Although the pundits, and even some of the players, have focused on the brawl’s aftermath as the catalyst for the team’s recent surge I want to focus on the team’s defensive improvements over the past few games. I suppose, if anything, the brawl may have marked the team’s symbolic “rock bottom,” that moment many recovering substance abusers point to as the catharsis that precedes real change.
In a recent post KB points out that the Knicks have been an atrocious defensive team. Without question this is true. The Knicks routinely hang their heads and jettison any pretense of defensive intensity when struggling offensively or once an opponent knocks down a couple of contested shots. Still, the Knicks show flashes of being at least a decent defensive team. They are 8-2 this season, including their three most recent wins (over Utah, Charlotte, and Chicago) and their two most impressive wins (back to back wins over Miami and Washington in November), when holding their opponent to under 46% eFG shooting. In the other 18 games they are a ghastly 4-15, yielding an embarrassing 53.7 eFG from the floor.
The difference between the “good” Knicks, who defend, and the “bad” Knicks, who don’t is almost exclusively effort. The Knicks don’t have a real shot-blocker that can erase poor perimeter defense. In order for the Knicks to turn in a solid defensive performance everyone must defend. The dramatic endings involved in two of the past three games have obscured the three best defensive efforts of the season, and possibly of the the past two seasons when considering the diminished bench. (Something else that has been obscured has been the seamless return of the “old” Channing Frye. I’ll leave that for another post but welcome back Channing.) The Knicks held Utah to 40.6% eFG shooting, Charlotte to 45.3%, including two overtime periods, and a surging Chicago team to 42.7%. Those three teams shoot, respectively, 50.9%, 45.6%, and 49.8% eFG on the season. The Chicago effort was especially impressive considering that the Knicks played the Bulls in back-to-back games roughly one month ago, giving up 48.2% eFG shooting in both games. In the interim New York has (hopefully) hit rock bottom while the Bulls have managed to right their ship. So to hold Chicago in the low 40′s is a good all around effort considering how well they have played in December.
Last season, the Knicks went on a winning streak to start the 2006 calendar year, injecting a little hope into the Knick faithful; hope that was quickly dashed. Antonio Davis warned at the time that the wins were “fool’s gold,” based almost exclusively on a run of hot-shooting. If anything is heartening about the past three wins it is that the Knicks are doing it on D, all while missing some of their better defensive players in Jared Jeffries, Quentin Richardson, and Nate Robinson.
Oh, and one last thing. Happy Holidays