How did the Knicks win last night? The easy answer was a heave-ho off the glass from what seemed like 40 feet. What Jamal Crawford described after the game as the biggest shot of his career, gave the Knicks their first road win of the 2005 season. New York didn’t look good early on. A 7 point Houston lead at the half grew to 11 points by the start the 4th quarter. However the Knicks came storming back with a 3-point barrage. Actually Penny Hardaway and Jamal Crawford combined for all 7 of New York’s treys. All of Penny’s came in the 4th quarter, and Crawford’s last trey gave the Knicks a 1 point edge as time expired.
The four factors tell an interesting story of the game that was highly entertaining to watch (for a Knicks fan anyway). Again New York failed to keep their opponent at a bay with regards to shooting percentage. The Rockets eFG% of 48.8% meant that the Knicks still haven’t forced a competitor under the league average (47.1%). On the positive side, it was their second best effort since they held the Clippers to 48.6% in their 110-96 victory at the Garden. The Rockets came into the game as the third best team in the league at defensive shooting percentage (43.6%), and Houston kept the Knicks to 44.3%. This meant the Rockets had the shooting percentage advantage in this game, and so far this year, New York has lost every single game when their opponents held this edge.
Two of the factors were very close, although slightly in the Knicks’ favor. Turnovers were kept remarkably low, as both teams combined for only 15, which is usually what the Knicks average on their own. New York also had a small advantage at the free throw line as well. The Knicks hit 16 free throws to the Rockets 12, a 4 point advantage.
What kept the Knicks in the game out was their superior rebounding. They snared 14 offensive boards, while keeping the Rockets to only 8. In fact, Nazr Mohammed pulled in 8 New York misses on his own. Kurt Thomas had a great game scoring 23 points, but he also had 14 total rebounds, 11 on the defensive end.
Beyond the four factors, there’s a lot to report on this game. You would have thought Van Gundy coached the Knicks, as four of their starters played 40 minutes or more. By the second half it was pretty much a 7 man playoff-style rotation. Anyone else think Lenny is feeling pressure to win games? Shockingly Nazr Mohammed was credited with 45 minutes. He’s usually on the bench because he hacks more than a 2600 conference. Nazr not only kept himself to 3 fouls, but he played Yao fantastically on defense. One of Mohammed’s fouls came on a block of Ming, that from the replay looked clean to me.
Tim Thomas only played 12 minutes, and you have to wonder how much longer he’ll be the starting SF. No I really mean it this time. His confidence is non-existent at this point. Even though he looked for his shot early, he couldn’t get his offense going and ended up with 2 points on 5 attempts. Ariza and Hardaway played the rest of the game at SF, and combined for 17 points in 44 minutes. I mentioned earlier that Penny scored primarily from beyond the arc. Ariza was just as effective without the long range shot. He had a traditional three pointer, and had 5 free throw attempts in just 20 minutes. This is one aspect of his game I really love, getting to the foul line. Although he does give it back, and had 3 fouls of his own. When he matures if he can reduce the number of fouls he commits, getting to the line will give his team a serious advantage.
Defense is still an issue, and Marbury seemed to put in a better effort tonight (as did most of the team, especially the Knicks’ big men). Charlie Ward put up a big goose egg for the Rockets, but on the other hand their diminutive PG Tyronn Lue scored 15. Most of the damage was done by the Rockets’ unstoppables McGrady and Yao. This is a defensive effort I could better stomach, as they gave the appearance of actually trying.
Kurt’s big game (23pts, 55% eFG, 14 REB) meant little time for Michael Sweetney. The big man from Georgetown did play some D against Yao Ming, but had little effect in his 10 minutes. The rumors about Sweetney being available as trade bait for other teams scare me, especially when his playing time dwindles like this. Two games ago he played 32 minutes, but he just doesn’t get large amounts of minutes on a regular basis. The situation is out of Sweetney’s control, as the Knicks will play Kurt and Nazr as long as they are effective. How bad is it when I’m dreaming of a Nellie-esque lineup that sends Tim Thomas to the bench, so the Knicks can start all 3 of their big men? This wouldn’t be the first time the Knicks put a PF in at SF, and at least in this incarnation the Knicks can drop back into a legal zone.
In the near future I would imagine Tim Thomas will be sent to the bench, and the Knicks try out figure what combination of Trevor Ariza, Penny Hardaway and the forgotten man Jerome Williams works at SF. I’m sure at first Wilkens might try to use Thomas a 6th man, to help him regain his composure, but right now I can’t predict anything positive for Tim. Isiah said that Sweetney would not be traded, and given the choice to believe an NBA trade rumor or the Knicks GM, I’ll stick with Zeke on this one. Sweetney will get whatever minutes trickle down from Thomas & Nazr. Some nights he’ll give us flashes of what’s to come, others he’ll be the fogotten man like last night.
For the time being the Knicks will live with their jump shooters. When Crawford and Marbury and Penny and Kurt are hitting iron, the Knicks offense will self-destruct like it did against the Spurs. However when those same shots are finding net, the Knicks will find themselves with happier endings like last night’s win against Houston.