The Knicks are here for you, struggling guards of the NBA. Kyrie Irving had been a bit off since mid-November, so New York's defensive organization-- the Friendly Alliance of Really Terrible Defenders for Opposing Guards (FARTDOG)--rehabilitated him. As Jackaroe mentioned in the thread, Irving played his most efficient game of the season, flummoxing Knick defenders (or so he thought. They're just super kind.) with dribble moves, picks, and that indefensible outside stroke for 37 points on 23 shots. The Knicks gave Jarrett Jack a boost, too. And Alonzo Gee. And C.J. Miles. And Tristan Thompson. Pretty much everyone. The Cavs came into the game ranked last in the league in offensive efficiency, and now they are 28th because the Knicks are a consulting firm that assesses your dysfunctional offense and applies proven awful defensive tactics to ensure that even a league-worst offense can shoot FIFTY FUCKING SEVEN PERCENT from the field. That's that FARTDOG magic.
It was how it has been. The Knicks played decent, albeit lopsided offense overall. Carmelo Anthony played a wonderfully efficient game in isolation-- 29 points on 19 shots and eight rebounds-- and Amar'e Stoudemire looked great again running pick-and-roll off the bench with 15 points on ten shots. Those two did their best to make up for a bunch of squeaky wheels. None of the Knicks' catch-and-shoot guys made use of their open shots (Andrea Bargnani: 5-17 from the field; Metta World Peace, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, and Tim Hardaway Jr.: 1-10 combined from downtown) and the one guy who did hit shots off the catch-- J.R. Smith-- muddied a 4-9 line from outside with so many atrocities off the dribble. Just outright war crimes with the ball in his hands. Let's take a quick break for art:
It's performance art. Atrocious, reprehensible, obscene, violent, provocative performance art.
But the Knicks didn't shoot so badly overall and they only turned the ball over 12 times. The offense wasn't attractive or aggressive-- the ball often moved in a token fashion, just swinging for the sake of swinging-- but it wasn't terrible. Until you look at what the Cavs were doing. Then New York's production looks pretty sparse. It started with trips to the line. Iman Shumpert and Raymond Felton did their darnedest to stick Irving, but fouled twice apiece and got quick hooks. Cleveland shot almost four times as many free throws in the first quarter (16!) as the Knicks did in the whole game (5). New York fell down by as much as...what, 18? It doesn't matter. They dug themselves out. The three-guard bench group made up for Jack's Knicks-killingness with some lovely pick-and-rolls. Prigioni and Stoudemire ran high, sound sets with one another to set up an open three, an Amar'e bucket off the roll, or an open shot for someone on the wing. They forced a few turnovers, too, with help defense and deflections (some by Amar'e!). Woodson sent Melo and Felton back out-- still in a three-guard unit with Hardaway and J.R.-- and watched the Knicks actually tie the game. Melo got a few buckets and laid off a big dunk for Amar'e, the Knicks stuck with their suddenly dogged defense (Felton tracked an entire Irving dribble drive then SWATTED him on a pull-up), and there was briefly a basketball game in Cleveland. They were down just 3 at halftime.
Halftime, though, provided Mike Woodson an opportunity to readminister whatever poison he'd given the Knicks before the game. It worked wonderfully. While the Knicks missed open shots on one end, the kind souls at FARTDOG let Irving run wild, and made sure not to box out so the Cleveland bigs could correct any missteps along the way. Cleveland built another double-digit lead off the assisted rebirth of Irving/Jack and open put-backs around the rim, and this time they didn't give it back. Another satisfied client for FARTDOG. Some notes:
- Amar'e's been genuinely fun to watch-- a bright spot in consecutive dark losses. He and Pablo have a nice, varied thing going. They ran a reallly high pick-and-roll, leaving plenty of space for Amar'e to roll off a sound screen or slip off a fake one and for Pablo to thread in a low pass or lob in a high one to find Amar'e at the rim. Or Pablo could step back and try a straight-on three if left open. Or Amar'e could set up off the roll and try a post-up. Or, if the defense pinched, Pablo could kick to the wing and find an open shooter. Nice to watch. It's nice when things are nice. I suspect none of the rest of these notes will be nice.
- I was happy to see Shump take the Irving assignment to start the game, but you know Mike Woodson: Two quick fouls and any game plan with Shumpert's name on it gets tossed. Felton and Prigioni handled (well, "handled") Irving the rest of the way, with Shump playing just 21 total minutes. Not that Shump wasn't also getting torched. He just seems like the obvious guy to stick on Kyrie. Even if he gets a couple quick fouls.
- A phrase uttered by Walt Frazier, repackaged by me to look like an awful movie and its inscrutable tagline: Waiters In Space: "In their face!"
- Oh, that Felton thing from before. He seriously played perfect defense on Irving for that one possession in the second quarter. Forced him left, kept his balance through a few fakes, then rose up and blocked Irving's attempt to shoot over him. That turned into an open Hardaway dunk the other way. I have no idea where that beauty of a sequence came from. It was like finding a ruby in the sewer.
- On the flip side: Felton hurt his leg in the third quarter. I'll post something about this later one we have an answer, but it sounds like he tweaked his sore hamstring and might shut it all down again barring a surprise this morning. Of course, Ray being Ray, the injury occurred, Felton gestured toward the bench for a sub then limped through a few plays until there was a dead ball. Then the Knicks called timeout to deal with him and change the lineup. Then...Felton came back out and IMMEDIATELY air-balled a floater. Then he came out. I can't stop loving you, Ray, you tenacious, delusional little penguin.
- Clyde, looking at Kyrie's "KFC Bucket Chart": "He's been finger-lickin' good, folks!". Clyde loves the KFC Bucket Chart. He also called Kyrie "Irwin" once or twice.
- Clyde, going off-script and betraying a bit more cynicism than one expects from the guy, watched the Knicks set up to play defense and-- before the Cavs had even made a move-- called that the Knicks were going to defend "for 22 seconds" only to surrender a basket at the last possible moment. Of course, that was the one play in which the Knicks got a stop. They actually forced a 24-second violation, I think.
So, the Boston loss wasn't just a hungover flip in the renaissance that started with the Brooklyn blowout. The Knicks still suck, life is pain, and there's gonna be some booing tonight when the depressing-but-not-nearly-as-depressing Bulls visit New York. And the Knicks deserve it. Boo them. OR watch them boost Chicago's 25th-ranked offense and applaud the charitable efforts of FARTDOG. Up to you.