USA TODAY Sports
The Knicks played the Lakers close, but blew the fourth quarter in a Christmas Day loss.
So, uh, those did not appear to be the same Lakers the Knicks embarrassed a week or two ago. I don't think the Knicks played that terribly-- at least nowhere near as badly as they did in the last few losses (and even some of the wins)-- but a much livelier, more organized-looking Los Angeles group overwhelmed the Knicks defense. They bullied New York inside for easy baskets and fouls, denying the Knicks any sustained momentum despite several decent-sized leads.
The Knicks hung around early despite dressing like convicts and getting burned by Kobe Bryant (6-10 in the first) and Steve Nash repeatedly losing Raymond Felton over picks. On the other end, Felton started the game cold (surprise!) and Carmelo Anthony struggled from the field after a collision with Metta World Peace, but New York moved the ball decently and got a useful boost from Kurt Thomas, who replaced Ronnie Brewer in the starting lineup and drained all three of his mid-range jumpers. Melo continued to struggle through the second quarter, experiencing some more agony when Marcus Camby (who played!!) sat on his shin, then picking up a series of quick fouls while battling for position with World Peace. J.R. Smith kept New York afloat through that stretch with a flurry of drives and pull-up jumpers. The Knicks ended the half down two, nearly keeping pace with the Lakers at the foul line despite much less activity in the paint.
I mention that last bit because it was most certainly not the case in the second half. By my count, the Lakers took 18 free throws to New York's eight after the break, and no member of the Knick offense stepped up to counteract that disadvantage. The third quarter opened with a delightful avalanche of transition jumpers, but pretty much all the baskets thereafter came from Melo and J.R. going one-on-one in the halfcourt. While the Lakers got bruising, foul-baiting interior play from World Peace and Dwight Howard, the Knicks watched Felton flub dozens of pick-and-rolls with off-balance shots and ill-conceived lobs. That infuriating little penguin had added a sprained pinky to his preexisting handfuls of injuries, yet insisted on attempting every available finesse play. It didn't go well, especially with Dwight Howard shadowing everything he did off the dribble.
After that great start to the half, New York blew the entire lead on the usual cycle of perceived slights and dwindling composure in the face of said perceived slights. Some of those calls, like the out-of-bounds on Felton and the non-call when Jordan Hill man-speared Chandler out of the air, were legitimately terrible, but the Knicks' typical petulance and loss of focus afterward really killed them. That's the "meltdown" Tomahawk Stomp spoke off in the comment quoted above. It's getting far too regular. Even after all that, Jason Kidd's tough fourth quarter D on Kobe and Melo's excellence kept New York in contention, but with Tyson Chandler fouled out, the Knicks leaned too hard on J.R. Smith jumpers through the last two minutes. J.R. rushed and bricked a tough turn-around three out of a timeout that could have tied things with 30 seconds to go.
And that was it. With Nash creating off the dribble, Pau Gasol dishing from the elbow, World Peace draining threes, and Kobe sticking all sorts of Kobe shots, the L.A. offense operated much more efficiently than it did last time around. New York's defense wasn't so terrible, but-- whether justified or not-- did give a ton of free throws to one of the league's foul-drawing-est squads. New York needed more than Melo and J.R. to outscore that Laker effort. No such luck. Felton's performance was straight farts, Chandler couldn't catch or finish anything around the basket, and the rest of 'em didn't produce enough threes or free throws to supplement the leading scorers. Just not much going on, and some of that tracks back to Mike Woodson's reluctance to mix things up.
A few rotational items of interest before I bid you farewell: 1. Marcus Camby played eight healthy minutes off the bench. He ran the pick-and-roll pretty awkwardly, but drew some fouls. 2. Just five minutes for Pablo Prigioni, which felt like way too few. 3. Just eight minutes for Ronnie Brewer, which, I'm afraid, felt like too many. He's contributing pretty much nothing these days (though I did like that post defense on Gasol). 4. I hope Steve Novak's okay following that World Peace elbow-smash to the face. 5. No Chris Copeland or James White.
Oh well. Not the worst Knicks loss of the season, but certainly not a fun way to spend Christmas afternoon. I hope the rest of your respective holidays have been pleasant. Phoenix tomorrow night. <3