Ownership is poisonous, this roster's construction was questionable, and this is a terrific piece. I still, silly as I may be, think these Knicks could be winning games. Even without Tyson Chandler. It just seems like that poison's trickled all the way down, and guys aren't even playing the same game. Mike Woodson appears constantly at odds with logic, spun dizzy by pressure from above and below. Carmelo Anthony is playing against the referees. Andrea Bargnani is playing against Carmelo Anthony, and everyone else ignoring him after his hot starts. Iman Shumpert is playing against a sense of doom and his own dwindling confidence. J.R. Smith is playing against rust. Kenyon Martin is playing against his own teammates, trying and failing to defend everyone by himself. The Knicks aren't just falling victim to the same foibles, they're unraveling. Everybody looks so tense! Lineups are learning not to trust each other defensively. There is in-fighting on every broke-down pick-and-roll coverage and dribble blow-by. When the ball doesn't move or a guy gets beat or someone fails to help, there are glares and hung heads.
The word "suck" was used over a dozen times in the post-game thread. This just really sucks a lot. The Knicks suck. And while I get that the suck sucks from above, I don't think the on-court product has to suck. Recent Knicks teams have not sucked in spite of the above-suck, and I think these Knicks could, too, but they've been sucked in to the suck and now they suck. I do have notes:
- Oh, the Knicks played the Pistons. Detroit Pistons. Yeah. They lost 92-86 in Detroit. The Knicks' intentionally bigger lineups rebounded just fine, but didn't win the turnover battle and couldn't do shit to stop Andre Drummond slipping free for lobs or Rodney Stuckey sashaying around the perimeter. Typical stuff. Unnecessary switches and doubles leading to weak-side openings, pick-and-roll miscommunications, and-- save for Bargnani's great early work against Greg Monroe-- got beat one-on-one pretty regularly. I will say that, while Shump made plenty of errors, some of those shots Stuckey hit late were just dumb and not poorly defended.
- If there's one thing to be said for New York's infuriating switches, it's that it prevents proper dunkings-on. Drummond didn't get a chance to really posterize someone because he had all these little Pablo Prigionis and Beno Udrihs guarding him at the rim. They didn't bother.
- The first-quarter offense looked okay! There was a neat li'l Elevator Doors play early for Shumpert, who drove the left baseline and kicked to an open Melo three. Bargnani played monstrously by just striking very promptly off the catch. Greg Monroe couldn't hang with Bargnani's first step, which made for some lovely finishes around the rim (and a near-cramming on Drummond that didn't quite flush, but still rattled in with the foul). Kenyon Martin created and set useful screens from the elbow, and J.R. Smith drove as much as he could, finishing and kicking to the perimeter. It was really just Melo, with some bad forces and fadeaways, who struggled to create offense.
- And he never really got it going. It was one of those games in which a few bad calls and non-calls went against Melo, so he just got cloudier and grouchier and less inclined to make the right play.
- I've liked what I've seen from the Prigioni-Hardaway-Smith-Stoudemire-Martin second unit, which played perhaps the team's best stretch of the game in the first five minutes of the second quarter. Timbabwe felt his shot a bit too much to start the period, but the Knicks settled into running pick-and-rolls and finding Amar'e as he cut through the weak side of the Pistons' awful second unit defense for big ol' finishes (Clyde: "Amar'e likes cheese! Swiss cheese!"). Martin did a terrific job rotating without breaking the string (he broke plenty of strings later) and leaping to snaggle every damn rebound. That lineup played poorly in a short stint to start the fourth quarter, but the Knicks were already deep into their funk of grumbling about calls and watching Stuckey hit awful shots at that point, and open jumpers just didn't fall (Amar'e rimmed out what I believe was his first mid-range attempt of the season).
- Beno Udrih starting was a bit of a surprise, but he ended up playing 18 very quiet minutes while Pablo Prigioni played 23. What about those other 7 minutes, you ask? Woodson played no point guard in crunch time, letting Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith (and Melo) take turns with the ball. It didn't work!
- Kenyon really got wild defensively around the third quarter. Consecutive Kentavious Caldwell-Pope threes came because Josh Smith and friends knew KCP would be open when Martin bum-rushed them and set off a chain of slow rotations.
- It was frustrating to watch good first-unit offense go awry in that third quarter. Shump had that dunk blocked in transition after a great steal (he'd been doing a good job when allowed to guard Brandon Jennings one-on-one), J.R. Smith kept turning down post-ups of Jennings while Shump and Prigioni kept trying to re-post him instead of taking open threes, and Bargnani missed a pick-and-pop three and a short turnaround off the dribble.
- And yeah, Amar'e played a bit of defense that rivaled the famous Bargnani Jump in the "The Knicks Defense Is a Shitty Video Game CPU" department.
I see what could be a good team in spite of everything. I swear I do. They're just playing wrong. Everything's wrong. It sucks. The Knicks suck.