The main difference at this point between an encouraging loss and a revolting loss is the offense. New York's awful defense is a given, provided the opponent has the sense to exploit New York's highly exploitable pick-and-roll coverage. The Hawks showed that sense Saturday after losing to these Knicks just a couple days prior. Jeff Teague and Shelvin Mack ran pick-and-roll early, often, and with some pace. Andrea Bargnani had slowed Teague in that last game by switching and stalking him one-on-one with surprising aplomb. This time, with the picks coming faster and more frequently, New York had nothing. Bargnani and his fellow big men habitually played high-but-not-high-enough while Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni ducked under screens. A good pick-and-roll defense does a thing-- hedges and recovers, ices, traps, contains-- but the Knicks did no things. Or, I guess the thing they did was run the Hawks off the free-throw line and force them into lay-ups and open threes. Good job! Whether it was a Teague-Al Horford or Mack-Gustavo Ayon combo, the Hawks scored as they pleased. And when it came time to dial things up with the game at stake, Mike Woodson sent out a group with Felton at point guard and Bargnani, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony up front (read: one of the worst pick-and-roll defending lineups imaginable) to ensure the game was lost. And so they did.
So, yeah, like I was saying, the choices were either: 1. Play otherworldly offense and steal a win. 2. Play very good offense and lose in a way that isn't totally miserable. 3. What they actually did: Melo saw single-coverage and late help, and thus worked his ass off to get scores off the dribble and put-backs off the glass. Outside of that, the ball actually moved well enough to find open shooters. It's just that nearly a third of those open shooters were J.R. Smith, and J.R. used those looks to hammer a dent in the rim. On a night when Iman Shumpert (3-3 from downtown) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (2-2) both hit their threes, J.R. took nine and missed eight of 'em, and only further hurt his percentages with bad pull-ups and precarious drives into traffic. So, yeah, decent set-ups or not, the Knicks couldn't undo their bad defense. Melo had to bust his ass for 23 points and the shot distribution around him tilted toward an ice-cold and deeply frustrated J.R. Shump was relegated to mostly finding his own dribble pull-ups until a little flurry in the second half, the Bargnani pick-and-pop flagged, and Raymond Felton created little on the move. They put forth 90 points on 38% shooting and 14 turnovers (a crucial departure from that last game), with 19 offensive rebounds representing the only general offensive positive.
Shitty game, y'all. A few notes:
- I don't think I've ever seen Pablo Prigioni snap at a teammate before, but he got visibly frustrated with Bargnani when the big dude failed to help as Pablo went under a screen. That's a common theme. It's partly that guards are playing bad ball defense and bigs are playing bad help defense, but it is, more generally, that the guards and bigs aren't playing complementary defense. They're surprising each other and setting each other up to get embarrassed.
- Poor J.R. Like, dumb J.R., too, but, also poor J.R. He was devastated after the game. You can tell how badly he wants to help and I believe him when he says he's been working hard to get his offense back, but his legs just aren't under him.
- I'd give Toure' Murry and Cole Aldrich a try. Why not?
- Amar'e hurt the team defensively and a weird tendency to force-feed him the ball hurt the team offensively, but he got a few nice weak-side and post touches and did a couple useful things with them. This was pleasant:
Maybe a travel, but fuck it. I like dunks. Thanks for the GIF, Bronx Chica.
- Thanks for this, too:
I don't think that particular play was the result of difficulty telling the orange and red jerseys apart, but some other errors genuinely appeared to be mistakes of that nature. Ban the orange jerseys. Double ban them when the other team is wearing a similar shade.
- Clyde always calls Al Horford "Harvard", but I swear I heard him say "Hartford" last night. Next time will be "Hartwick", then "Haverford", then "Hofstra", then eventually "Al Hobart and William Smith".
- A lineup of Prigioni, Hardaway, Smith, Amar'e, and Kenyon Martin had a quietly lovely stretch to start the fourth quarter. Martin's aggressive help generated turnovers, not just fouls, and the Knicks briefly played well off Amar'e to get him that dunk above on a re-post and the rest of the guys a couple open shots.
- I also liked a play in which Felton and Martin ran a pick-and-roll on the right side, then kicked to a decoy-ing Bargnani up top, who threw a gorgeous entry pass to the rolling Martin for an easy finish.
- There was a moment where Felton dribbled over a Bargnani pick-and-roll, fumbled the ball momentarily until Bargnani tipped it back to him, then drove to the rim and finished. I dunno, you had to be there. It was like letting someone else take the wheel for a second while driving.
- Bargnani got T'd up for clearly saying "FUCK [you, that, something else]" after a foul call, and I kinda love him for it. If anything, I'm impressed he could curse out a ref so clearly with that massive mouth guard in place.
Farts. Next game's in Detroit in Tuesday.