Knicks Own Flaws, Not Referees, Doom Them

The time on the clock read 6:15 in the 4th quarter when David Lee scored on a beautiful cross court alley-oop pass from Jamal Crawford. The Utah Jazz didn’t account for the Knick forward in transition and Lee signaled for the ball by waiving both arms. It was fitting that Lee scored on this play, seeing that it was his work on the defensive end that started the break. The play prior, Harpring lost control of the ball in the paint and Lee tipped it to Francis to begin the possession.

There’s no official significance of this play, but it has a special meaning to me. When I watched this game yesterday, it was after this play that I said to myself “the Knicks won’t lose this game – they’re up 10 points with just over 6 minutes to go.” Unfortunately my prognostication was incorrect as the Knicks would end up losing 104-102 in overtime. So one day later I decided to revisit the game to figure out how New York managed to blow that robust 10 point margin.

After Lee’s basket, the Jazz called a timeout to run a set play. Harpring used Okur for a quick screen and nailed a jump shot from the free throw line (5:59 [UTA 79-87]). It’s hard to fault any particular Knick on defense here. Okur used his hands on the pick to keep Richardson from staying with Harpring, and rehearsed plays after timeouts are usually more successful than regular ones.

On the Knicks following possession Jamal Crawford drove to the hoop, but lost control of the ball along the way and crashed into Harpring. The referees rightfully called a charge, and Jamal picked up his 4th turnover of the game. However, Utah was unable to take advantage of this free opportunity by missing 2 free throws, and New York proceeded to score on a Marbury layup (5:03 [NYK 89-79]).

Down by 10 points, Utah looked to exploit one of the matchups that was in their favor. Eddy Curry was responsible for guarding Okur, and Curry isn’t mobile enough to follow him on the outside. Hence, Utah looked to free up Okur on the perimeter. Williams set up Okur on the left side behind the three point line with Curry too far away to defend him. However before the pass arrived, Jamal Crawford decided to assist Eddy Curry and switched to Okur. Crawford was as close to Okur as possible, which prevented the Jazz center from shooting. However Okur’s height advantage allowed him to safely hold the ball over his head and survey the field.

While Okur waits with the ball, Harpring positions himself on the top of the key, and Crawford’s man Fisher is on the right sideline. To compensate Curry has to back away from Okur and cover Fisher on the far side of the court, but the Knick center can’t get too close to Fisher, because the Utah guard will be able to beat him off the dribble. Therefore Quentin Richardson tries to assist Curry by dropping back off of Harpring a few feet to play the passing lane between Okur and Fisher. Seeing the opportunity, Okur passes to Harpring with Richardson too far back to prevent a jump shot. Harpring gives Richardson a step fake then nails a three pointer (4:41 [UTA 82-89]).

The Knicks’ defensive breakdown on this play wasn’t the fault of Crawford or Richardson. When Okur sets up to get the ball, Curry is on the left block at least 15 feet away. Had Crawford not taken the initiative, the Jazz center would have had an open look at the basket anyway. Similarly Richardson left his defensive assignment to assist Curry who was mismatched with Fisher. Curry’s lack of speed to either cover Okur or Fisher on the perimeter gave the Jazz this opportunity to score.

With the Utah crowd energized, Marbury brought up the ball deliberately and delivered it to Crawford with 14 seconds remaining on the shot clock. Curry set a pick for Crawford, but Millsap stepped up to slow the Knick guard. Crawford was surprised by this tactic and lowers his shoulder into Millsap, dribbling the ball far behind the arc. With time counting down on the shot clock, Crawford is forced to take a long three point shot. Not surprisingly he missed.

This possession had two problems: the design and the execution. The Knicks had their slowest and worst outside shooter set a pick on the perimeter with about half of the shot clock to go. New York wasted a lot of time to set this play up, as it took Curry 4 seconds to get across court to set the pick. With little time on the clock in a high pressure situation, they could have chosen something that developed quicker.

Of course the execution was poor as well. When Millsap hedges the pick, Crawford commits the cardinal sin of dribbling while keeping his head down. Had he looked up, he would have seen Eddy Curry traveling towards the hoop alone, since both defenders followed Crawford on the pick. The rest of the Jazz defense had abandoned the two Knicks on the weak side to compensate for Curry. Not only could Crawford have passed to Curry, but he likely had Lee or Richardson on the weak side as well.

After collecting the rebound the Jazz looked to exploit Curry’s lack of speed again. Ironically the Jazz call a similar play to the one the Knicks had just run. This time the Jazz’s center Okur set the high pick for their guard Williams. Curry began the play at the free throw line, badly out of position. When Okur set the pick Curry was neither in place to slow down Williams so Marbury can recover, nor was he able to guard Okur. Instead he stepped back towards the hoop to defend against a possible drive by the mercurial Williams. Okur drifted out behind the three point line and Williams spun and hit him with a pass. At the point when Okur receives the pass Curry is nearly in middle of the paint. Okur has time to set himself, take a good look at the basket, and drain the three pointer (4:05 [UTA 85-89]). Curry’s poor positioning gave Okur an unguarded shot.

The Knicks would call a timeout to try to put the end to Utah’s run. However they were unsuccessful with their planned play, and neither team would be able to score for the next 3 possessions. Marbury would have his shot blocked on a layup attempt, Richardson would steal the ball from Harpring, and Curry would miss a jump shot from 10 feet.

With 3 minutes remaining, the Jazz would bring the ball across the court in hopes of cutting into their 4 point deficit. Again Utah would run a high screen, but with a poor shooter in Millsap. Curry is defending Millsap, but this time he doesn’t have to worry about Millsap on the perimeter. Curry stays at home on the foul line, as Williams kicks the ball out to Harpring. Millsap drifts into the lane, and at the time of Harpring’s release he is directly behind the Knicks’ center. Curry fails to put a body on Millsap and watches idly as Millsap catches the missed shot and lays it in (2:49 [UTA 87-89]). To prevent this Jazz score, all Curry needed to do was box out Millsap, something that Curry’s physique is amply suited for.

Attempting to keep their dwindling lead, the Knicks would race up court. Unfortunately Marbury would dribble the ball off of his $15 sneakers into the arms of the Derek Fisher. Sensing their window of opportunity closing, the Jazz set up hastily. Early in the shot clock, Okur beats David Lee to the outside and buries another three pointer (2:24 [UTA 90-89]). The Knick 10 point lead has evaporated, and Utah has a chance to win the game.

Those that watched the game might be tempted to blame the referees on the Knicks loss. Jamal Crawford was mauled on his last shot attempt in regulation, as was David Lee in overtime who was given a technical for complaining. Nonetheless, further inspection of these crucial minutes show the Knicks have no one to blame but themselves. Although Crawford and Marbury made their share of mistakes, Eddy Curry is undoubtedly the goat of the game. Utah scored 8 points on three different plays due to Curry. On the first he lacked speed to cover either of two opponents. On the second he committed a mental mistake by not being in the proper position. On the third he was too lazy to box out the man he was defending. Had New York kept their fourth quarter lead, no amount of poor officiating would have cost them the victory.

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Mike Kurylo

Mike Kurylo is the founder and editor of His book on the 2012 Knicks, "We’ll Always Have Linsanity," is on sale now. Follow him on twitter (@KnickerBlogger).

34 thoughts to “Knicks Own Flaws, Not Referees, Doom Them”

  1. Great breakdown. This type of analysis I can’t get enough of.

    One thing I would say – it’s pretty much never only the official’s fault. Even when the refs make a bad call in a game you can always look back at a few plays and say “well if they did this here” – that’s the nature in close games.

    But I do agree, I don’t blame the officials – though I did think Utah enjoyed some favorable calls, somewhere down the road it will even out.

    And this is exactly why I don’t believe Curry is an all-star – he dominates on one end but is a total liability on the other. It’s not much different than having an absolute lockdown defender who can’t score (which is the type of player who would never make the all-star game).

  2. I think that Curry did a poor job on Okur at the end but he had no business defending him. Okur is a perimeter jump shooting big man. Millsap is a shorter close to the basket type player. Curry should have defended Millsap and let Lee defend Okur. Or even better since we were protecting a lead Isiah should have pulled Lee or Curry and let 6’11” Jeffries come out and give Okur problems. Okur was the only player who gave us any problems for the 4th quarter and overtime.

    Now about the officiating. In the Utah game where there were alot of bad calls but as DMull said calls like the one against Crawford at the end or the two technicals tend to even out as the season progresses. What does not even out is how the refs seem to allow the opposing team to foul Curry on every single possession. He gets held, pushed, elbowed every time he fights for position in the post. Then if he gets the ball he gets fouled on almost every shot. Then to top it off if he retaliates back he gets called for an offensive foul. I do not get it if you breathe hard on a player like Wade you get ejected from the game but you pratically have to punch Curry to get a foul.

  3. I’ll only add this, given that since the Knicks aren’t that great of a team, I’ll say they will win 10 or so games outright, and lose about 20 games outright.

    The remaining 50 or so, to continue being unscientific and in this case charitable, the Knicks are in it down to the wire. With that said, the winning percentage of most of those 50 games or so should probably fall in line with the shooting percentage of the main person taking the shots at the end of the game. Jamal Crawford 40% from the field, 30% from behind the arc. (which is sort of a diss on Jamal)

    That doesn’t bode well. Or is that just worthless analysis?

    Also, in looking up stats for Jamal, the way stats are given at the main sports sites (ESPN, Yahoo,, it’s really lacking.

    With the wealth of interesting baseball stats, I would figure the splits would include breakdown by quarters (and overtime), and breakdown by something like the last 5 minutes of the game or late and close or something.

  4. nice analysis, it quickly becomes obvious that Curry should have been replaced down the stretch. I wonder if Isiah retroactively examines games this way (serious question)?

  5. Curry only needs to worry about fixing his defensive rebounding at the moment.That facet of his game is the only one that can pay immediate dividends.Off. rebounding and man to man D need to be worked on in the off-season along with his conditioning.

  6. The problem with the knicks isn’t that they don’t play d they have a few good man defenders in the backcourt q and marbury (crawford could have another steal a game if he wanted) The back court needs to slow down in the zone and play the passing lanes. I don’ know how many times I’ve seen 2 gaurds run right past the guy with the ball. After that the other team rotates the ball and the knicks never recover. That and the front court doesn’t know when to cut off the baseline. Jefferies could flurish in a zone at center if he shows up this year.

  7. good breakdown, we clearly fell apart I wasn’t sure how…It would seem that Jeffries due to his size would be a good fit next to Curry in the frontcourt against Okur but he was out of the rotation, i dont get it.

  8. “I wonder if Isiah retroactively examines games this way (serious question)?”

    Honestly, I do as well. If anyone has the game taped, just get it to the 3 minute mark & watch Curry fail to box out Millsap. It’s as clear as the nose on my face. I was just appalled at the lack of fundamentals. But after my anger subsided, my mind filled with a million questions. Does anyone on the Knicks see this? Have they worked with Curry on boxing out? How can it be that he’s a 6 year pro, and doesn’t know how to box out? Is it a lack of understanding, a lack of proper coaching, or laziness?

    I would love to have the answers to these questions. Anyone know somebody with access to the Knicks lockerroom?

  9. I also noted some of the things that you so deftly brokedown about the Knicks. The thing is that the ref’s really do have a problem with making calls for many of our guys. Steph routinely get’s smacked on his drives and more often than not he doesn’t get a call. Lee got whacked and he also didn’t get a call. jamal got body blocked on his 3 and didn’t get a call. I don’t expect at this point that we’ll get the respect from the ref’s which takes us back to the things the Knick’s can actually control.

    The plays that isiah runs in crunchtime situations are often low % plays. He’s been using Jamal all year and he’s a low % player. For every big shot, he also misses many more. We have far more dependable players and if they ran plays like they should, more of those players would get a shot late in the game and we’d be more successful.

  10. Seems to me it can validly be said that the referees cost team X the game on the condition that, had the refs called a better game, and holding all else constant, team X would have won rather than lost.

    Had the refs called the foul on Jamal’s last shot in regulation against Utah, it’s highly likely the Knicks would have won, even in spite of their poor play down the stretch. Therefore (not to sound bitter or anything), yes, the refs did indeed cost the Knicks this game.

    (Although of course the Knicks aren’t the only team to have suffered this fate, given NBA refs’ inexcusable propensity to swallow their whistles in end game situations.)

  11. The Knicks cost themselves the game with turnovers and poor defense same as always…You can’t expect to get calls on the road especially in Utah with the game on the line.

  12. KB-

    the lack of boxing out is a league-wide problem. Part of it is a lack of emphasis on such fundamentals. Part of it is that the over-the-back foul call is even more rare than traveling. So the incentive is to be quicker to the ball rather than turn and box out, only to have a guy jump on your back–or push you in the small of the back–and get away with it.

    Eddy Curry in particular seems to have little “feel” for where shots are going to end up when they leave the shooter’s hand. (Also, has anyone else noticed that Curry doesn’t secure the rebound at its highest point. When he boards, he waits for the ball to come down to his wrists.) Some guys have a much better feel for the missed shot or carom, like Paul Milsap and David Lee. It doesn’t excuse Curry’s lack of a box-out. It’s more to say that we’ve seen David Lee and Q make that same read as Milsap did, and be quicker to the ball a million times. The Knicks are the league’s best offensive rebounding team iirc and Utah is #2. So when Lee and Q do it our tendency is to credit their superior nose for the ball. When Milsap does it our tendency is to credit it to a lapse by Curry.

    On the other hand, saying “it’s a leaguewide problem” doesn’t explain why the Knicks are the league’s best offensive rebounding team but close to the middle of the pack in protecting its defensive board.

    At the end of the day, I think what we see is that the absence of the fundamentally sound box out in a key situation, Jamal Crawford getting caught gawking and consequently back-doored for the winning bucket, and 22 friggin’ turnovers are all indicators of the same underlying problem. This team has a low basketball IQ and is subject to recurrent brain farts.

  13. We would have a ton more wins if it weren’t for the turnovers. I really don’t know what the solution is for that – maybe if the team just keeps playing together and gets a set rotation they’ll operate smoother but I don’t know if the statistical evidence backs that up. We tend to get a lot of the TOs early in the game for some reason and they’re always inexcusable and dangerous.

  14. Brian –

    when a game goes to OT, by definition if you change just about any one thing while holding all else constant it would affect the outcome of the game. So, although I thought those officials stunk even when the Knicks were leading, the Knicks made enough unforced errors to be the primary source of their own misery.

    I think take away from this game is that it took kind of a perfect storm of self-inflicted wounds, inspired play by Utah, and some questionable officiating to result in a 2pt OT loss on the road to a serious contender in the West. I’m not into moral victories, but also not into overreacting.

    If anything, Utah was the first time the Knicks blew a 4th quarter lead (18-1). The Knicks haven’t had many 4th qtr leads but far fewer blown saves.

    On the other hand the unforced errors the Knicks made down the stretch are ones they usually make in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. That’s when they turn a small lead into a small deficit or a small deficit into a 20+ point blowout.

  15. One thing that hasn’t come up about the Utah game is that the Knicks went to what some people call the “scrotum tuck offense” (STO) far too soon. This is a term used more often in football where coaches run a “prevent offense” resulting in a punt and a game winning drive by the opposing team. In the next day’s papers the defense gets blamed, but the coach had the ball and a chance to win but “tucked” it away to call 3 straight fullback dives and punt with 4 minutes to go up 2 points.

    In basketball, from a strategy standpoint, you shouldn’t run clock on offense AND allow the opponent’s defense to rest. If you’re gonna run clock, you have to move the ball and make them chase it. If all you do is basically stand there and hold it you end up with a difficult shot without even giving the defense any incentive to foul you.

    I didn’t mind the Knicks spreading the floor against Utah. They were successful in the 2nd half spreading the floor and getting anything they wanted by keeping the ball in the guards’ hands. At the ends of games that’s exactly where it belongs, with your best FT shooters. Curry can catch and finish after the guard has drawn the defender.

    Unfortunately, the Knicks went to the STO. They didn’t start the offense until 12-15 seconds remained on every possession in the final 2-3 minutes of regulation. Then they kicked it into Curry turning him into the de facto decision maker with the shot-clock running down. He hit a couple nice hook shots, but then once Utah began to double the turnovers began to mount. Crawford made awful decisions, “hell-bent” (to use a Clydeism) on feeding Curry in the post. Marbury’s dribble off his foot was the right idea–drive and kick–just poor execution at precisely the wrong time.

  16. That game in Utah was truly a sign of lack of leadership and cohesiveness but not our worst game of the yearbecause we were in the game until the end. Our most demoralizing and biggest momentum killers was against either the Bobcats at home or Nets at home(when Currry didnt box out Cliff for the tip at the buzzer).

  17. “when a game goes to OT, by definition if you change just about any one thing while holding all else constant it would affect the outcome of the game.”

    That’s true of course, but I don’t think it absolves this systematic failure of refs to call games fairly in end game situations. What if Emeka Okafor had clotheslined David Lee before he could make that winning tip against the Bobcats? Would it be fair to say that the refs did not cost the Knicks the game because, after all, had the Knicks made just one more shot they would have won anyway?

    Suppose some team is jipped by the refs several times in a game, costing them 5 points relative to what they would have gotten from an average ref effort. I say that this team has been dealt an unjust handicap. The unjustness of this handicap is orthogonal to how the team actually played– whether they played great or collapsed down the stretch or whatever, they still got jobbed 5 points.

    The reasoning in KB’s post would seem to say that the refs are only to be faulted if the team they hurt was playing well. Conversely, if the team was not playing well, the blame shifts from the refs to the team itself– they should be playing better to make up for that handicap. I find this line of reasoning puzzling.

    I understand that the Knicks did plenty to hurt themselves against Utah, but regardless, they still played well enough to win and would have won with a better refereeing effort. I don’t really have an axe to grind on this in terms of calling out the refs– I’m more interested in the reasoning behind the blame attribution at work here.

  18. Brian – the papers next day painted a picture of the players (& coach) feeling that the officiating cost them the game. After watching the game live, I admit I felt the same way. However after carefully watching those critical minutes I have a hard time believing that it was the officiating that is the main cause of the Knicks’ defeat. They had the game in hand & they self destructed. If you feel you’ve gotten bad calls (and that flop that cost Curry a technical was certainly a sign) then don’t allow the game to get that close.

    Think of a gambler at blackjack table. He starts off with $100 & his goal is to get $200. At some point he has made $200, but decides to play on. The player next to him makes some bad decisions to give the dealer good hands. Because of this, the gambler loses all his money. The gambler will say it was the other player at the table that cost him his money. But in actually it was the gambler’s own fault that he lost all.

  19. great defense on that last play. great look from crawford. just wish we could make more free throws which would have put this game away. if we win tomorow nite with an orlando loss, we are only 2 games out of playoffs. need this win on wed nite against a weakened warriors team without baron davis.

  20. Most positive sign from this game was that the two single biggest problems of the last game – turnovers and late game defense – were corrected with gusto. 11 turnovers (season low?) and Thomas also subbed out Curry for the last play, learning his lesson from Utah (and Washington and New Jersey).

  21. “Thomas also subbed out Curry for the last play”

    barely, he came out after the timeout, Jeffries almost didn’t get in in time. terrible play/execution/whatever by LA on that last play, but we’ll certainly take it.

    nice win, tomorrow is a must-win game going into the break, hopefully Pietrus is still out also.

  22. interesting to note we’re only 5 1/2 games behind Chicago, although that currently means the difference between the 10th and the 21st pick. it’d be obviously a huge accomplishment to make the playoffs, but in lieu of that, it’d be nice to cut that gap as much as possible. and of course the best of both worlds would be beating Chicago out for the 8th playoff spot, pretty damn unlikely but you never know.

  23. “They had the game in hand & they self destructed. If you feel you?ve gotten bad calls (and that flop that cost Curry a technical was certainly a sign) then don?t allow the game to get that close.”

    To me this is sort of like saying “if you’re handicapped 5 points at the start of the game, just play 5 points per 48 better than you would have otherwise.” Practically speaking that is the approach the team should try to adopt, but looking objectively at the situation it seems like a nonsensical statement since it essentially blames the victim.

    As for the Knicks’ own role in their demise, I think that may be overstated as well. The Knicks played poorly enough down the stretch to lose a 10 point lead, but on the whole they played well enough to play one of the NBA’s better teams to a standstill on the road.

    Here’s an interesting thought experiment: how would perceptions of the Knicks’ loss change if their period of -10 play happened in the second quarter instead of the fourth? On the whole you’d have the same exact plays and the same overall level of performance, but it wouldn’t seem quite the same. I’m not sure there is a good reason for why it should not seem quite the same, though.

  24. As long as we’re pitching Chicago draft order fantasies, I’ve always liked the idea that Chicago gets a pick in the top 15 and blows it on an instant bust while Isiah finds another David Lee that the Bulls could have had with their pick. It could happen…

  25. Regarding the very first post in this thread by DMull, in which he states:

    “And this is exactly why I don?t believe Curry is an all-star – he dominates on one end but is a total liability on the other. It?s not much different than having an absolute lockdown defender who can?t score (which is the type of player who would never make the all-star game). ”

    Ben Wallace?

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