Knicks 83, Bulls 78

“The armies separated; and, it is said, Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one more such victory would utterly undo him.”

– Plutarch

“Some speak of the future. My love she speaks softly. She knows there’s no success like failure. And that failure’s no success at all.”

– Bob Dylan, “Love Minus Zero”

“The only victories which leave no regret are those which are gained over ignorance.” 

– Napoleon Bonaparte

Fifteen times this season the Knicks have been outscored by their opponent.  Tonight’s contest — composed as it was of a comprehensively fulfilling start that gave way to a horrifying struggle against the creeping, persistent onslaught of time — very nearly became the sixteenth.  In the end, it didn’t.  And I’m sitting here grasping at empty air for something productive to contribute and the only thought I can catch a fleeting hold of is this one: maybe it would be better if it had.

Let’s talk about what the value of a win is.  First off, a win is the point of all of this.  The money and the effort and the time and the passion are, theoretically, all about producing victories.  Wins are an economic engine and a moral judgment and a historical record and an emotional touchstone.  Cliches about sportsmanship aside, at the highest levels, wins are the reason for the season.

But, specifically, what is the value of THIS win?  This 83-78 survival that goes into the books only because the fourth quarter was 12 minutes long and not 15?  It sends the Knicks to 6-15 instead of 5-16 which is, you know, better.  It brings us a win closer to playoff basketball and since it came against a conference opponent who could theoretically be competition for the same postseason spot, that benefit counts a little bit extra.  It potentially does a lot of good for Amar’e Stoudemire, who was unquestionably the evening’s hero behind 7 of 11 shooting, some spirited interior defense, and an impressive (and somewhat unexpected) degree of synergy with swashbuckling combo guard Beno Udrih.  It may marginally extend Mike Woodson’s tenure as Knicks’ head coach although that’s far from a sure thing and even a minimally invasive deconstruction of tonight’s game should readily suggest why it’s an odd choice to be a strike in the coach’s favor.  And there’s a chance, decide for yourself how significant, that hanging on to a close game like this will motivate the team and bring them together and propel them forward to bigger and better things.  I suppose people arguing that point should be ready to explain why the Knicks are 1-4 with a -28 point differential in games following victories this year but, whatever, it’s not impossible.

So, OK, the value of this game lies in 1) the probability that it is the difference between the Knicks making or missing the playoffs, 2) the probability that it is the difference between a better or worse seed in the playoffs, 3) its affirmation of the things the Knicks did well in the game, 4) the probability that it positively impacts Woodson’s longevity and 5) the probability that it ends up being something of a catalyst for victories over the days or weeks or months to come.

Now, for the opposite question:  what is the value of a loss?

Tonight, the Knicks played against a Bulls team that is, bluntly, quite bad.  They had lost 8 of 10 coming in and aside from an outlier victory against Miami looked completely flat on offense.  At halftime tonight, they’d scored only 181 points in their last 5 halves of basketball (basically a 72 ppg pace).  They were missing Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, and Jimmy Butler.  And, more proximately, they looked utterly hopeless on both ends against the Knicks in the first half: inept and turnover prone on offense; uncharacterstically floundering on defense in the face of a Knicks offense in the midst of one of its isolated bouts of pass-happiness.  If ever there was a team against whom a big lead should have seemed safe, this was it.

And yet, slowly and steadily, it began to disappear.  The Knicks spiraled, as they have so many times this year, as they did with some regularity even amidst their relatively abundant success last season.  Ball movement ground to a halt,  silly fouls were committed (JR Smith stabbed a guy in the heart with a trident!), technicals were earned, defensive assignments were abandoned, stink-eyes were shot at teammates.  And the unthinkable happened: the team that couldn’t score started to chip away.  Want to know how bad it was?  Here are the shooting stats for the five players who attempted the most field goals for a team that erased a 23-point deficit tonight;

Mike Dunleavy: 7/24, 3/11 3-pointers, 3/3 FTs, 20 points on 25 weighted shots.

Kirk Hinrich: 3/11, 2/5, 3/4, 11 points on 13 weighted shots.

Carlos Boozer: 6/10, 0/0, 0/0, 12 points on 10 weighted shots.

Marquis Teague: 2/7, 0/1, 3/4, 7 points on 9 weighted shots.

Tony Snell: 1/7, 1/4, 1/3, 4 points on 9 weighted shots.

TOTAL: 19/59 (32.2%), 6/21 (28.6%), 10/14 (71.4%) for 54 points on 66 weighted shots.

Again, THOSE PLAYERS led a team back from 23 points down tonight.  To tie the game.  Shooting like that.

My point is this: when you let that happen, maybe it’s good to lose.  Maybe it’s good to have to explain how you let it get away.  Maybe it’s good to not get to fall back on empty platitudes like, oh I don’t know:



I’ve seen one quote that came out of tonight’s postgame that meant something real to me and it came from Mr. Anthony himself:

And that kind of perfectly hits on what I’m trying to say here.  I DON’T know what would have happened.  But I kind of want to.  Because positive results often serve as an implicit affirmation of the underlying method, even if only subconsciously, even when we actively try to block such things out.  And tonight, the underlying method — in the second half, at least — was to abandon a perfectly effective offensive strategy based around Beno/STAT pick and rolls and activity away from Melo to clear the space he needs to get him the ball in good position.  It was to let up considerably on defense in the second half after a thoroughly tenacious first two periods.  It was to give the Bulls the freedom on the interior to grab 16 offensive rebounds (a whopping 35.6% of those available to them).  And, as the lead got tighter and tighter, it was to shed precious seconds off of the shot clock with a single-minded determination to put the ball in Carmelo Anthony’s hands and take the other 4 guys on the team out of the play.  The Bulls couldn’t have asked for an approach more forgiving to their offensive woes and more ripe for a semi-miraculous comeback.

Believe me, I know how I sound.  I root for a 6-15 team and I’m griping after a win: equal parts beggar and chooser, head buried 4 feet down a gift horse’s throat.  But tonight I watched a team inflict wounds on itself that its opponent would never have been capable of meting out on its own merits.  I saw it collapse on itself with in-fighting and uncertainty.  I saw it earn something and give it away and have it come back through a reprieve borne only of mutual incompetence and the merciful expiration of a 48-minute timer.

A win has value.  Always, always, a win has value.  But this kind of win?  In this kind of season?  You take it, of course.  You’re happy to get it, for sure.  And you hope against hope that the people who have a hand in all of this can separate the means from the end.

Here’s hoping.

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Kevin McElroy

Kevin McElroy watches the Knicks and owns a computer.

30 thoughts to “Knicks 83, Bulls 78”

  1. A Win is a win. How doesnt matter. If you wanted a loss for the Knicks then thats just a different issue.

  2. I’m sure you’ll take a lot of flack for this but I’m right there with you. It’s not so much you wish they lost, but you wouldn’t mind seeing what would’ve happened if they did. A win is a win and there were some positive signs. Let’s hope this win reinforces those.

  3. er,

    I consider my post a direct response to that exact line of thinking. Ultimately of course I wanted them to win but it’s obtuse to not at least consider the negatives that can come from a win and the positives that can come from a loss. Ultimately, maturity involves the ability to learn and adjust from victories and realize the delicacy of success. If you can do that, you don’t need to lose to learn. This is, however, not a skill the Knicks have proven particularly adept at in recent times. I’m happy they won but losing and learning would be better than winning and deciding that, as you put it, “a win is just a win.” In the standings, sure, that’s 100% true. But there ARE better and worse wins when you’re talking about the development and evolution of a fundamentally imperfect team.

  4. I agree. 100%. I only wanted this win for the team because I support this team and that means wanting the team to win.

    But this was as hollow as a chocolate Easter bunny. How do you get excited about your team winning when they tried to give it away? When the other team, tenacious though woefully unprepared on offense, is able to tie it up on what felt like the worst offensive plays in history?

    This team feels like a tweenage girl. Sure, it wants to be mature, and sometimes gets adults to say “Oh my, she’s very grown up for her age.” But as soon as things go bad, as soon as Mom says she has to go to bed or she can’t go to a One Direction concert, she goes back to the same temper tantrums.

    That’s this team. They want to move the ball and hit open shots and be playoff material, but when the going gets rough, they go right back to iso-ball and JR dribbling off his own leg. Tim Hardaway doesn’t play for the rest of the night. Defensive rotations stop.

    I only wanted this win because it was a win. And because I could not, for the life of me, imagine how I’d feel if they’d lost.

  5. We are now 1/4 of the way thru, and we are 6-15. Assuming we want to get to 6 games over, for each of the next quarters of the year we have to go like 13-8. I’m not sure what I think about that. Our next 6 games are against teams that are a combined 27 under. We need to go 5-1. Then we lose to OK city on Christmas, beat Toronto twice, that’s 7-2 and we get Chandler back. We would be 13-17.

    That’s realistic, right?

  6. More interesting Melo quotes:

    Carmelo on his teammates: “I believe in them just as much as they believe in me. They’ve got to know that. They’ve got to believe that.”

    Melo, on the late-game isolations: “Guys are kinda waiting around for me to do something. … We’ve gotta get away from that. And we will.”

  7. great post. to be sure, it was encouraging to see some positive signs from stat, but what good is a win if many of the fundamentals haven’t changed at all such that ultimately you’re just doomed to miserable failure when you meet an actual challenge (i.e. a top 4-seeded team that we will undoubtedly meet in the first round if we escape the lottery by some miracle, or hell, any offense not anchored by the likes of future HOFer Mike Dunleavy). potatohead was forced to play a few effective rotations by injury, and still managed to keep JR in there to keep things uh…interesting.

    p.s. giving dolan and mills sportsvu is probably as useful as giving a monkey a physics textbook.

  8. I guess I have a hard time seeing what good would come from more losing. Is Houston really a better coaching option than Woodson? Would Dolan ever consider really blowing the team up and not trying to resign Melo? It’s a horribly down year in the east and the Knicks have nothing to gain by tanking so I’ll take any win and hope that the Knicks can make the playoffs and maybe get out of the first round.

  9. er,

    I consider my post a direct response to that exact line of thinking. Ultimately of course I wanted them to win but it’s obtuse to not at least consider the negatives that can come from a win and the positives that can come from a loss. Ultimately, maturity involves the ability to learn and adjust from victories and realize the delicacy of success. If you can do that, you don’t need to lose to learn. This is, however, not a skill the Knicks have proven particularly adept at in recent times. I’m happy they won but losing and learning would be better than winning and deciding that, as you put it, “a win is just a win.” In the standings, sure, that’s 100% true. But there ARE better and worse wins when you’re talking about the development and evolution of a fundamentally imperfect team

    I definitely hear you but my point is this. The Knicks have proven that they are capable of playing good offense from time to time but mostly they stink it up. The defense is what it is, for the most part the problems have been offensive. So in a game where they played well for most of it and fell apart but still showed enough mettle to win cant be poo poo’d. If you want them to lose all games by 20 to get rid of Woodson thats one thing. But if you want the team to win you cant complain about “bad wins” I dont recall Indiana feeling like that after squeaking out a win against the Knicks who were on the second night of a back to back and were 3-7 at the time

  10. Indiana is a fully formed team who will have good nights and bad but for whom a win is, in fact, a win. Progress is as important as individual results for a team in the Knicks’ position and tonight’s 2nd half was a huge step in the wrong direction. That was and is my point but I appreciate you engaging with me civilly on this.

  11. Woodson’s rotations are horrific. Why is JR getting so much burn when he’s playing like he hit the pipe just before tip off (and then again at the half)?? Opposing pg’s are shredding them, but Murry and his fresh young legs get no court time? Bargnani is like minus 10,000 on the year but hey lets keep rolling him out there for major minutes every night. Passing the ball hels are offense work better, so lets go all ISO down the stretch. Knicks are bad, but the coach is doing ZERO to correct any of the problems. Felton is killing them too, not playing well at all. As has been said on this board nd many other places, when they get competent guard play they are ok, but when they don’t the wheels come off in a hurry.

  12. Hey, they’re 3-2 on the last five!… With two disgusting losses back to back. They need to go on a 7-3, 8-2 run to cover up the stink from that 9 game losing streak and for me to buy in again.

  13. Yeah, this was exactly the result I was worried about – a win that only postpones the inevitable. In fact, the 2 best things to come out of this game were both double-edged swords– 1) Amare looking like he’s rounding into form (but playing 30 minutes), and 2) Carmelo’s quote above about how the team can’t just look to him to make something happen (but Woodson saying that’s what he wanted them to do).

    The defense looked pretty good, but it’s hard to say how much of that is because the Bulls offense is just horrific. Kenyon Martin really does seem to make a difference, which bodes well for Tyson’s return. Seems like the D just needs 1 guy in the middle who can communicate and play some sort of team defense for it to be even respectable.

    And Bargnani. Blech. If he’s not hitting open shots (WIDE OPEN SHOTS), he has no business being on the court. I was glad to see he played very sparingly in the second half.


  14. I wrote this last night, but I will write it again.
    This team is fragile. The slightest sign of trouble and they start to crumble.
    For their psyche, this is the worst possible win: They blew a giant lead against a bad team, and then just barely held on.
    Stupid players continued to make stupid plays.
    JR is a completely and utterly lost soul. He continues to take ill-advised shots, and then there is him literally trying to body slam a Bulls player in front of the referee in a crucial series.

    Udrih’s turnovers in the third gave life to a dead team.
    Further, Woodson’s play calling in the end shows he has no faith in his team and was devoid of any creativity. He keeps calling on No. 7, over and over. No imagination. Just Melo one on five. It’s not fair to Melo.
    But it also says to the rest of the team, ‘I don’t trust you.’
    And even if Melo is your guy, how about running him through some screens, or involving two passes before it gets to him, rather than just dumping it to him and letting him drive or pull up against four defenders.
    This is all Woodson.
    Oh, and I completely blame Woodson for Shump’s regression…maybe disappearance better describes it.
    Once again, the team was often much better with Prigs running it…of course, he’s 37, and you can’t play him 40 minutes a night.
    But how about putting the ball in Amare’s hands more in clutch moments?
    He’s 26 for 31 over the past five games.
    He played 30 minutes on the back half of a back to back and seemed fine.
    Treat him like the other offensive star on the team. If he draws a double on the block, make sure he can see Melo, or let him draw the fouls Melo isn’t getting right now.
    It’s just all so tight. Woodson isn’t trusting his team in the closing minutes.
    Teams often reflect the nature of their coaches. Thib team is all fire and no quit, and that’s him.
    The Knicks are not confident, not creative, and not mentally engaged for 48 minutes.

  15. Friday’s game will tell me a lot about this team. If they can’t get up to play a team that completely humiliated them on Sunday, and go out and lose by 10 or 15, then I agree, the Bulls game was meaningless and we were probably better off losing and hastening Woodson’s departure.

  16. I suggested this a few weeks ago and I still think it’s an important idea – why in the world are our injured players rehabbing themselves in real games? Why not send them to the D-League where they won’t hurt the big-league club? Amare looks much more like himself recently, but maybe at Erie he would’ve been able to play himself into a rhythm a few weeks ago. And JR — if you’re telling me his knee is still bothering him, then either sit him or let him work through it somewhere else – although I’m not sure the D-League would help his brain.

  17. btw – I did not watch the game that closely last night but didn’t notice any widespread switching other than the usual Melo/JR etc. laziness on baseline screening action. Has Woody cut that way down?

  18. Less switching last night, yes, more straightforward inability to stay in front of ballhandlers/overhelping.

    lol. even more reason to #freetouremurry

  19. Dude, I get your passion and I’m right there with you, but please explain what happens if the NYK do lose this game? You expect Dolan to say ‘that’s it’ immediately fire Woody? You expect a coaching change to immediately turn them into a basketball juggernaut? I got news for you. In its current configuration this is a .500 (or less) team, at best. It is what it is. Especially without Chandler. We need to get him back and up to speed before we start throwing in the towel. This conference is weak and a playoff spot is there for the taking. You are ready to jump off the ledge based on a team that is not even at full strength. Let’s see what that full strength team looks like before we douse ourselves in gasoline and light a match.

  20. @Jack Bauer I think you hit the hammer on the nail

    JR needs to be benched. Period. Even if it’s just for a few games. Woody needs to send him a message. He’s a sieve on defense, while he over dribbles and takes contested long two pointers with 20 seconds left on the shot clock. It will be harder to sit him now that Shump’s banged up, though.

    I appreciate Bargs effort, but he just doesn’t fit. He stunts the offensive flow, and couldn’t rotate defensively to keep Mike freaking Dunleavy out of the paint. The +/- story tells all with him, even on nights where he puts up decent stats. I would trade him for 10 cents on the dollar.

    When Bargs and JR were on the bench, the team looked significantly better yesterday.

    The PG situation is interesting. Beno is servicable. He got a bit careless in the second half, but I liked the energy. He has to play more. We want to see more Pablo but he’s old, we can’t burn him out. Beno must play. Felton needs to be shut down until he’s healthy. Right now he looks like post-lockout/overweight/Blazers Felton. New free agent DJ Augustin might be better than all of them, he deserves a look. I agree Murry deserves some burn, as well.

    Nice to see STAT playing pretty well. The crowd really appreciates it as well, it’s great when he gets the Garden going like he did last night.

  21. I see where you’re coming from here Kevin, but I think the false part of your premise is the idea that the Knicks would learn anything from a loss. This organization and, more specifically, the current head coach have shown that they are not going to learn anything no matter what.

    Do we really think that if the Knicks had blown last night’s game that Woodson would have all of the sudden smacked himself on the forehead and realized “Woah, maybe I should stay with the ball movement offense that worked early, and maybe I shouldn’t play JR when he’s awful, and maybe I should teach my team how to play defense”?

    Or that Dolan would have smacked himself on the forehead and realized “Woah, maybe I’m not actually that great at this basketball owner thing, maybe I should hire a great basketball mind and stay out of his fucking way”?

    Or even that the day when either of those things would happen would be more rapidly approaching? I certainly don’t. The bottom line is that as long as Dolan is the head of this beast we’re never going to reach a point where this is a “good” organization in all of the various ways that an organization can be good. We’re not going to wake up one morning after a random loss to the Bulls and find that all of the sudden the Knicks are run with competence and composure.

    So in light of that I can’t see how there’s much to be gained from a loss. It might satiate my craving to see Woodson’s head roll, but in a macro sense it’s not going to make a difference. So I’m just going to hope that in spite of the larger issues plaguing the organization as a whole they can find a way to reel off some wins and make the playoffs and win a round and put up a modicum of a fight against Indy or Miami. And I’m going to be happy when they take a step in that direction.

  22. KMac-

    in the broad brush strokes I agree with your point. A win can affirm bad thinking and poor decisions. We saw plenty last night, and there’s little arguing that.

    However, I think this game requires a finer-grained analysis. I don’t wanna make excuses for bad thinking, but sometimes none of the options are great. It is remiss to suggest that the Bulls made their run AFTER the return of iso-Melo. Is0-Melo was a response to their run-not a good one-but that was definitely the causal flow.

    The ball movement stopped first. The Bulls began to extend on Beno and Prigioni, pushing the offense further on the floor and making passes travel farther. You make that aggressiveness pay by beating it off the dribble. Beno and Prigioni just can’t. Not consistently. We had the four straight turnovers, and every one was directly or indirectly on the PGs. Even a steal got us the fast break from hell. (We can be maddeningly uncritical of Prigioni. I love him too, but damn…)

    In a span of like 15 real minutes our PG play went from sublime to catastrophically bad. STAT got a breather. Bargs was worthless. KMart destroys floor spacing. And JR was doing JR things. THAT’s when hero ball made its return. I’m not saying he shouldah killed her, but I understand.

    If there is a silver lining it’s that ball reversal to STAT is what eventually (re-)won the game.

  23. Attended the game last night, so although started to sweat serious bullets in the 4th quarter — Knicks are still undefeated when I watch them live! Some observations:

    JR is not getting a lot of love from the crowd. When he came in, folks were not excited. Lots of commentary around me about how he has to be one of the dumbest players in the NBA – hard to disagree.

    People still love Amare. There were lots of Amare jerseys out last night. You could feel the appreciation and love from the fans last night b/c of his good game (except for that one point when he avoided the backcourt violation, by allowing the Bulls to pick up the ball and waltz in for a layup).

    THJ is a pretty damn good athlete. He three down some kind of 360 dunk in the pregame warm-ups.

    EVERYONE was pissed at Kmart for missing on the finish, from that crazy spinning no look behind the back pass from Melo. They even showed the highlight on the big screen a few times even though he missed.

    In the third quarter when they were making the run and we were doing some pretty comically mind-numbing dumb stuff to hand the game back to them, there was a mix of anger and laughter — like I can’t believe this is actually happening on an NBA court laughter.

    There were lots of Bulls fans who became really vocal while the Bulls were making the comeback, who then had to shut up and leave quietly at the end….so that was nice!

  24. The icing on the cake would have been that STAT offensive board / tip dunk / rip the rim off the backboard .. that clunked … I like wins but that would have been emphatic and extremely pleasing

  25. So, Ray Felton is hurt, forcing us to turn to our really old PG who should really be a SG. Amare has worked himself back into form and is providing ultra-efficient scoring leading to him playing more and more minutes. Where have I seen this movie before?

  26. @DRed — you didn’t see this movie last year because we were 18-5 back then and fun to watch….

  27. @DRed — you didn’t see this movie last year because we were 18-5 back then and fun to watch….

    Sequels are almost never as good as the original.

  28. It’s not about learning from the loss. It’s about that most favorite of Mike Woodson buzzwords: accountability. This was a calamitous performance, as disastrous as any this year. And because they won, they can hide behind that and don’t have to be accountable for what they all know was a reckoning day type of game, one that would’ve forced them to stare their own championship, playoff, and competence aspirations in the face. The win lets them elide that responsibility, escape behind cliches and permits relief to take precedence over the emotion they really deserve: doubt.

  29. Echo pat. I almost got into an even more detached musing about the cathartic ecstasy of deserved defeat but I’ll leave that as fertile ground for Silverman’s next ‘cap.

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