For most of the first quarter there was nothing new to the Knicks attack. They mostly played a perimeter game consisting of one of three things:
- Marbury asking for the pick & roll.
- Marbury faking the pick & roll & driving to the hoop
- Crawford using his dribble to get an open jumper.
The Knicks big guys were either to join in the perimeter attack (Kurt Thomas on the pick & roll) or do what Nazr Mohammed did. The Knicks’ starting center scored the first of his two first quarter field goals by waiting for a guard to dish the ball after being doubled team on a penetration drive. The second one Nazr earned with an offensive rebound and put back.
However things changed with about 3 minutes left. The Knicks dumped the ball in the low post to Michael Sweetney. It seemed natural to see New York work out of the post. Sweetney didn’t spin continuously in the paint & muscle his way to a jump hook like Larry Johnson used to. He didn’t hold the ball for 10 seconds and drive toward the middle to take a strong running shot in the lane like Patrick Ewing did in his day. Instead the second year player deftly spun to the paint and gently dropped a finger roll into the net.
In fact Sweetney asked for the ball two more times at the start of the second quarter, and the Knicks feed it to him for post-up scores. The announcers declared it was the first time they’ve ever seen him asking for the ball. That’s a long way from the “wide-eyed rookie” I described him as less than a year ago. That description could have fit Trevor Ariza.
Actually Ariza’s skills make him a Jekyl & Hyde player. He’s calm & confident in transition, or when the focus is not on him in the half court. One play in the first quarter exemplifies Ariza’s strengths. He stole the ball near midcourt, and beat out everyone to the ball and laid it in leaving everyone else trailing behind him on the play. It looked like Ariza was jogging while everyone else was running at full speed. Clearly, he was in his element.
On the other hand, Ariza looks lost in the half court game. His first jumper rebounded high over the backboard, causing him to loose faith in his shot. By my count, he passed up 3 open jump shots in the first half. The other end of the court didn’t offer any solace for Ariza, where his one-on-one defense was lacking. Before watching him tonight, I thought the Knicks should trap & press with him in the game. Writing his strengths & weaknesses down on (electronic) paper just reinforces this idea.
Ariza played plenty of minutes thanks to Tim Thomas having his third bad game in a as many attempts. By halftime, Thomas had played 15 minutes and had 0 rebounds with 3 points on 6 attempts. I wonder how many more bad games Thomas can afford before the Knicks hand over the SF starting job to Ariza. The Knicks can’t afford to have Thomas as an overpaid SF sitting on the bench, especially when Shanderson is doing so well in that role. Tim’s huge contract would make him even more impossible to trade if he can’t beat out a 19 year old that every team passed up at least once. I’m sure Wilkens will give him a $12.9M dollar long leash.
Unfortunately Michael Sweetney doesn’t have the luxury Ariza does. Kurt Thomas did what coaches love, all the small things. He blocked two of Iverson’s shots in the first half, and was aggressive on the offensive glass. Thomas ended up with only 8 points, but had 4 offensive rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Even though Sweetney was 4-4 in the first half, he only had 10 minutes in the first half, and didn’t get back into the game until 3:30 in the 3rd quarter. He didn’t take another shot after the first half. Kevin Pelton asked me the other day if this is Sweetney’s team yet. He’d be the starting PF if the other Thomas was ahead of him on the depth chart.
The Knicks best front court was when Michael Sweetney played next to Kurt Thomas. Philly doesn’t have a center that would make New York pay for such a transgression, so the Knicks were able to get away with a small lineup. When bigger centers come to town, Sweetney may loose some of those minutes when the Knicks are forced to play a center bigger than 6’9. Sweetney played only 17 minutes, and that’s with Jerome Williams and Vin Baker getting a combined 3 minutes. Although part of his low minute total can be attributed to 5 personal fouls.
Nazr Mohammed put up great numbers, good enough for the New York press to not be able to use the words “Keith Van Horn” until at least Friday. Unlike Sweetney, Mohammed stayed out of foul trouble which enabled him to play 32 minutes and score 18 points. More impressively he had 3 steals and 3 offensive rebounds.
Simply, the Knicks beat up on a bad team. I can’t blame them for it, because you can only beat who the schedule makers pit you against. New York plays the Clippers at home next, before facing a brutal road trip against 4 top notch opponents. For the time being, I’ll enjoy tonight’s victory & everything that comes with it.