Remember the first game of the season against the Raptors? Stoudemire had a subpar game, but down the stretch the Knicks gave the ball to Stoudemire, and Stoudemire went to work on a mediocre Toronto frontcourt to "close" the game out. We were all pleased (myself included), and Knicks fans everywhere congratulated each other on finally having a "closer," a player that could create tough buckets in cruch time and put the game away.
Fast forward nine games. How has Amare performed as our "closer?" Terrible. He starts twenty feet from the basket, drives into the teeth of the defense, and usually misses or turns the ball over (occasionally gets bailed out with a foul). And it's not his fault. Everyone on this website seems to agree that the Knicks desperately need to get the ball to Stoudemire closer to the rim, and when he's on the move.
However, I realized that there is a fundamental problem that must be resolved before we continue the futility of forcing the ball to our "closer" at the end of ball games. The problem is that Amare is not our "closer." He never was. Raymond Felton is our "closer."
Amare was never the closer in Phoenix either. Steve Nash was. Many times, Amare would put the game away with a dunk or layup, but he still wasn't the closer. Those dunks and layups came from plays where the ball was in Nash's hands the entire time. He never even touched the ball on those plays except for the .5 seconds it took him to catch the pass and dunk/lay it in. Stoudemire never created for himself in the cruch time when he played for the Suns. Why should he be doing that here?
Raymond Felton has the wrong mentality at the end of ball games (and it's hard to blame him). Amare has been heralded by everyone as the alpha-dog, go-to guy, closer, finisher, give him the damn ball and get outa the way guy since he arrived in New York. I can only assume that the coaching staff and other players hold the same view. This is why Felton's role has been misdefined (especially during cruch time). Raymond feels like his job in crunch time is to "get the ball to Amare at all costs and let him win the game." Wrong. You are the closer, Raymond.
Steve Nash would hold the ball on a crunch time possession, and then he would get into the interior of the floor and force the defense to choose between collapsing on him or collapsing on Amare (but the whole time Nash knew that he was the closer). Either Nash was going to score, or the defense would collapse on him and he would drop it off to Amare for the dunk/layup. On the rare occasions when the defense stopped and Nash from getting to the rim, and successfully denied passes to Amare, Nash would simply kick it out to a perimeter shooter. Basically, as long as the Suns hit shots, the Suns were going to get their buckets in crunchtime.
We're not getting buckets down the stretch because we are not giving the ball to our "closer." Felton needs to realize that on the last possession, the ball must be in his hands! He's the point guard! The point guard handles ball in crunch time on most teams with few exceptions. It makes no sense for us to hand the ball in crunchtime to a Power Forward who is not even a playmaker.
Felton needs to get into the interior of the defense and make decisions. Either they collapse and he drops it off to Amare, or they focus on Amare and he gets all the way to the hole (either scores or gets fouled). If they defend the pick and roll well, he can kick it out for three (I know, I know. You're sick of the Knicks shooting threes. Hey, at least it's going to be an open three. It's better than handing the ball to Amare on one of the elbows and clearing out. (A hell of lot better). If all else fails, the Felton needs to step back and wet a jumper off the dribble. He's not a great shooter, but he would be a better shooter if he wasn't burdened with thoughts like. "Uh oh, should I be shooting this shot? Isn't Amare supposed to be getting the ball right now?"
You are the closer, Raymond, and the coaching staff needs to let you know that. Either create for someone else, or shoot the damn ball, but do not hand it off to Amare and disappear in crunch time again!