The Knicks' loss to the Rockets, like many of their previous losses, came down to foolish plays in the last minute. The Knicks have demonstrated all season that they can score enough to match what their own horrid defense allows, only to tighten up and fail in the game's biggest moments. Part of the reason Thursday's win over the Spurs felt like a breakthrough was that the Knicks finally got the clutch baskets they needed from Iman Shumpert. Turns out the near-turnover and miss that preceded those shots were better predictors of what would happen Friday.
To recap, now that I've watched the final minutes several times and knocked one of my teeth out with a tiny hammer after each viewing: The Knicks were down five after losing/fouling James Harden and Dwight Howard on several consecutive plays. Carmelo Anthony ran high pick-and-roll with Tyson Chandler, drew Aaron Brooks in a step, and kicked to Iman Shumpert's sixth made three in six tries. Shump then picked up Harden the other way and harassed him into what ended up being a jump ball. Tyson Chandler drew a (questionable) foul out of the jump ball, then hit both free throws, then played great help on a Brooks drive. The Knicks recovered the ball with the game tied and 50 seconds left. In a familiar sequence, the Knicks called timeout to set a play, yet still botched just about everything-- they ran high pick-and-roll to draw a mismatch for Melo again, but got nothing out of it (he was driving on a bum ankle), then dribbled and dribbled out what should have been an easy two-for-one until Melo chucked a crosscourt pass off the bottom of the backboard to Beno Udrih, who bricked a right corner three as the clock dipped below 24 seconds.
BUT THEN! New life! Forgiveness for botching yet another un-botchable two-for-one! Chandler gamely collected the offensive rebound, and the Knicks had the ball, a tied score, a dead shot clock, and nothing to do but tie or win as long as they didn't do anything stu-- J.R. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO (via cjzero):
Yes, this has a name-- everyone on Twitter called it "pulling a Bargnani"-- because it's the second time the Knicks have committed an error that would shame a berecspectacled fourth-grader. Whether or not J.R. understood how much time was left, he didn't know what the score was, which, while it's usually safe to assume the Knicks are losing, is impressively dense. You should know that, if only during the final minute of the game. Or someone should have told you. Or you can just read the screen prominently displaying that information straight ahead. But anyway, J.R. went for the win-- and reintroduced the possibility of a loss-- by attempting what would have been a decent look in another context (like the one he imagined). It missed, Udrih got whistled for a (questionable) foul chasing the rebound, Brooks hit his free throws, and the Knicks got the ball back down 2 with 17 seconds to go. Melo kicked from the left elbow to Shumpert cutting over a non-screen from Bargnani. The Rockets ran Shump off the three-point line and he bricked a pull-up two. Bargnani grabbed the rebound, though, and kicked it out, but all of a sudden the Knicks were gunshy. Beno passed up a wide-open three, J.R. dribbled frantically in no particular direction while as seconds ran off, and the game ended with a rushed but surprisingly accurate Udrih floater that just noodled out of the rim.
So, for the severalth time this season, the Knicks' late-game clock management was so bad that just laying on the ball and letting shot clocks run out might have been a better strategy, like kneeling on third and fourth down instead of risking a late-game interception (YEAH THAT'S RIGHT Y'ALL DIDN'T KNOW I'D HEARD OF OTHER SPORTS).
Until then, the game was pretty much like the Spurs game. The Knicks didn't shoot as well in Houston as they did in San Antonio, but limited their turnovers while forcing spurts of 'em against Houston's speedy but weirdly ill-conceived offense. If Houston pushed or ran pick-and-roll, they scored, nearly without fail. An injured Kenyon Martin meant more Andrea Bargnani, which meant more awkward defensive lineups. The Rockets just didn't test them consistently, so the Knicks could keep up with their own offense. Melo operated well in isolation even on an increasingly fucked-up ankle, and Shumpert matched the previous night's career performance. He stayed cookin' soup-- a pot of soup so deep and so fresh I can't believe it's the same Chef Shumpert we saw at the end of 2013. Shump is now 12-14 from downtown in the new year. That's as many threes in two games as he hit the entire previous month, and that's including the 5-7 outburst against Brooklyn. I don't know what caused Shump's confidence to blow back up to normal levels, but it's made him a deadly weapon as Melo's second option, and its boosted his effort as a defender and ballhandler, too, at least to my eye. The Knicks are a different team with a lively Shump. Well, different until that final minute, maybe, but still.
A couple extra notes:
- I like that Toure' Murry wants to push off turnovers and misses, but I wish he'd keep things simple. Too often Friday night, he'd try to jam a pass in to a sprinting teammate instead of either pulling back or taking it to the rim itself. He just doesn't seem to have a great sense for hitting guys in stride in that context. He ran a couple lovely pick-and-rolls, so I don't think he's hopeless as a passer on the break, just needs some practice. Of course, I probably said that about Mardy Collins and Toney Douglas before, so...
- Wanna know how much of a champ Walt Frazier is? Mike Breen related that he'd asked Clyde Drexler (now announcing games very poorly for the Rockets) who the "real Clyde" is, and Drexler had confirmed it was our Clyde. Clyde Drexler is named Clyde! By birth! And was himself a legendary contributor to a championship team! Walt Frazier got that nickname as an adult because he wore a hat around the same time a movie came out! Yet he is the "real Clyde"!
- It was funny to watch Chandler and Howard pick up a technical or two for shoving each other under the basket, then have an animated argument about who'd shoved who while the refs watched the replay.
- Melo made a signature LOOK AT ME I'M PLAYING DEFENSE ALL OF A SUDDEN GRRRR THIS IS HOW YOU PLAY DEFENSE play (as pointed out by Jared) at the end of the second quarter, just mugging Chandler Parsons for no reason to give him two last-second free throws. Nearly as dumb as what J.R. did, just less conspicuous.
- Melo also got T'd up for violently pumping his fist after a really tough put-back, which, unless he said something we didn't catch, was some bullshit.
- It was fascinating watching the gears spin in J.R.'s head on that very last play. He got the ball with seconds to go and I figured he'd pull the final shot (I predicted a game-winning three), but you could see he didn't want to fuck up twice, so he looked desperately for someone else to take the ball. He's lucky he found Beno with enough time for a final shot, because just dribbling out the clock would have been an even sadder (but fitting) end to this one.
That's all I've got. If the Knicks can get the kind of offensive production they've been getting outside of Melo (Shumpert or otherwise), I think they can win some games. Like NYRaider29 said, though, they might need to just sit down with an NBA rule book and some rudimentary basketball tactics before they bother with any of that. This has been silly.