For the second time in three nights, the Knicks played a team from Los Angeles who came into the Garden on the second game of a back-to-back. And, for the second time, the Knicks looked like the more tired team. With their 11th loss in their last 15, the Knicks dropped to .500 for the first time since November 28th, while remaining a game and a half ahead of Philly for the 6th seed in the Conference.
But while Phil Jackson certainly brought a more tested and talented squad to the World’s Most Famous, the Garden’s Charmin-soft rims didn’t seem to know the difference: the Lakers shot a very loud 54%, including a solid 6 for 15 from distance. In fact, of the players who took more than one shot, only Ron Artest (2-9) and Steve Blake (2-5) managed to shoot below 50% from the field. It was the 5th time in 6 games the Knicks have surrendered over 50 for FG%, with the lone exception being a 100-98 loss at Philly a week ago.
Meanwhile, the Knick’ shooting woes continued, as they once again mirrored their opponents’ proficiency with a head-scratching under-50% outing for the 4th time in 5 games. Overall the Knicks shot 41% from the floor, including 5-20 from downtown. The lone bright spot – at least statistically – was Raymond Felton, who banked 20 with a gaudy TS% of 75%. Stat, meanwhile, again had trouble getting to the rim against the Lakers staunch interior, netting 24 on 20 shots. Ironically however, and despite playing in the veritable Laker forest of bigs, Stoudemire managed to grab 10 boards for the first time since pulling down 12 against the Thunder on January 22nd – a string of 8 games that has coincided with an equally confounding overall rebounding famine for the Knicks.
Despite the co-captains being somewhat effective, the rest of the rotation struggled to find a rhythm. Though continuing to show an increasing acumen for taking it to the tin, on this night the whistles were silent for Gallo, who went 4 for 15 (including 0 for 6 from deep) and finished with 12 points and 6 boards in 38 minutes. Fields, who seems to have hit at least a few bricks on the “Rookie Wall” the last few games, was deafeningly silent, going 2 for 6 (0 for 1 from 3) en route to a +/- (-17) that was second only to Wilson Chandler’s -18. For his part, Chandler – who had the unfortunate task of guarding Gasol for much of the night – played with slightly more confidence than we’ve seen in the last few games, netting 13 (5-10 from the field), 5 rebounds and 4 assists in a heavy 34 minutes off the bench.
Kobe did his Kobe thing in the first quarter, picking his spots and channeling performances past in tossing up 19 on 5-7 shooting, before finishing with an irritating 33 and a TS% of 82. For a while the Knicks kept up, and trailed by only 2 at the end of 1. For much of the first quarter and the first part of the second, the ball was moving on O, guys were getting open looks, and Ray in particular was honed in, scoring 14 and dishing out 4 assists en route to a lone-bright-spot kind of night.
Then the second quarter happened. Felton and Stat went to the bench – as did Kobe and most of the Laker starters. Mozgov, who played a rough-but-passable game en route to 7 points and 11 boards on 3-9 shooting, quickly to into foul trouble, opening up the middle for the Lakers, who began exploiting the Knicks weak interior D. This episode featured 6’8” Wilson Chandler stranded helplessly on Pau Gasol, with Amar’e guarding Bynum. It was also around this time that the Knicks apparently figured “we’re having such a swell time playing defense, why don’t we turn the ball over 9 times in the quarter and 4 times in 5 possessions?” The result was a 14-point halftime lead that found both the Garden crowd and the KB forum eerily silent.
The Knicks actually outrebounded the Lakers 44-41, including 13-7 in OREBs. While there were a few inevitable lapses – which happens when you’re playing against two smart, athletic 7-footers – the Knicks also showed at least a tentative propensity for boxing out, all but eliminating by the third quarter what was, in the first half, a sizable rebounding margin. Still, particularly in the first half, it seemed all of L.A.’s offensive boards came at times when the Knicks needed a change of possession the most.
New York never made a serious run in the second half, closing to within 10 only once, and the Lakers pulled away early in the 4th as Luke Walton led the team down the home stretch. Actually, I don’t know what happened in the last three minutes. ESPN actually spirited me away to overtime of the Cavs-Clippers game. Apparently, “relevance” only begins where 26-game losing streaks end.
Despite perhaps the worst coupling of games this year, if the last two LAX-fests have taught us anything, it’s that the end of a back-to-back can actually turn out favorably. With the Sixers and Bobcats lurking in the shadows, tonight’s game in Newark presents a definite litmus test for our faltering cagers. Fall below .500, and get ready to hear the Chris Sheridans and Ric Buchers of the world play the gut-‘em guitar for the next two weeks. Go in and dominate in an arena that just weeks ago was selling last-minute Nets-Cavas tickets for 50 cents, well, that’s what good teams do.