Déjà Vu All Over Again? Knicks Fall to Cavs 119-115

Down two points with the ball, it appeared that it was Carmelo Anthony’s time to display the clutch gene that has sports analysts raving about his late-game scoring. After posting an extremely efficient 29 pts on 16 shots, the stage was set for him to cement his place as the closer in NY. However, instead of taking one of the long two-pointers he is known for, (as he is often berated for early in games, and celebrated for when they are buzzer-beaters) he made the superior basketball decision to drive to the basket, but failed to see Samardo Samuels slide over and was called for an offensive foul with 1.8 seconds left. And after two Luke Harangody free throws, the game was over (the Knicks’ third excruciatingly close loss to the Cavs).

However, the real problem is that the ‘Bockers should never have been in that position in the first place. Give some credit to the Cavaliers: two back-to-back three-pointers by Anthony Parker and Baron Davis in the last minute gave them a four point lead they ultimately wouldn’t relinquish, but those shots came after the Knicks blew twelve point leads in both the first and fourth quarters. After promising that they would be much more focused after the disappointing loss to the Cavaliers last week, the leads seemed to lull the Knicks into relaxing defensively. The inability of Amar’e Stoudemire to score on putbacks after consecutive offensive rebounds was also distressing, although his stat line of 41 pts on 50% shooting was only marred by 5 turnovers.

So, is this game cause for concern? While the Knicks 0-3 record against the Cavs will certainly loom large if it is the difference between being the 6th or the 5th seed (or 6th vs 7th), I don’t think so. The Knicks actually won the rebound battle 39-37, and shot 54.5% from the floor, essentially what they shot in the Hornets game. However, the Cavaliers shot an incredible 57.1% from 3- perhaps somewhat attributable to weak D from the Knicks, but unlikely to be repeated either way. One key sequence that went against the Knicks that won’t be mentioned but was likely equally responsible for the loss: Melo being called for a charge earlier in the final minute as he passed out to Shawne Williams, who splashed the trey but had it waved off. Carmelo’s decision making is unlikely to be as poor in the future as it was tonight, too. If there is one positive to the statistical analysis that has been done on him, it is his phenomenal percentage relative to other stars in clutch situations, and he is more likely to shoot a jumper than drive, making it unlikely he’d be called for a charge again.

All in all, tonight was disappointing, but not something which is worth being too upset over. Chauncey will soon be back from his thigh bruise, hopefully improving our end-of-game execution, and our PNR defense has to get better (it can’t get much worse.) A Knicks fan’s final piece of consolation? It’s rather unlikely we’ll meet Cleveland in the playoffs.

Knicks 107, Hornets 88

Before Tuesday night’s 116-110 loss to the Magic, many of us were looking forward to Wednesday’s date with Chris Paul and the Hornets as a meaty matchup between Knick Point Guards present and – some would hope – future.  But with Chauncey Billups out of action with a bruised left quad, all eyes instead were on Toney Douglas. And what spicy buffalo eyes they were.

TD was hotter than the fire he’d been thrown into, hitting his first 4 shots – including a pair of 3s – generally making good decisions, and keeping CP3 largely in check in helping guide the NYK to a 107-88 win.

Douglas made the most of his second start of the season, tallying 24 points (including 4 from distance) on a truly filthy 94% eFG%, to go along with 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Meanwhile, CP3’s recent shooting woes – which included a 3-10 outing against the lowly Raptors the night before – continued in the Garden, as Paul finished with just 4 points on 2-7 shooting (although he did tally 10 assists).

For what seemed like the first time all year, the Knicks played another team on a back-to-back that looked more gassed than they were. With TD setting the tone, the Knicks netted a combined eFG% of 61% (including a refreshing 13/20 from downtown), as all five starters dished at least 4 assists. The Knicks took advantage of the Hornets’ palpable fatigue, attacking their front line inside early and restraining themselves to just 7 three point attempts in the first half, all the while moving the ball around with a crispness seldom seen in recent games.

And when New Orleans started collapsing in the second half, Shawne Williams made them pay, connecting on all four of his 3PT attempts in the final two frames. Extra E ended the night with a downright centennial 100% eFG% (6/8 with 4 threes). Perspective: he had been 4 for his last 23 from beyond the arc.

If tonight’s game was a bracing shot in the arm for Douglas and Extra E, it was at least a gentle waking nudge for Carmelo Anthony. In his second home game in the Garden, Melo had a slightly-better-than-typical-so-far outing, finishing with 22 on 18 shots with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, a Carmelo-y 53% TS%, and a healthy +16. Meanwhile the other arm of the law, Amar’e Stoudemire, finished with a sporadically dominating 24 on 19 shots for a wholesome and Amar’e-e 58% TS%.

Contributing to their outwardly pedestrian efficiency, both Stat and Melo struggled somewhat from the charity stripe, going a combined 10 for 16. Still, neither of the two forced the issue, and Melo in particular largely refrained from his beloved outside jumpers until late, choosing instead to attack the basket early.

Meanwhile, the recently slump-plagued Fields still managed to find ways to contribute, scoring 10 points with 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and one sigh-inducing second half triple that helped spark a Knicks run. Anthony Carter logged 18 feisty, heavy minutes spelling TD,  nabbing 7 rebounds and displaying his pesky brand of D. (Carter also scored 2 points, which means I lost my bet that Chris Paul’s knee brace would tally more blocks than Carter did points.)

Without their recently conscripted general, the Bocker’s proved they could handle a half-course slugfest against a solid – though clearly tired – defensive team. And while the Knicks actually had more turnovers (16 to the Hornets’ 14), New Orleans never found themselves in a fluid enough rhythm – or shooting well enough (just a 49% eFG%, including 3 of 14 from deep) – to capitalize.

But even better than how the unexpected starting 5 played, was the 5 on the court at closing time. Yes folks, Air Mason, She-Will, Jeffrightened (so stunning was his entry, apparently, that ESPN didn’t even have him in the box score until the 4th quarter), TDDWTDD and… NewlyAcquiredFromCharlotteSixEightSwingmanDerrickBrown… all got to bring us to the final horn. Mason in particular was heavily deluged in chant from an otherwise subdued crowd (The FreeMasons?  You can thank Robert for that one). The vibes worked, as Roger hit two long range jumpers to net perhaps his most rewarding 5 points in years.

And so it was that a night which many worried would turn into a Garden audition for Chris Paul morphed, instead, into a confidence-building 48 minutes for a number of Knicks. But with Billups questionable for Friday’s revenge-fest with Cleveland, Douglas in particular should be looking to turn tonight’s poised play into actual momentum for the home stretch. And maybe – if we’re really lucky – the future.

Heat 113, Knicks 91

December 17th, 2010, is a date that has been circled on my calendar since the league announced this season’s schedule. Tonight was the city’s chance to shout out our new opinion of LeBron to his face for the first time. Long wooed by the city, with Knicks fans applauding his accomplishments on our home court, his “Decision” changed everything. The fans who once longed for James in orange and blue now despise him.

And boy, did MSG do its part tonight. From before tipoff throughout the first half the crowd was electric, with thunderous chants of “DE-FENSE” every time the Heat touched the ball, and loud Boos ringing out each time it was passed to LeBron. The crowd even reserved a special chant for when Chris Bosh would shoot free throws: “OVER-RATED“, no doubt a result of the Heat’s implied belief this summer that Bosh was the best free-agent power forward, a belief any Knicks fan would now contest. Moreover, the team was giving us a reason to cheer, overcoming a 13 point second quarter deficit to lead the game with 3:24 left in the first half on a Landry Fields tip-in. Though the Knicks and Heat entered the half tied at 59, the game was soon to turn, with the Heat outscoring the Knicks by 16 in the 3rd quarter, with LeBron shooting 6-9 in the quarter for 14 points. The fourth quarter left nothing to doubt, as the Knicks were unable to find any offensive rhythm. Despite the horrific 2nd half, I don’t believe that tonight’s loss should be a cause for major alarm. My thoughts on the matter and analysis of the box score below.

  • First and foremost, this was not Amar’e’s night. During the recent win streak, Amar’e had appeared perfectly in control, a combination of power and grace that could not be stopped. Tonight was the polar opposite- everything Amar’e did seemed rushed and slightly out-of-control. 24 points on 28 shots is not the efficiency we’ve come to expect, and four turnovers certainly didn’t help. However, I doubt this problem will continue. For one thing, it appeared that Amar’e was hit on the arms every time he drove towards the hoop, with nary a call. It’s questionable tonight whether it would have helped- Amar’e shot an incredibly poor 2-7 from the free throw line- but other refs may well have been blown the whistle. Every superstar has a bad night now and then, and tonight easily could have been the result of the incredible minutes per game D’Antoni has been playing Amar’e. Perhaps the best thing tonight’s result could do is force the Knicks to lean a bit more on someone like Anthony Randolph (who looked hungry for playing time during the few minutes of garbage time he received) to spell Amar’e. Amar’e finished with a +/- of -22, which was poor but hardly the worst on the team.
  • That honor would belong to Raymond Felton, who posted an incredible +/- of -33. I wonder if the heavy minutes are again a suspect for the poor play, specifically because some of the things Raymond is best at (driving the hoop for a lay-up, for example), were absolutely beyond him tonight. Raymond hit the underside of the rim at least two times on drives- ugly.  He shot 3-12, was 0-3 from 3, and while the box score shows he dished 10 assists, he had no impact on the game. Not a result you would like against a team which is widely considered not to have a point guard. I’m not sure who we can look to to give him rest though, so this one is questionable.
  • Interestingly enough, the only positive +/- on the night belonged to Shawne Williams. This is attributable largely to his presence on an interesting second quarter line-up featuring four players shooting over 36% from three- Gallo, Chandler, Williams, and Fields- and a 5th, Toney Douglas, who is not shy to shoot. This was quite the interesting lineup. Wilson Chandler was the player presumably playing at center, if one had to be designated as such.  This group erased much of the deficit, and gave the Heat plenty of trouble defensively, mainly because the Knicks knocked down a few shots, but, alas, this particular lineup was not to return in the second half.
  • Thank goodness Gallo was dialed in to start the game, or it might not have remained close for even a half. Gallo’s 21 points before halftime were inspired. One could sense that he was playing with a great deal of confidence. Unfortunately his shot, along with the rest of the team’s, went away in the second half. Regardless, his 25 points were a game-high.

So why am I not particularly worried? First, I think Felton and Stoudemire are better than they showed tonight. Given proper rest, I would doubt they perform as poorly the next time they play the Heat. Second, their free throw shooting was just atrocious tonight (56.5%.) Making the ten free throws we missed wouldn’t have won the game for us, but considering the quality our players normally demonstrate at the charity stripe, shooting such a low percentage is an anomaly. Third, LeBron and the Heat were just incredible tonight, but in a way that could be hard to repeat. If you disregard a late miss by James Jones in garbage time, the Heat shot just under 59% from 3 tonight. Furthermore, LeBron knocked down a number of long two-pointers. While one is hard-pressed to call it great defense when his shot is dropping, the defenses of teams who have played the Cavs in the playoffs have designed their scheme to force him to take that exact type of a shot. On another night, his shooting percentage could quite easily be below the 60% he had tonight, including 50% from deep. This shooting contributed to the largest +/- on the night, at +31. However, this is why we wanted him on the Knicks. LeBron James is really good at the game of basketball. While the Knicks couldn’t ‘Beat the Heat’ tonight, despite the rowdy support of the MSG faithful, there are some losses to which one doesn’t need to overreact, and I count this among them.

Knicks Crush Raps to Continue Road Streak

Riding a 6 game road win streak, the Knicks faced off against the Raptors in Toronto. New York got off to a hot start, erupting for 33 points in the first quarter. They pushed the pace with Felton at the helm, recording 9 assists in the quarter. Chandler led all scorers with 12 first-quarter points, while Felton and Fields contributed 7 apiece. The Knicks hit 4 of 11 from 3-point range as well.

In the second, with Amar’e on the bench, the Raptors gained some ground. Leandro Barbosa served as the facilitator, while Jerryd Bayless was feeling it from outside and scored 11 in the quarter. Amar’e returned to the game, reaching double-double figures before the end of the half, and the Knicks went into halftime up by 10 points.

The third quarter belonged to the Raptors Amir Johnson, who put up 10 points and grabbed 8 boards, along with an ESPN Top Plays put-back dunk.  With the crowd fired up and Bayless continuing to shoot well, the home team cut the lead to 7 by the end of the third.  Amar’e scored consecutive baskets and Shawne Williams hit a three followed by a tip-in to start the fourth. Fortunately the Knicks scored rampantly as they poured in 34 in the final frame, crushing the Raptors by 17.

It was a solid showing from the Knicks on the road as they continue to win games that they are expected to. Amar’e continued his stellar play with 31 points and a season-high 16 rebounds, 5 of them on the offensive end. Rookie Landry Fields also recorded a double-double and Shawne Williams impressed off the bench, hitting 4-4 from beyond the arc and scoring 14 in just 21 minutes. 

The shorter rotation seems to be working for D’Antoni. I expect Douglas, Williams, and Mozgov to get the bulk of the minutes off the bench in the near future after the early-season uninspiring play from Anthony Randolph and Bill Walker. Gallinari continues to struggle with his shot, but is finding other ways to help the team. He grabbed 4 boards and dished 5 assists. In 40 minutes of action, though, he needs to find a way to score more than 6 points.

Other positives include the Knicks shooting 86% from the stripe and 44% from downtown.  The only negatives were being outrebounded and finishing with only two blocks while leading the league in swats per game. No one should be complaining, though, as New York matched its longest road winning streak since the 1994-95 season.  It has been a long time since the Knicks have had streaks of dominance like this, and the fans are hungry to see just how far they can roll.