Man, games like this one-- and the reactions that follow-- make me want to go live in a tree and pretend basketball doesn't exist. It's not that the Knicks are playing soooo badly; the loss to the Clippers this afternoon was never quite a blowout, and they actually held a brief fourth-quarter lead. It's more that they're finding the same old ways to struggle, showing very little inclination to adapt or exert themselves in order to improve. The Knicks kinda look like they want to go live in the trees themselves. Just stay away from my tree, Knicks.
Like 40yearsinthedesert said in our thread, the play felt aloof, especially on defense, and it was indeed rather annoying. A striking willingness to just let folks score pervaded the team's decisions from Mike Woodson on down, and most of the issues are points in multi-month long trends. Guards shirked any command (if there was one) to fight through picks, surrendering the switches that led to the mismatches that led to the frantic rotations that led to the open shots we've seen throughout the season. Early on, LA's makes came from outside, where Clipper guards regularly found themselves alone. When the Clippers started to drive more, they met little resistance from Tyson Chandler and even less when he was off the floor.
In transition and off the dribble, the Clippers kept poking the Knick defense right in its soft, gooey center. The LA bench built their first big lead early in the second with Amar'e Stoudemire and Steve Novak puttering around the back line, then pulled ahead for good against a similar group early in the fourth (Melo subbed in for Novak pretty promptly, but LA already had their momentum). Even once Chandler returned in the fourth, New York only gave up more ground, surrendering a couple Blake Griffin jumpers and way too many offensive rebounds. Chandler would actually sit the last two and a half minutes while the Clips finished the game on a 10-2 run to cement the Knicks' fate.
And the Knicks had plenty of issues on offense, too. Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton-- both of whom played their best when they attacked, were the only Knicks to break double-digits in scoring. Melo dominated in isolation (42 points, 18 in the third) until the Clippers finally sent Grant Hill to slow him down (at which point some more pick-and-rolls would have been nice) and Felton succeeded off penetration even after getting his skull bobbled around on a layup in traffic. The others' inability to capitalize on the looks those two created continued to be a problem. We spoke before the game about how the Knicks needed to hit threes to beat the Clippers, and, well, they didn't do that. Only Melo made an impact from behind the arc while the rest of 'em bricked the open looks he and Ray gave them off the catch. The pick-and-roll didn't produce much either, as the poor shooting allowed LA to blanket Chandler but for a few happy moments in the third and J.R. Smith and Pablo Prigioni (who played just five minutes) failed to connect with Amar'e as he rolled. J.R. in particular didn't impress me much; he took the angles LA gave him and typically had his head turned to any passing windows.
And to make matters worse, an offense as predicated on controlling possession as it is on making shots hardly ever had the ball during critical stretches. Incomplete passes resulted in five turnovers through the game's first six minutes, then a few travels and utter inability to negotiate fronting in the post (How is this still an issue!?) produced seven more giveaways in the fourth quarter. Early on, they mitigated the turnovers with trips to the free throw line and offensive rebounds, but those dried up down the stretch.
So, poop. The identity this team established earlier in this season has faded, leaving only that feeble, forgiving defense as a signature discernible from one game to the next. It felt during the win streak like the Knicks were working just enough to beat bad teams, and today against the Clippers, it still felt like they were working just enough to beat a bad team. One can only hope the All-Star break presents an opportunity for reflection and rebirth, because this just isn't going to fly in March.