Ugh. I did not miss this feeling I have in my innards. Tonight's loss to the Pacers was a weird one, and not typical of the way the Knicks have been losing games this season. To begin the game, the Knick defense was riddled with holes and gave up tons of open looks and offensive rebounds, but New York hung around because Carmelo Anthony and Landry Fields (really!) were hot and three-pointers kept falling.
In the second and third quarters, though, New York locked down. They communicated and scrambled and rebounded and did all the other good things, holding the Pacers to just 41 points in the middle two quarters. Meanwhile, Melo continued to torch the bigger guys guarding him and Tyson Chandler dominated the offensive boards to keep possessions alive. The Knicks ran their lead up to 15 points by the end of the third and looked to be cruising to a victory, until...
...Splat. Things went Chinua Achebe in a matter of minutes. It was, as bm01bath said in the thread, an absolute joke of a quarter. On offense, the Knicks continued to force-feed the Melo isolation, but with the more appropriately proportioned Danny Granger guarding him, he didn't get quite the same looks. And, as tends to happen, the offense froze around Melo and resorted to bad, late, contested shots with zero rhythm and zero chance of falling. Or turnovers. Lots of those, too.
It was mostly the defense, though. Perhaps as karmic payback for New York's hot shooting in the first half, Granger and the rest of 'em got ridiculous from outside and hit jumpers (some contested) to gobble up the lead. That alone wouldn't have been enough, though. What really killed the Knicks was sloppy, sluggish perimeter defense that required help from Chandler. With Chandler pulled away from the rim, the Pacers kept getting easy looks off cuts and offensive rebounds to draw even and eventually pull ahead. Some more iso magic from Melo almost got the Knicks back in it, but Indiana had all the momentum, and got calls and big plays down the stretch to hold on for the win.
The Knicks really pissed an important one away tonight and I'm not feeling too pleased about it. Take the jump for some quick individual notes.
- We'll start with Mike Woodson, because I've heard a lot of grumbling about his lineups in this one. Indeed, things got a bit bizarre. He went with some comically miniscule lineups-- like Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby in the backcourt and Steve Novak and Josh Harrellson as the bigs-- in the first half, but those lineups didn't even perform that badly. The fourth quarter was the terrible part, and that's where, in retrospect, it looks like the wrong Knicks got the call. Landry Fields, who'd played spots of bad defense but was having his best offense game in weeks, sat while J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert both struggled. Baron Davis, who'd been a defensive doormat and offensive non-entity all night, played almost the whole fourth and gave nothing. Steve Novak didn't play until the final seconds. Josh Harrellson didn't play at all. I'm just listing people now because I don't know what exactly should have been done differently, but I do know that the fourth quarter lineup (basically, the starters minus Fields plus Smith) fucked things up badly. The offense gummed up something fierce and the defense was even worse than it had been in early going.
- Really, the Knicks got nothing from any point guard. Douglas played some solid ball defense in the first half and Davis made some decent entry feeds, but nobody did anything other than that. Neither Davis nor Douglas could hit a shot or make an incisive pass, Shumpert looked typically uncomfortable handling the ball, and Mike Bibby had the impact of a silent fart.
- It was a damn shame for such a dominant game from Melo to go to waste. In his first real mismatch playing out of position at the four, he did an adequate job defensively against David West, and made up for any lapses on that end by torching West (and Tyler Hansbrough) on the other. He was cookin' soup on his jumpers and also taking devastating first steps to finish around the basket before help defense could arrive. Melo had much more trouble getting separation against Dahntay Jones and especially against Danny Granger, though, and didn't get the same quality of looks in the fourth quarter. He still hit some big-ass shots to keep the game close in the final two minutes, but it just wasn't the same quality of offense, and part of the problem was that the Knicks weren't spacing the floor or cutting away from the ball to make things any easier. Snaps for a 39-point, 10-rebound game, though, and congratulations to Melo for passing Walt Frazier on the all-time points list.
- A quiet contributor to Melo's fourth quarter struggles: Iman Shumpert's very, very bad foul on West in the third quarter. Shump, who was quiet on offense and just couldn't finish plays on defense, undercut (without ill intent, to my eye) West and drew a flagrant foul on a made shot. Besides the basket and the free throw and the extra possession, Shump hurt West and sidelined him for the rest of the game. Without West, the Pacers got pushed toward a weird, small lineup that just decimated New York in the fourth.
- It's hard to saddle Chandler with too much blame for Indiana's 16 offensive rebounds. For one, he had to cover for a group of backcourt defenders who couldn't stay in front of a stool. For two, he made up for it with seven offensive rebounds of his own.
- Landry Fields really got something going offensively-- he hit some threes, made some nice drives, actually made two consecutive free throws at one point, and got to finish one or two plays in transition-- and also put in some solid possessions against Paul George, but Woodson pulled him at the first sign of trouble and deferred to J.R. Smith...
- ...who did some really great stuff on defense and made big, hustle plays on the glass (SIX offensive rebounds) but just caught a ton of rim on offense. He took and missed bad shots and didn't exactly keep the ball moving around the perimeter, at least not late in the game.
- Smith also drew some negative attention by getting too rowdy in the final minute. He fouled Danny Granger behind halfcourt down three with 38 seconds left while trying to poke the ball away, then threw Leandro Barbosa to the ground in the waning moments when the game was already decided. The Granger poke could have been a non-call and the Barbosa toss came in response to the little dude clinging to Smith's arms, but still, J.R. just has a knack for finding himself in situations like those. He got ejected for the Barbosa thing, but I don't expect that he'll get suspended or anything.
- If anything, it was too late to knock Barbosa down. The guy just torched New York all damn night. I'm feeling queasy again.
- Mike Bibby blocked a shot and Steve Novak blocked two. I don't know if the Knicks lost in spite of or because of this.
- As the players were exiting through the tunnel, MSG cameras caught Bill Walker getting VERY angry at some fans, who had apparently been taunting the Knicks. He uttered some very grumpy words, but nothing more.
- Granger hit a three and mimicked Novak's Aaron Rodgers celebration and that's about when I began to wish the whole night had never happened.
I don't know, y'all. I'm not sure I captured the fleeting majesty and harrowing collapse of tonight's game, and I'm not sure that I really want to. It sucked a whole lot. I'll keep my notes for a potential leftover post tomorrow morning, but I'd rather forget this one ever happened. The Knicks are now back to .500 with games against the Magic, Bulls, and Bulls again on the schedule. Buns.