort, especially on defense, was good enough for playoff action.
It was, however, a bad game for Mike Woodson. He made some critical mistakes down the stretch that might have cost the Knicks the game. His lineups are becoming stranger as the season goes along — and his end-of-game plays have been non-existent, less than inventive and downright boring all year.
We’re talking about the kind of mistakes that become even more glaring in the playoffs. Right now, I don’t have faith in Woodson. He still has to prove he is a championship-level coach.
– If Kenyon Martin can play like that, there’s no reason for Kurt Thomas to be on the court — ever. EVER. NO REASON. Please, Mike Woodson, the days of Thomas making a positive contribution in meaningful minutes are over. And I love Kurt, but it’s the truth.
– James White actually hit a couple open threes and played decent defense on Durant, so this is not the time to yell and scream about him. It’s still fair to ask, however, if his 12 minutes would be more useful if given to someone else. Chris Copeland certainly has more offensive punch.
– Is Pablo Prigioni really out of the rotation? What has he done to deserve that? When he’s on the floor he has a net rating (based on team points scored/allowed per 100 possessions) of 7.8. That’s actually the best on the team, even better than Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony. When he’s in the backcourt, the Knicks play their best defense. He shoots a higher percentage than Jason Kidd both from the field and from three-point land. He averages more assists per 36 minutes. The only place Kidd has him is in rebounds and turnovers. Everything else is equal. I would really like to know why he is out of the rotation. It isn’t that Kidd shouldn’t play, but he isn’t a PG that can be effective with the ball in his hands anymore. He can’t even run a simple high screen and roll. Prigioni can — and he deserves to play.
– I’ve been meaning to write about Woodson’s lineups for two weeks now, but other topics keep coming up. I will next week. I think he’s is missing the boat on a lot of his player combinations.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
Do you pin this loss on Woodson? Be heard in the comments…