Folks tend to make video game allusions when basketball gets sublime, which means they must be considerably better at video games than I am. When I play a basketball game, I get bored and impatient and resort to emptying my bench, heaving rim-bound threes, neglecting defensive responsibilities, and slinging mistimed, misplaced alley-oops. Rubbercons must not game that capably either, because he had the same impressions in the post-game thread. The Knicks-- down some bodies in game five of a hastily mobilized season (I need to install a key that types out that whole phrase)-- relied upon the zaniest bunch of fellows imaginable, and those fellows played impulsive, hyperbolic basketball peppered with mere spasms of discernment. It felt precisely like video game basketball, and I say that as someone who wins video games rarely and only by accident.
This Knicks team is weeks away from being full-grown, but that doesn't mean it has to just languish-- nor play video games-- during its gawky adolescence. Hell, I think I saw glimmers of how this team might adapt to its situation right in this very loss. Take the jump.- An outing that contains 35 three-pointers (45 percent of the total takes) gives us the full range of three-point looks. We saw some truly reprehensible, arrhythmic takes, we saw some noble misses, and we saw some buckets that were sure things at the moment of release. We're plenty familiar with the former kinds, but that last type deserves some attention. When the outside game really got rolling, it tended to emerge from plays that had at least crossed into the painted area. In the first quarter, when Carmelo Anthony was cookin' soup, and in the third, when Toney Douglas did what Toney Douglas do, baskets got assisted or hockey-assisted by passers who'd crossed below the free throw line and behind the defense. Shooters received the ball from the same direction as the rim, finding themselves already squared up for a quick, fluid release. That type of three-pointer doesn't bother me at all, even when Landry Fields and Josh Harrellson can't get it to drop. If it was up to me, I'd institute a rule: You can't shoot a ball that hasn't touched the paint. Kick-outs, secondary breaks, extra passes, and swings to the weak side all strike me as valid progenitors of a three-point attempt. Side-to-side dribbling and stagnation do not. So, while the "live by the three, die by the three" maxim is undeniable, (and could easily have been our headline) I'd assert that the ones that sustain the Knicks bear little resemblance to the ones that kill them.
- That said, Fields really ought to hit those and Jorts either needs to hit 'em or report promptly to the painted area.
- One good way to fulfill my rule about touching the paint is to get out in transition. There were a few plays in which folks threw snappy outlets off long rebounds and turnovers to cherry-pickers (I specifically remember Fields throwing one to Douglas) for easy baskets, or at least forays into the paint. It seemed to me that Douglas and company did exactly this to generate momentum in the third quarter, only to have it sapped when Mike Bibby entered the game and refrained from pushing the pace (although it's obviously not entirely on Bibby).
- Melo took some bad shots and hit a number of them. My only real objection to his liberal shot selection was when he occasionally squandered momentum with some impatient pull-ups in the second half. Then again, he hit a few of those, too.
- In my estimation, doubling a ball-handler works much better when there's a Knick playing goalie. It requires some timely footwork, but a play in which Josh Harrellson traps the ball-handler and Tyson Chandler stays right in front of the rim to deter any inside looks should the trap get busted seems to work. Or at least it seems to work a lot better than an all-out ball-swarm that leaves the rim unprotected. This was something we saw only in spurts.
- Transition D as well: Give up a jump shot if you must, but get somebody in front of the rim.
- And while trapping seems to work at the right time and with the right approach, I just can't comprehend the straight switches. Why Harrellson can be roped into an individual stand against Jose Calderon is beyond me, especially when it comes with nary a pick. It seems like every time two Knicks cross paths, they trade assignments. Eventually I'll just be inured to the mindless switching and it won't eat at my very being.
- Very video game-y: A couple of lobs for Tyson Chandler that got tossed without consent from said Tyson Chandler. It's encouraging to see guys thinking about the lob, but there's nothing like a ball sailing out of bounds four feet left of the backboard to remind you that the alleyman and oopman need to be in sync. The cohesion will come with practice (and, again, at least they're trying it), but tonight, some of the lobs looked borne of a stoned college student thumbing a greasy XBox controller. (Others were pretty excellent, like a Douglas-to-Chandler oop in the first quarter).
- After some struggles early, I thought Harrellson and Chandler did an adequate enough job on Andrea Bargnani. Barn-YAR-ni (<3 u Clyde) just hit some shots that only he can hit and drew some fouls that only he can draw.
- It was pretty cool to hear Dwane Casey gush about Chandler's presence on last year's Mavs during one of the pre-game interviews. The guy was just vomiting compliments.
- Meanwhile, in present day, Chandler needs to stay out of foul trouble. He's tall enough to make an impact without leaning or reaching.
- The Knicks, to my eye, ran a lot of useful weak-side baseline screens for Melo in the first quarter, then strayed from those later on. Or maybe the Ratpors did a better job of covering those screens.
- After an absolutely nauseating second period that saw lineups like Bibby-Douglas-Walker-Novak-Jordan and contained minutes-long stretches of emptiness, we learned that "this quarter was brought to [us] by Foot Locker", which strikes me as bad marketing. I may never visit a Foot Locker ever again as retribution for them bringing me such a horrid quarter of basketball. It's like sponsoring the bird shit on somebody's windshield.
- Man, even the Knicks' come back felt like a video game, now that I think about it. The way the Raptors kept coughing up the ball and rimming out easy shots seemed typical of a video game that's interfering with the action to keep the score close. New York played good defense, but still, there were darker forces at work.
- Not a terrible rebounding night, all things considered. Nice job drawing charges, too. Harrellson flops pretty nicely for a guy in jorts.
- By the way, have we entertained the possibility that Jorts is a never-nude?
- It's pretty harrowing to find yourself invested in a Mike Bibby/Steve Novak two-on-one fast break, especially when it ends with Novak, apparently magnetically repelled by the rim, zooming into the corner to brick a three-pointer.
- Had the Knicks come back to win, Jorts would have had the game's defining play with a blown trap-to-chase-down block of Amir Johnson's lay-up in crunch time.
- Because they lost, Harrellson's defining play was a routine dunk attempt that, if it weren't for a foul to muddy things, would have likely crossed through the rim from below. He didn't exactly nail the "gather".
That's really all I've got for now. This one felt so totally familiar that I didn't even get that worked up about it. I'm still fairly certain that this team, when fully staffed and fully steeped in each other's auras, will come into its own as a playoff-caliber entity. For the time being, bodies are scarce and the chemistry between them is lacking, but there are still proven methods of attack-- the inside-out offense and rim-conscious defense I rambled out above-- that might work even for an outfit populated by the likes of Steve Novak and Mike Bibby. These Knicks, from D'Antoni on down the line, aren't demonstrating the diligence to stick to those methods, and they're really playing like hogshit because of it.
Amar'e Stoudemire will hopefully be back soon and Iman Shumpert sounds ahead of schedule to the point that we might see him by week's end. Both, if their heads are on straight, have a lot to offer. The next game's on Wednesday against the Bobcats.