There's trouble afoot at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks had two chances to pad the win column with another tough road trip coming up, and they goofed up twice. Against the Kings, New York simply couldn't put the ball in the basket. Today against the Suns, they couldn't keep it out. Amar'e Stoudemire's season-high 41 points led a pretty decent offensive effort, but New York routinely failed to help and recover on the other end. Like our friend mrumack said, the Suns got so, so, so many open looks, and they converted damn near all of 'em.
Take the jump for some quick notes.
- The Suns shot an excellent 11-21 from downtown, and the vast majority of those looks were solid, wide-open attempts. They probably should have shot better. Why so many open shots? Here's what I saw: For a couple of guys that run the pick-and-roll a lot, Raymond Felton and Amar'e Stoudemire sure have a lot of trouble defending it. Felton's problem is that he doesn't go over OR under the screen. He goes directly into it. Raymond gets completely engulfed in the tummy of whatever big man set the pick, leaving Stoudemire to handle the point guard. Instead of hedging hard and trying to harass the point guard, though, Amar'e sets up as if he can defend the littler bro straight up. He cannot. The point guard beats him off the dribble and somebody is forced to help from the perimeter, leaving a shooter wide open in the corner (in this case, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, or Vince Carter). Steve Nash ran Felton into screens over and over again and was able to generate a good shot on almost every occasion. The close-outs weren't sharp either, but the problem starts at the top. Again, the Knicks run this exact play to death. They should know how and why it works. Felton either needs to fight over the screen (Toney Douglas, for all his foibles, models this particular behavior quite well) or just duck under it and catch his man on the other side. Bear-hugging the screener pretty much optimizes what the other team is trying to do.
- In that last bullet, I accidentally typed "Vince Farter" and laughed so hard that I farted. No further comment.
- Off-ball screens, too, continue to be a problem. I've beaten this point to death, but the Knicks switch waaaaay too readily off the ball. D'Antoni plays a lineup with enough long, hybrid guys to diminish the perils of mismatches, but the switching itself is far too sluggish and opens too many momentary windows for the opposition to attack (and Steve Nash is a virtuoso at identifying those windows). Why not just have everybody exert some effort and try to stick to their own match-ups?
- The Knicks also got outrebounded 48-38 by the worst rebounding team in the NBA. All of the above, to me, summarizes the loss.
- Amar'e Stoudemire played another excellent offensive game against his old team. HIs rebounding (just 6 of 'em) and defense (fouls when he should've just stood his ground, open lanes when he probably should've contested or even given a foul) were sub-par, but he dominated the other end. The jumper was falling, there were plenty of free throws (11-12), and he duped the likes of Hakim Warrick and Marcin Gortat on more than one occasion. He also rimmed some out and rushed a few, but was otherwise pretty much unstoppable. He kind of should have taken more shots and had 50. Or even 60.
- Raymond Felton continued his precipitous regression to the mean with a 3-13, five-turnover performance. He also had 13 dimes, but blew some routine passes and kept missing those jumpers that we'd grown so accustomed to him hitting. Each month has been worse than the previous one for Raymond. Here's hoping he can pull it together by February. I think he deserve tons of credit, but I'm not personally voting him into the All-Star game, if only because I think he needs that weekend to just rest his little limbs and bathe in ice. Felton's a warrior (and midget general) for playing through pain, but he's unquestionably out of tune.
- Danilo Gallinari made a pretty solid return to the lineup. He opened the game very aggressively and had some flashes of attacking brilliance, but we spent a lot of time wondering where he was and why he didn't have the ball. 8-9 from the line and 4-7 from the field for 17 points is nothing to sneeze at, but it felt like he could have had much more of an impact. Still, not bad for a first game back. He looked like himself, for better or worse.
- Wilson Chandler played a game straight out of last year. Wil shot 8-12 from two-point range and 2-9 from downtown, getting to the line just once.
- Toney Douglas made a few nice plays defensively, but committed more than a few boners on offense. Bill Walker shot (3-4 from outside) and rebounded (5) pretty nicely. Shawne Williams drove more than usual, but was unusually constipated from outside (0-3).
- Stoudemire picked up his 12th technical of the season for shoulder-checking Channing Frye after a foul call. I desperately hope that he locks it up and stays below that 16th tech, if only so we can avoid an outpouring of moral outrage from the local when he gets suspended. It's unlikely.
- Vince Carter, video game beard in full bloom, shot 11-20 and led Phoenix with 29 points. At least that was his output by conventional metrics. I'm of the opinion that some of his misses (a fall-away 20-footer that hit three different parts of the backboard, an air-balled three that would've swished on a Little Tikes hoop) should actually count as negative made field goals and negative points for his team. In my world, the Knicks won by at least two.
- Landry Fields fell down. Robin Lopez came running to help him up. <3 Cardinal solidarity. By the way, does Fields never play in the fourth quarter? It sure seems like he never plays in the fourth quarter.
- Walt Frazier on a terrible defensive possession that led to a Vince Carter three: "The Knicks with the Swiss cheese defense...Carter likes cheese!". Clyde also revealed that he started doing yoga in 1975. I'm pretty sure that's long before anybody in the United States had any idea what yoga was. I'm not surprised.
- Like I said, one thing that Toney Douglas continues to do very well is fight over screens. With a bum shoulder, though, that's a pretty treacherous endeavor. I worry that one of Toney's arms is just going to fall off completely.
- Hakim Warrick got them deer eyes.
- At one point in the fourth quarter, the MSG camera guys stepped onto the court to film Anthony Anderson waving his arms to pump up the crowd on the Jumbotron (of course). One problem: there was basketball being played. The refs blew the whistle and shooed the non-athletes off the court. I found the whole incident to be uproarious and wildly entertaining, just like Anderson's performance in See Spot Run.
- The Knicks are now 0-6 when they trail heading into the fourth quarter at home.
So, uh...that wasn't good. The Knicks now return to the West for games in Houston, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City. Without the buffer of what should have been two easy home wins, they might return home perilously close to the .500 mark. (Remember when being close to .500 was a good thing?). If they continue to defend like they did against the Suns, it'll be tough to steal a win or two (or three) on that trip. Adjustments must be made (and/or everybody should be fired or traded, depending on your constitution).