The moral of the story: If you hit enough shots, you can pretty much neglect to play defense and get away with it. Going along with GiantNomad's post-game comment, the Knicks got themselves a big win tonight-- a last-second victory over a good, streaking team in a SEGABABA following a very bad loss-- but I think we're all feeling a little uneasy with the way they won.
New York's defense-- from conception to execution, wire to wire-- sucked. Jeff Teague is a fleet point guard capable of scoring from any range. Those types routinely dismantle the Knicks, but Mike Woodson showed neither the foresight nor the adaptability to disrupt Teague off the dribble. The li'l roach evaded Raymond Felton over and over again, using picks and dribble-drives to shake free with ease and skitter to the rim for finishes over New York's tardy help. At no point did the Knicks commit to a change in approach. They either just let Teague go or switched, leaving Tyson Chandler or Amar'e Stoudemire to track Teague on the move, which...I dunno, have you ever watched a cat chase a laser pointer? Tyson succeeded in handling Teague a couple times, but the switches mostly ended in futility. Not quite as terrible as just letting him accelerate straight to the rim undeterred, but terrible nonetheless. Iman Shumpert-- the guy we all hoped would bolster New York's perimeter defense-- was assigned to tail Kyle Korver, which, while someone had to do it, seems like a waste of Shumpert's ability (if anything, it's setting him up to fail, since he tends to get lost on off-ball screens).
Anyway, Teague broke free at will, Atlanta's shooters and dunksmen got heaps of open looks in transition, and New York stayed switching and doubling in the halfcourt without any regard for the personnel involved or the openings created therein. Bad, bad, bad. In crunch time, the Knicks had to rely on Josh Smith fartin' out his brain and brickin' an open three (to be fair, those are reliable things, and also to be fair, the Knicks pressured Smith into both turnovers) to stay alive. I guess the takeaways were typical of the Knicks' play all evening-- New York forced 19 turnovers on the game by jumping passing lanes and fighting over the occasional screen-- but still...yuck.
So, the Knicks defended poorly enough to taint a bounce-back win over a competent opponent. That said, for defense that poor to be a mere blemish and not New York's total undoing, the Knicks had to have played some pretty incredible offense, and they did. Carmelo Anthony opened the game still mired in his slump, following an early airball with a stack of bricks and some signature "wild drive into traffic -> bad miss -> dismay at lack of call -> failure to get back on defense" plays. That, uh...that changed.
Late in the second quarter, Melo suddenly started cooking soup, bringing a goddamned reservoir of three-point bisque to a boil in a matter of seconds. Check it out, via the ESPN play-by-play:
Note the distances-- those are fours, y'all-- and note that all were assisted. After a lot of trying to create for himself, Melo worked to make space off the ball, then scored off the catch. You might say it got him going. After starting the game 2-9, Melo drained 13 of his next 19, tying New York's single-game record [pours one out for Spree, runs shoulder-first into a door for Toney] with nine three-pointers. Those nine treys came on just twelve attempts, and all within the first three quarters. In the fourth, he kinda reverted to the jab-steppy two-point isolation stuff, but felt soupy enough by that point to drain some off-balance, unassisted buckets, make a couple nice passes out of help, and-- best of all-- catch an inbound pass and jink immediately to his left for the game-winning and-one past Smith with 12 seconds to go.
Melo finished with 42 points on 28 shots in 44 minutes-- a pretty spectacular night's work, particularly considering how it started. He wasn't the only Knick to shine on offense. Some more notes:
- Felton got thoroughly outplayed by Teague, but took a big step forward offensively after a rusty return in Philadelphia. Early on, he dribbled over picks and-- anticipating Atlanta's saggage-- pulled up squarely to drain some jumpers. When Felton looked to create out of the pick-and-roll, he rarely found the angles to feed Tyson Chandler, but punished Atlanta's collapsing D with kick-outs to shooters. Melo took care of the rest. (2-2 for Iman Shumpert, too). Ideally, we'll see more penetration and a rebirth of the lob game with Chandler (who attempted a single shot in 36 minutes) as Felton gets comfortable handling the ball again. Still, Felton facilitated plenty out of the pick-and-roll and his shots were mostly true.
- Amar'e Stoudemire continued to produce wonderful things off the bench. As is the caveat with pretty much every Knick who stepped on the floor*, his help defense looked pretty bad save for a nice block or two, but he made his 29 minutes count with all kinds of activity on offense. For one, Amar'e connected on a bunch of out-of-rhythm jumpers from weird, intermediate ranges. He kept turning bad passes and deflections into baskets from like ten feet out. That, to me, is a sign of returning touch. Stoudemire didn't need a properly run play or a crisp pass to find the net. He just grabbed the ball, turned, and scored. Similarly, several of Amar'e's inside buckets came off dogged pursuit of offensive rebounds and quick moves to drop the ball back through the rim. I've occasionally been bothered by the fact that Amar'e needs all this elaborate build-up to get a comfortable look, but that hasn't been the case recently. He's showing some of that preternatural touch that defined his first season as a Knick (and, ya know, many seasons before that, but as far as I'm concerned, people don't exist until they become Knicks). In terms of more elaborate build-up, though, we did get one perfect Amar'e pass out of a double to a weak-side Melo three, a couple catch and finishes/drawn fouls cutting toward Melo, and one perfect baseline sneak for a big dunk off a Felton/Chandler pick-and-roll.
- *NOT SO FOR RONNIE BREWER. Ronnie dominated defensively in his 4.9-second stint at the end of the first quarter. He held the Hawks scoreless over that stretch.
- Shumpert played a decent, quiet game. Again, I'm not entirely sure why Woodson spun Shumpert for just 19 minutes (well below his limit) during such a meager defensive effort. Shump snaggled two steals-- one on a signature Shumpert-toothed tiger claw of Al Horford-- and hit both of his threes.
- Chandler, who reportedly hurt his neck early in the game and could be seen struggling with the injury later on, played the most ineffectual 36 minutes he's ever played. One shot, just three rebounds, and only sporadic help defense. Oh, and Horford shot 8-8.
- Jason Kidd started at shooting guard, but didn't return after his first five-minute stint. The Knicks claim he was just resting his sore back in the SEGABABA. He must have been feeling some discomfort if he had to bail after five minutes, though, right? It's not like it was a planned rest. James White started the second half in Kidd's place.
- J.R. Smith still couldn't hit an open three, but quietly posted his first non-revolting shooting line in some time. J.R.'s seven makes in fifteen attempts-- most of them mid-range fall-aways off the dribble, but we'll take 'em-- mark the first time he's surpassed 40 percent from the field since January 5. He was on an eight-game streak of 40 percent or below.
- You know, Kurt Thomas wasn't half bad in his four minutes. He presided over a brief stretch of dominance against Atlanta's very weak bench, logging a +8 in the midst of a 16-0 run bridging the first and second quarters. He set some nice screens and contested one Ivan Johnson jumper perfectly.
- Pablo Prigioni ran some sparkling pick-and-rolls, including the play that fed Chandler's lone easy bucket. He also stuck Atlanta with a couple uncontested threes when they gave him space. Pablo's 2-3 from downtown in each of the last three games. I invite Pablo to hit two of three three-pointers in every game from here on out.
- Clyde, narrating a replay of Kyle Korver and Al Horford chasing a loose ball: "Watch Carver. Watch Harvard".
- Still a little unsettling to watch the Knicks go iso for every late possession. I want the ball in Melo's hands, but I also want him using a pick to create space or draw a mismatch, cutting away from the ball to get a clean look off the catch, or doing anything at all to make New York's most important attempts something other than Melo going one-on-one against the player the opposing coach chose to defend him. Then again, when he makes his move as quickly as he did to blow by Smith (that foul call was bullshit. Still a great play.), the plain old iso looks pretty great. But yeah, not Woodson's best game tactically. It hasn't been the best stretch for him, really, but a nearly full rotation should help some as time goes on. We'll see how Kidd and Chandler feel heading into Wednesday's game against the Magic.
And that's it. On one hand, the Knicks played the least defense. On the other hand, they hit the most threes. Thankfully, they didn't quite waste the latter hand with the former hand. If you closed one eye and held your thumb in front of half the TV screen, it was a great win. Even if you didn't, it was a win, and the Knicks badly needed one of those any way they could get it.