By John Schmeelk
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When Carmelo Anthony was ejected with three minutes to play in the second quarter of Wednesday night’s overtime loss in Atlanta, the Knicks trailed by three points. Still their best player, Anthony’s absence gave fans a chance to see exactly what some of the pieces of this roster are made of.
The first thing that was easy to see was how the Knicks’ offense is much different with Anthony on the bench. The team became over-reliant on Derrick Rose creating for himself and his teammates, with little help coming from elsewhere. The Knicks still need Anthony on the offensive end and his absence was a big reason they only had 85 points at the end of regulation.
You also saw that the Knicks’ defense went up a tick with Anthony on the bench. They might have played their best defensive half of the season after Anthony was ejected. The Knicks allowed just 40 second-half points, and held the Hawks to just 34 percent shooting. New York’s defense in the first half was fairly good as well, just not as good as it was after the intermission. What we saw in the third and fourth quarters was type of defense the Knicks will have to play more consistently if they want to be a real postseason threat.
If you didn’t know it already, it was confirmed that Kristaps Porzingis is still not a guy you can dump the ball to in isolations and expect offensive production. He is far better in those spots than he was last season, but at just 21 years old he still has a lot of improving to do in that area.
And that’s just fine. For Porzingis to be at his best, he still has to be set up by his teammates. He moves well without the ball and can get easy looks if the guards are looking for him. There were too many crucial times on Wednesday night when that didn’t happen.
The culprit on two such occasions was Rose. On his final drive of regulation, with a chance for the Knicks to take the lead, the veteran point guard had Porzingis wide open for a mid-range jump shot off a screen and roll. Instead he decided to shoot a contested floater in the lane that bounced out.
With under 15 seconds to go in overtime, Porzingis found himself guarded by Dennis Schroder on a switch. Rather than pulling it out and getting Porzingis the ball with an easy pass, Rose instead drove into the waiting clutches of a double-team, slipped and lost the ball. During his postgame media availability, Rose said he was trying to get the ball to Porzingis, but driving into his space is not the way to go about it. It was a bad decision.
Rose has looked very good at times this season, displaying more explosiveness than many thought possible. Recently, he has become a more efficient player and his shooting percentage has jumped. But without Anthony on Wednesday night, his flaws showed up. It took him 28 shots to score his 26 points. He settled for tough floaters (granted many of his misses had been going in of late), rather than finding open teammates, and there were too many instances when his eyes got glued to the rim, instead of on open teammates.
Rose can’t be the Knicks’ first option offensively, which is why Anthony’s role on the team is still so important. As a second or third option, Rose is an effective player, but he should not be a primary offensive facilitator.
Sometimes you need to lose your best player to see what your team is all about. The Knicks got a glimpse of it on Wednesday. On the bright side, last season the Knicks would have lost that game by double digits. This time, Rose and Porzingis kept the team in the game through overtime.
If Courtney Lee had played, perhaps the result would have been different. At the very least, the Knicks got a chance to learn something about themselves.
- The officiating in the game on Wednesday had some questionable moments, but none moreso than the offensive foul that wasn’t called on Paul Millsap, when he extended his arm and pushing off Porzingis late in the game. Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek got a foolish technical foul disputing the call, but it is impossible to argue that the Knicks coach didn’t have a point.
- As painful as it might have been for Knicks fans to watch, those free throws at the end will serve as a good learning experience for Porzingis. He’ll be shooting a lot of huge shots at the end of games for the next 15 years. He’ll make some and miss some. On Wednesday, he happened to miss.
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