Winning "The Knicks Way"

Elsa

Despite what you might have heard, yesterday's win was the Knicks at their Knickiest.

Be honest: how many times have you heard an NBA player use the phrase "our game" in an interview, as in "We need to get back to playing our game" "We gotta make them play our game.?" If you watch sports as often as I do, the number is probably in the low thousands. In the wake of the Knicks win over the Boston Celtics, particularly that delectable eight-point Celtic fourth quarter, the Internet is at this very moment being flooded with articles with analysis like this:

"The Knicks beat the Celtics at their own game, with tough defense in the fourth quarter. "

At first blush, it makes a lot of sense - the Celtics don't give up a lot of points, and eight points in a quarter sure as hell ain't a lot of points. But does that really mean that the Knicks won that game down the stretch by playing a different style than the all-offensive brand of ball we'd become some used to seeing over the past few months? Were the Knicks playing, as the cool kids like to say, "playoff basketball?"

Believe it or not, the Knicks do play a very distinctive style of basketball...and it is slightly more complex than "shoot a buttload of threes, don't sweat the other stuff." Check out where the team finished in each of the sacred Four Factors: shooting (eFG%), turnovers, rebounds, and free throws (FT/FGA).

Offense Four Factors Defense Four Factors
eFG% TOV% ORB% FT/FGA eFG% TOV% DRB% FT/FGA
Team .515 11.7 25.6 .196 .508 14.8 74.7 .216
Lg Rank
8 1 19 21 23 4 4 24

This is an amazingly schizophrenic ball club we've been watching these past few months. They're not really average in any facet of the game - instead, they swing wildly from "elite" to "straight-up dookie." Therefore, the spirit of true "Knicksball" is probably best summed up thusly:

  • Shoot a buttload of threes.
  • Force turnovers.
  • Never turn to ball over.
  • Eliminate second-chance points.
  • Don't sweat the other stuff.

The Knicks have proven time and again this season that they can win with this style. Like any other good team with such clear flaws, they win by maximizing their strengths and covering their weaknesses. A checklist for any Knicks win will looks something like this:

1. Did you shoot a lot of (open) threes?

When you take and make the most three-pointers in NBA history, it's clearly an important part of your game.

2. Did you give up fewer open looks on D than usual?

The Knicks are who they are on defense at this point. All the uncontested dribble-penetration and random switching is going to lead to open shots for the opposition. Just pray that they limit the damage.

3. Did you dominate the turnover margin?

They average +3.1 turnovers per game. More possessions for you, fewer possessions for your opponent... sounds good to me!

4. Did you narrow the free-throw gap?

I covered this one already. It's pretty much inevitable that their opponent will shoot more free throws. Just keep the margin as small as possible.

If the team checks all four of those boxes, then we're probably looking at a comfortable, even dominating Knicks victory. So how did they fare against Boston? Let's take a look at where they stood at the start of the fourth:

Through 3 Quarters (BOS 70, NY 67):

Boston:

FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% TO
24 54 0.444 5 15 0.333 17 17 1 12

New York:

FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% TO
24 58 0.414 9 18 0.5 10 11 0.909 13

I seriously doubt the Knicks lost many games this season while shooting 50% from the three. In fact, they only lost one such game this season - Jan. 11, against Chicago. At this point in this game, however, the three was one of the only things keeping this game close. Throughout much of the game, the Knicks were accentuating their flaws - allowing too many open looks, even for them; getting thoroughly out-shot at the foul line. At the same time, they were failing in perhaps their strongest facet of the game, the turnover margin. Those 13 turnovers in the first three quarters were one more than the team's average per game (12.0). Something needed to change. Let's move to the...

4th Quarter:

Boston:

FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% TO
3 11 0.273 0 5 0 2 2 1 8

New York:

FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% TO
8 21 0.381 0 7 0 2 4 0.5 0

Something did change. Did this team suddenly start playing great defense? I wouldn't go that far...there were still too many open looks for my liking. I would say that they played great Knicks defense - sure, they left the occasional guy wide open, but they also kept Boston off the free-throw line for the most part, and took advantage of careless Celtic ball-handlers to rack up eight steals. I thought the quintessential defensive play of the fourth came at the four minute mark, when J.R. Smith failed to get back on defense after arguing with the refs, then casually snuck up behind Avery Bradley and picked his pocket. Knicks defense, baby!

On offense, the Knicks may have gone ice-cold from downtown, but they made up for it by getting ten more field goal attempts than Boston in the last 12 minutes.

Add everything up and you'll find that the Knicks were +4 in made three-pointers, +7 in turnovers, +14 in field goal attempts and -4 in free throw attempts - all in all, a pretty standard, Knicks-style victory. It might not be your daddy's style of Knicks basketball, but considering how rarely we've heard the words "Knicks", "playoffs" and "victory" over the last decade-plus, I don't see much reason for complaint

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