[Today's article comes from guest blogger Gabe Farkas. Gabe is a contributor on the APBRmetrics discussion boards, a native New Yorker, an avid Knicks fan, and he won't be upset if (when) you disagree with him. Gabe is also currently pursuing a MA in Statistics from Columbia University.]
?Best win of the year? is how Walt Frazier described last night?s come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers during the post-game recap.
?Lucky that LeBron went cold at the right time? is how I?d be more inclined to phrase it.
I beg to differ just a little bit. The Knicks managed to escape Cleveland with a win despite still exhibiting all the inconsistencies that Larry Brown was supposedly brought in to correct. We?ve all seen this self-combusting behavior once too often recently. Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy to see the Knicks win a come-from-behind game, and I thought at times their defense was ever-so-slightly reminiscent of the team circa 1994. On top of that, Stephon Marbury is finally learning how to play under Brown’s style. But, the team wasn’t without its faults. I kept a running log of the game, and I?m feeling frisky enough to break out some highlights (and lowlights) for analysis and discussion:
With about 7:30 left in the quarter, Jerome James was already in foul trouble, and the Cavs were off to a 13-3 start. A minute later, Jamal Crawford launched the first of what would be many long jumpers during the game.
A little past midway through the quarter, Crawford dished to Quentin Richardson who hit a 3-pointer to bring the score to 13-8. Normally this is no big deal, considering that Q-Rich led the league in 3?s made and attempted last year, but what?s interesting to note was that he did it with LeBron closely guarding him. One might have thought that LBJ considered this a personal affront, since he proceeded to take the Cavs? next three shots down the floor (not counting a missed tip shot by Drew Gooden, whom we?ll get to later), missing a jumper and a lay-in before finally making a driving layup.
In the meantime, Crawford seemed to think he was in a Usage Rate contest with LeBron, continuing to shoot almost every time he touched the ball, and even being called for a carry.
One positive is that it seems Larry Brown has finally convinced the team to at least make an effort on defense, after being ranked 25th last year in Defensive Rating. This is especially true for Mo ?Allergic to Rebounds? Taylor, who drew a charge on Ira Newble with 30 seconds left in the quarter.
The other bright spot in the quarter was Channing Frye, who hit his 3rd jumper of the game with 3 seconds left, bringing the Knicks to within 3. Channing has been coming on strong of late, and is shooting 74% from the field in January coming into the game.
With 9:40 left in the quarter and Cleveland maintaining their lead 28-24, LeBron finally comes out for a rest, and is replaced by Luke Jackson, who virtually defines the term ?Replacement Level Player.? One might think on offense the Knicks might try to exploit Jackson, no? Well, if one thought that, one would be right. Almost immediately, Jamal Crawford hit a jumper with Jackson in his face, followed by Luke coming back down the court and bricking a 12-foot jumper of his own. Larry Brown definitely has the team understanding match-ups better, challenging the seldom-used Jackson right away.
On the other end of the court, Cleveland?s offense sputtered without James on the floor. Around the 8-minute mark, with the shot clock winding down, Luke Jackson passed up a wide open jumper to Eric Snow, who forced up a miss as the shot clock was expiring. In a well-executed fast break that is becoming increasingly common for the team, Marbury nicely finished a lay-in to put the Knicks up by two, prompting a Cleveland timeout.
At this point, with LeBron resting, the only player keeping Cleveland in the game was Drew Gooden. During a 2-3 minute stretch in the first quarter, he had 2 blocks and 4 offensive rebounds. By around halfway through the second quarter, he finished off a fast break to put the Cavs back up by two, and already had 10 points and 9 rebounds.
Crawford continued to force shots, and LeBron hit a jumper on his first touch after coming back in the game, then missed a jumper and began hearing boos. Seriously though Cavs fans, he?s LeBron James ? do you really need to boo every time he misses a contested jumper (although, he was 5-15 at this point)?
With 2:00 left in the quarter, Mo Taylor drew an obvious charge (what would have been his second of the game) against LeBron that wasn?t called, followed by Steph hitting a trademark jumper with help from a Taylor screen, and then Taylor drawing a much-less-obvious charge against Eric Snow. Hmmmm, so there is such a thing as star treatment. Better break out my old VHS from Game 6 of the ?98 Finals.
Breaking down the half, both teams shot poorly (40% for New York, 36% for Cleveland), and didn?t pass effectively (7 assists on 45 FGA for the Knicks, 6 on 44 FGA for the Cavs), although the Knicks held the advantage on the glass, 29 to 22.
LeBron started off the quarter by hitting 3 quick shots. Suddenly I was worried. Then, Eddy Curry drew a foul on Ilgauskas (his 4th), causing the Cleveland center to head to the bench. After seemingly exploiting match-ups well in the first half, I was wondering if the Knicks could do it again without Cleveland?s defensive presence in the middle.
Well, their next three shots were a driving layup by Nate Robinson, a turn-around in the lane by David Lee, and an impressive stutter-step jumper by Stephon over LeBron. 54-53 Knicks. So far, so good.
But, while Lee has been fairly impressive lately (shooting 88% from the field in January), his inability to deny LeBron the ball and/or keep him from taking easy shots allowed Cleveland to stay in the game. After LBJ nailed another jumper over Lee at around the 5-minute mark for a 62-56 lead, Lee was finally (mercifully) pulled and Q-Rich came back in the game.
However, LeBron went 3-5 for the quarter after the defensive switch, with Cleveland running the same screen play several times in a row due to New York?s inability to successfully defend it. At this point, LBJ seemed to be taking over. The Cavs strung together a 15-3 run, and Jamal Crawford forgot what it means to hold the ball without shooting, although at the time Walt Frazier euphemistically deemed it ?creating havoc.?
72-67, Cleveland after three. For the quarter, LeBron was 6-8 for 14 points. The Knicks still held an edge in rebounds (37 to 31), but also had more turnovers (11 to 8). Surprisingly, Crawford was shooting a respectable 6-13, while LeBron doubled him up, going 13-25 so far in the game and single-handedly keeping his team in front.
Entering the quarter, Eddy Curry was 2-6 from the field, having played only 13 minutes, despite Zydrunas Ilgauskas sitting most of the 3rd quarter. The Knicks went to Curry early, and he responded by hitting his first three shots of the fourth quarter, even posting up Ilgauskas and calling for the ball the third time around, receiving a nice entry pass from Nate Robinson.
Speaking of Robinson, this seems like a good time to touch on the Knicks substitution patterns. Although their substitutions have been somewhat perplexing all year, Larry Brown seems to be settling in on a steady rotation. One thing that I?ve noticed is that he likes to sub Nate for Steph fairly early in quarters, and then bring Marbury back in with plenty of time left. Tonight was no exception, as Nate entered the game with 10 minutes remaining, assisted on an aforementioned Eddy Curry shot, and then went back to the bench at the 8:21 mark.
Midway through the quarter both teams hit a lull in offensive productivity. For Cleveland, it was a case of LeBron going cold, and only Mike Wilks? first 3-pointer of the season saved them from being scoreless for a stretch of over 5 minutes. For New York, the ineptitude was a group activity, with Frye, Curry, Marbury, and (especially) Jamal Crawford all participating.
With his shot struggling, LBJ still managed to impact the game through his defense, forcing a bad pass turnover from Crawford to Q-Rich on a potential fast break opportunity by cutting off the passing angle. In fact, LeBron didn?t score his 2nd point of the quarter until making the first of two free throws with less than 4 minutes to go in the game, and the Knicks having reclaimed the lead 83-82. Q-Rich was doing a much better job containing LeBron than David Lee, but the team as a whole was communicating and utilizing help defense adroitly to contain James.
Channing Frye capped off a 10-1 run with another jumper with 3 minutes left, giving the Knicks a 5-point lead, and making New York 7-16 from the field in the quarter, compared to 3-14 for Cleveland. Apparently, as LeBron goes, so do the Cavs.
The only player keeping the game close for Cleveland was Drew Gooden. During the next Knicks possession, Frye was stripped on a dribble-drive by Gooden, but luckily got the ball back and was fouled. This forced the Knicks to in-bound the ball with only 3 seconds left on the shot clock, and Gooden pulled down the rebound after you-can-guess-who missed a hastily-shot layup (Hint: _amal _raw_ord).
However, it was too little, too late for the Cavs, who were outscored 25-12 in the 4th quarter. LeBron was 1-6 in the fourth, his only field goal a meaningless layup with 17 seconds left and the game already decided.
Final score: 92-84 New York
As I mentioned at the beginning, Jamal Crawford?s 26 point, 10 rebound, 4 assist effort was considered by many as stat line of the night. However, what you?re not seeing are the 4 turnovers (a team high), no steals, and 9-21 shooting (42%, decent but not great). In fact, if you use the “Game Score” version of John Hollinger’s PER, as outlined in his Pro Basketball Forecast, Crawford?s output didn?t pace his team:
S. Marbury 20.7
J. Crawford 16.3
C. Frye 9.7
E. Curry 5.1
N. Robinson 3.6
Q. Richardson 3.2
D. Lee 2.2
A. Davis 1.2
M. Taylor 1.2
J. James -1.6
L. James 25.4
D. Gooden 13.4
D. Marshall 5.8
Z. Ilgauskas 3.9
M. Wilks 1.7
I. Newble 1.2
A. Henderson 0.1
E. Snow -0.2
L. Jackson -0.7
D. Jones -2.3
Marbury seems to be finding his groove lately, and this game was no exception. Shooting 8-12 from the field and 6-6 from the line, he scored 22 points, and had 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and only 1 turnover in 43 minutes. For whatever you?ve read about Stephon?s proverbial head-butting with Larry Brown, he?s still the best player on his team and his production is closely linked to the Knicks? success as a team.
For Cleveland, it was the LeBron show and not much else. His 36 points were one less than the next three Cavs combined, and his 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and only 1 turnover were also impressive. Gooden?s rebounding (he led all players with 12) and Donyell Marshall?s 3-pointers were the only other numbers in Cleveland?s box score worth mentioning. Fortunately for the Knicks, a team defensive effort (with noteworthy man-to-man defense by Q-Rich) was able to keep LeBron in check in the fourth quarter while the offense mounted a comeback. Perhaps it?s a clich? at this point, but I saw shades of MJ circa ?88 in LeBron during this game.
Despite the victory, the Knicks still displayed some of the inconsistencies and poor decision-making that have plagued them throughout the year. Call me jaded, but I?m not ready to celebrate unabashedly after one win. That said, there were definitely a few positives to take away from the game:
– the Knicks made a concerted effort to stop LeBron from penetrating as much as possible, forcing him to settle for jumpers, demonstrating their renewed efforts on defense
– Jerome James getting to the free throw line early, after going only 5-10 all year (!)
– seeing all 3 Knicks rookies on the floor at the same time for a decent stretch of the 2nd quarter (the positive outpouring from Robinson, Frye, and Lee deserves a column all to itself)