Well, here we are. The Knicks just lost to the Mavericks because, as usual, ten to fifteen good minutes of basketball can't undo thirty or so bad ones. It sure didn't feel good, and now we rowdy internet folks are flailing wildly for scapegoats, as if excising one individual or another from this organization is the answer to New York's troubles. I don't see a team in need of upheaval-- though, admittedly, that is my bent-- but one that still (I say "still" like it's been a while, but it hasn't) hasn't figured itself out. It starts with a coach who opened the season handling a light switch and now faces a big fancy control panel with eleven different buttons that must be pushed in the correct order at the correct time. Oh, and some of those buttons aren't working so well but they might get sad if they don't get pushed enough. Oh, and no matter which button you push, some fan thinks you're pushing the wrong one and wants you drawn and quartered. Pretty awesome!
Anyway, the Knicks played a pretty decent defensive game against the Mavericks, but negated that by running some astoundingly shoddy offense for most of the night. Both teams ended up shooting under 40 percent. New York managed to stay in a game that should have been a blowout by making massive runs in the second and fourth quarters-- shit, they even held a lead with under five minutes remaining-- but this being the Knicks, whatever momentum they built quickly went Chinua Achebe and they ended up losing by ten. Like tanman5 said, the Knicks spent large chunks of the game failing to capitalize on ample opportunities. They wasted good defense by turning the ball over and settling for bad shots. Poor, poor form.
Take the jump for some individual notes.
- Well, we'll start with Carmelo Anthony because he managed to make himself the story. Throughout the first half, Melo was active and aggressive, but not productive. Anthony missed his early jumpers badly, so he headed inside and spent a lot of possessions working for post position against Shawn Marion, but rarely got touches down there. On other plays, he made nice drives from the perimeter but just couldn't get a friendly roll or a whistle in the paint. He sort of faded in the second half, couldn't get even a point blank tip-in to fall, and sat for quite a while. He and Lin returned with the Knicks down 3 and, aside from one awful pull-up three-point attempt, didn't do much as the team collapsed around him.
Taken alone, that's a very off night from a guy who had looked a liiiittle more like himself over the last couple of games. There were a few poor decisions-- some very poor-- but it seemed like Melo mostly just didn't execute. That's not the end of it, though, because Melo also chose tonight to 1. Blindly throw an inbound pass directly to a Maverick while he was arguing with Shawn Marion (no exaggeration) 2. Smile and banter with people on the sideline while the team was losing (I didn't see this, but everybody says it happened.) 3. Momentarily evade reporters for post-game comments before relenting and making himself available. Bad shooting nights and lapses in whatever FIERCEINTENSITYCOMPETITIVENESS people seek in a player both happen, but when they overlap, it pisses folks off. Just like he did last year with that loss in Detroit, Melo picked the wrong night to give the thousands of people watching the impression that he didn't care or wouldn't own his failings. And whatever he actually feels inside, it's that outward impression that resonates. Personally, I couldn't give fewer shits about a guy smiling or not wanting to get sneered at by Frank Isola after a game. I'm more concerned with the fact that shots--even good ones-- didn't fall for Melo and he couldn't find other ways to help the team. On the court, it was a regular old very bad night (except for that inbound pass. That was some seriously silly shit.)
- Buried by Melo's poor outing was the fact that several other guys had off nights. Jeremy Lin, for instance, made his share of baskets and threw a couple great passes (including one gorgeous long-distance alley-oop to Landry Fields) but struggled quite a bit on both ends of the floor. On offense, Lin managed to limit himself to just two turnovers (though, as usual, he lost the ball and got it back a couple times), but seemed to do so by taking tough inside shots himself, settling for outside looks, and picking up his dribble way more than usual. Defensively, he just kept going under screens against Jason Kidd, which is the one thing you shouldn't do against a guy who only ever shoots threes.
- On one of his drives to the basket, Lin damn near got decapitated by Kidd and fell pretty hard onto his back/head. He fell hard on his head again just a minute or two later, and missed three of four free throws as a result. I could just be seeing things, but the Mavericks seem a tad dirty. There were those Lin plays, and also a number of instances (both tonight and in the last meeting) when Tyson Chandler got shoved from behind while jumping for a rebound.
- After a very nice ring ceremony and video tribute, Chandler had a pretty quite evening. He played just 26 minutes, got himself 6 points and 8 boards, and blew a couple easy inside looks, seemingly because of that huge wrist brace. That's gonna take some getting used to. Oh, and Chandler somehow managed to get his tenth technical of the season from the bench(!) in the fourth quarter. 13 and he gets suspended a game.
- Amar'e Stoudemire got way too trigger-happy in that terrible third quarter, but other than that, he had a pretty nice game. Amar'e reportedly asked to D'Antoni to let him guard Dirk Nowitzki. He got his wish, and didn't do a half bad job. He stood his ground, got his hands up, and held Dirk to mostly tough, off-balance shots. Dirk, as is his wont, started to hit those tough, off-balance shots and got pretty hot in the second half, but Amar'e rarely granted him anything easy. Well done, Amar'e. Maybe we should just ask the guy who he wants to guard every night? Maybe that's been the problem all along? Oh, and Amar'e's offense was quite a bit better than it has been. Things got seriously ugly in that early third quarter, but he spent the rest of his night sinking jumpers, finishing plays inside (including some fairly legitimate dunks), and grabbing offensive rebounds. It was very nice to see the guy engaged and making positive contributions on both ends.
- Landry Fields made some very nice passes and grabbed ten superb rebounds, but for the third or fourth game in a row, offered almost nothing in the way of scoring.
- Iman Shumpert didn't score much either, but was the MVP of that ridiculous fourth quarter run. His menacing defense forced several turnovers, and he did a terrific job of leading transition the other way.
- Oh, and Shump wore a headband for the first time. It'll take some getting used to, but if he keeps defending and creating the way he did tonight, he could wear a scuba mask and I wouldn't care.
- Well, probably not a scuba mask. That would be restrictive.
- I guess I didn't make it clear how stupid that fourth quarter was, so here: The Knicks started the quarter down 11. It took the Mavericks 7:30 to register a point while the Knicks went on a 15-0 run to take the lead. Dirk finally sank a shot to take the lead back, then Melo and Lin returned and the Mavs went on a 14-0 run of their own. Stupid. That's just not something I'm emotionally prepared to handle. Questions will linger over whether the Amar'e-plus-bench-guys lineup that made the comeback should have stayed in, and, well, the alternative sure didn't work, so who knows?
- Baron Davis deserves credit for being the floor leader during that big fourth quarter run, but he missed a poopload of ugly, ugly shots. Despite a rash of poor decisions, the team looked its most engaged when he Baron was on the floor.
- J.R. Smith had a very, very bad night-- the kind of night people warned us about. It wasn't anything too devastating, but he missed a couple really hideous shot attempts while failing to make the extra pass (and if you fail to make the extra pass to Steve Novak open on the perimeter, you are probably costing your team three points, at least one goofy grin, and possibly the sight of a grown man pretending to put on an invisible belt. Bad, bad, bad.)
- Novak, who Clyde reminded us "leads the team in plus-minors", hit four of eight threes and baaaadly missed two of two non-threes. I thought I saw him make a defensive play or two as well!
- Jorts played! After Jared Jeffries left the game with a sore knee, Josh Harrellson got to spin and ended up playing thirteen minutes. He missed his only three-point attempt by, like, degrees of latitude, but did some wonderful stuff defensively, made a few hustle plays, and snaggled seven rebounds in that short time frame. (I was looking very closely for signs of a foul stench, but saw nothing to suggest that any jarts had been emitted). Pretty solid game from Jorts, whose "plus-minors" on the evening was a very out-of-place +13.
- Every team the Knicks face has "that guy", and Rodrigue Beaubois is "that guy" for the Mavs. He just gets ridiculous against New York. It hurts doubly because he's one of my favorite players.
- Also one of my favorites: Yi Jianlian, who I bet eats leaves directly off trees.
And that's all I've got. We're looking for meaningful steps forward after that mid-season "mini training camp" or whatever, and so far, we've only seen steps backward. It's a shame, but if you really think a massive change is in order, well, I just don't see it. Never did. Mixing and matching of units and tweaks to individual playing time can and should happen, but most of all, this team appears to need continuity and repetition to get comfortable, consistent, and confident. I swear I didn't mean for those all to begin with the letter C.