The season is still young, but these are the games that make a difference in playoff seeding, or even whether the Knicks will dance in the second season or be watching ping pong balls on behalf of the Rockets (thank you Jared Jeffries salary dump) come spring. In an embarrassing showing, the Knicks yielded 118 points to the previously clawless Bobcats, losing 118-110 at the Garden. Combined with losing on the road to a Steph Curry-less Warriors team and Monday at home to the Craptors, this is the Knicks 3rd loss that a team with as much talent as the Knicks CANNOT lose, regardless of how banged up the team is or how little time they have had to “gel.” It just can’t happen.
The game started off perfectly for the Knicks. Tyson had a great oop from Melo 5 seconds into the action, Amar’e actually corralled a rebound and TD and Chandler had a great pick and roll for the early flush. Then, it kinda got really ugly. The defense was horrendous all night, as the rotations weren’t there or totally puzzling in execution. The Woodson plan apparently involves switching on every pick and roll (ya know, because Tyson Chandler and Toney Douglas are basically interchangeable as far as who they can guard), help never came for a majority of the night and Bobcats had more contested jumpers in warm-ups. The lines for the ‘Cats mediocre cast of characters was alarming: 12-15 for 27 from Boris Diaw, 10-13 for 24 from Gerald Henderson, 5-8 from DJ White for 10 and 6-8 for 16 from Byron “Don’t Call Me BJ” Mullens. Just an absolutely traumatic defensive performance, especially by the front court.
For Mullens’ part, that was a head scratcher if I ever saw one. This is the same guy that was described upon leaving for the draft after his freshman year (where he averaged under 10 ppg at Ohio State) as unable to create his own shot and lacking any perimeter game, but he seemed to be reborn as a shooter against the Knicks porous front line. This leads me to one of three conclusions: 1) dropping the BJ from his name made him an elite shooter 2) his time in the NBDL, Greece and prison league ball really refined his perimeter game or 3) the Knicks defense is a complete and utter failure. Considering the evidence would indicate the BJ moniker led BJ Armstrong to be one of the best shooters of my lifetime, it was either the pick up games in cell block 6 that led to Mullens’ amazing growth, or the NYK defense is really that bad. While it may be worth it to send D12 to a few West Orlando Juvenile detention games (because if Howard developed a perimeter game like Mullens showed last night he’d be the greatest player in the history of man), I’m going to point the finger at the Knicks huge embarrassing failure of interior D here. The perimeter D was no better, as the Bobcats shot 55.3% in all, with 63.6% from 3. Good stuff. In an unrelated note, I have no idea how Corey Maggette was never an Isiah era Knick. He’s selfish, a terrible team player, extremely overrated and overpaid. Zeke really dropped the ball on that one.
Offensively, things were a little more encouraging for the Knicks (how could they be worse?), particularly in light of the defense and what we have seen offensively in recent games. Amar’e had his best game of the young season and actually ventured inside, putting his quest to become the league’s biggest 2 guards on hold for the time being and getting over the kryptonite effect the paint has had on him early this year. This team really needs Amar’e to be a big time scorer, even more so than Melo, simply because Amar’e is so much more efficient. Melo is who he is, and there is a place on this team for a high volume elite scorer, but it certainly helps to be flanked by another elite scorer who does so efficiently. Amar’e also rebounded tonight to the tune of 12 boards to compliment his 25 points. Nice performance coming off the injury from STAT.
Chandler didn’t miss a shot, but outside of the first few minutes, he was almost non existent all night, ending up 4-4 with 11 points and 6 boards in 40 minutes. Way to show the ‘Cats they made a poor decision to salary dump you. Melo poured in 32, which was deceptively impressive, as he dropped 22 in the 4th to simply keep the Knicks within shouting distance. He experienced foul trouble all night, and has had better performances. Still, Melo finished with a line of 32 points, 6 rebs, 5 assists and 3 steals, so it’s hard to point the finger at his performance as the killer here. For his part, Toney had a few decent looks for his teammates, but shot terribly, including 1-6 from deep. Again, some encouraging signs offensively as a whole, but given that the paint was prominently defended by Boris Diaw and DJ White, that should be a given.
Shumpert, in his first game since the season opener, provided a ton of energy and effort on both sides of the ball, and sparked the worst bench in the league so far this season with 18 impressive points. He displayed his world class athleticism on both ends, an impressive shooting stroke and tremendous confidence for a rookie. Best of all, he did exactly what we have been missing all year from our SSOL approach: he pushed the ball relentlessly off misses and changes in possession. That set up opportunities for himself and others, which has been sorely missed in the Knick attack. Additionally, his return relegated the aforeblogged-about Mike Bibby to the bench all game with a DNP – Corpse with a Headband. On a semi related note, I just crammed in the first season of Homeland (tremendous show) over the holidays, and I haven’t been able to look at Bibby without thinking “A Knicks Point Guard has been turned!” and wondering whether he’s actually still assisting the Heat by taking us down from the inside. If you’ve seen the series, you get the reference. If not, keep moving, nothing to read here.
The rest of the bench was terrible, and Landry Fields may be joining them shortly. He once again looked lost, posting a horrendous -21 +/- in 25 minutes. Shump Shump may be hunting that starting spot soon. Cult hero Jorts barely got in the game, which is too bad, because in terms of skill set, he could have learned a lot from the clinic Boris Diaw put on against Amar’e. Balkman and Bully Walker both got a bit of burn with Melo in foul trouble. Bully was ok in limited minutes; Balkman was, well, Balkman… completely forgettable and useless.
Ultimately, while the Bockers played with a lot of heart towards the end of the game to try and climb back in it, they were never able to overcome the 14 point lead the Bobcats got out to in the first half, in part due to the complete inability to get a defensive stop or swing momentum at any point. The Bobcats scored around 30 points like clockwork each quarter, and regardless of what NBA retread was taking the shots, the Knicks had no answer defensively. The effort isn’t there, their schemes are lacking and the entire effort looks disjointed. At this point, maybe Melo can teach the rest of the team the Syracuse zone, because I can’t watch another game where so many pick and rolls resulted in a big trying to defend on the perimeter or a guard getting posted inside.
Now the Knicks must go on the road and right the ship against the 0-6 Wizards. A 4th loss in the first 7 games to a team they have no business losing to would be a huge blow. I mentioned after the Lakers game that the Bockers needed to make some headway in this, the easiest part of their schedule, and thus far, it hasn’t been a great start. After the Wiz they have the Pistons on Saturday, followed by a rematch with the Bobcats on Monday. Hopefully the Knick defense scores an invite to that matchup.