And now we wait. For the second game in a row, the new-look Knicks faced one of the league's least efficient offenses (and, in this case, the league's worst defense), but made them look good. This time, though, it spelled disaster. Without Wednesday night's pumping adrenaline and inspired home crowd, New York couldn't rekindle the magic necessary to overcome an utter lack of coherence, even against a bottom-feeding club. In other words, the honeymoon ended rather promptly and the demand for patience began in earnest. Without any measure of harmony, the Knicks bumbled their way to a collapse against a lowly Cavaliers squad. They faltered in pretty much every aspect of basketball, letting a less talented but considerably more fluid group of bros walk all over them. There's something reassuring about the fact that an uncoordinated melange of talent can't win NBA games against even the worst of teams, but not if you're at all invested in said melange.
New York's offense was an uneven mess. Instead of using one another and playing as a team, the Knicks just shifted the scoring burden from one isolation hero to the next. Carmelo Anthony dominated the first quarter. Amar'e Stoudemire came alive in the second. Chauncey Billups scored 20 of his 26 points in the fourth. Each contributed around thirty points, but failed to do so efficiently or with any degree of symbiosis (29-63 as a trio). It was kind of like a group of talented jazz musicians each taking a lengthy solo without ever having established a coherent song. (The mental image of Chauncey wailing on a baritone sax makes this entire experience about 1% less miserable).
The Knicks looked even worse defensively. Bad offenses thrive on fouls and second opportunities (there's your made-up maxim of the day), and the Cavs got plenty of each. Despite shooting just 42%, Cleveland came away with very few empty possessions, particularly down the stretch (see teksurgical's comment in the headline). Basic cutting and ball movement threw the Knicks into a state of emergency. Nobody had anybody else's back, so we saw a lot of fouling (Cleveland took 44 free throws) and serial failure to box out (19 offensive rebounds).
And that's pretty much it. Wednesday's magic wore off very quickly, and we were left with just the motley bunch of pick-up ballers. I'm soothing myself by remembering this team's (well not this team, but you know what I mean) 3-8 start. Before the point guard's compass is established, before the primary scorers know where to find each other, before teammates know when to help each other defend, you have this. The day will come when these guys jell. Until then, we must be patient. We'll have to withstand some seriously ugly basketball and tune out the playa hater's ball taking place on Twitter and television. It's nothing we haven't done before.
That's your recap, really, but you'll see a few of the usual odds and ends after the jump. I'm not trying to dwell on this one for too long.
- TKB's Tommy Dee spent much of the night lamenting the dearth of post-up sets for Carmelo Anthony, and I think he's on to something. I remember just one legitimate back-down play (mismatched against Ramon Sessions, I believe), and it went pretty nicely. In the utopian world of tomorrow, Melo will frequently find himself with his back to the basket and Amar'e Stoudemire prowling on the strong side perimeter in anticipation of a double team. Alternatively, you could see Melo facing up on the perimeter with Amar'e darting into the paint from the weak side. Or vice versa. That'd be great. Anything, really, but one sitting Indian style while the other goes one-on-five would be a major improvement. Both of these guys can hit contested shots, but if deployed properly, they shouldn't have to. Ever. They will figure this out. I can't wait.
- Renaldo Balkman was the lone newcomer to make an appearance off the bench, and he immediately demonstrated his value. He played excellent man defense against Cleveland's second unit, fitting seamlessly into Mike D'Antoni's "switch everything" defense (and I don't say that condescendingly. Not this time.) and making life difficult for everyone from Ramon Sessions to Samardo Samuels. The Humpty Hump is alive and well.
- It seemed like Chauncey Billups had trouble finding a rhythm early because he picked up two early fouls, sat for much of the first half, and then quickly picked up a third and fourth with each reinsertion. He didn't get sufficient time until the fourth quarter, when he was absolutely deadly. He got to the basket over and over again, drilled a pull-up three in transition, and spent the rest of his time wiling his way into contact (12-14 from the line).
- Ramon Sessions can't swallow a pill. In complete sentences, explain how Ramon's pseudodysphagia influences his style of play.
- Amare and Ronny Turiaf blocked a TON of shots, though a number of them were deemed fouls by the illustrious officiating crew. The rampant swatting was excellent, but there's something to be said for staying on the floor and boxing out (or, even better, keeping those blocked shots in the field of play). Maybe that's a silly complaint, but it's not like the Cavs needed much help missing shots.
- Maybe I was imagining things, but I'm pretty sure the MSG broadcast caught Dick Bavetta screaming at a mop boy to get off
his lawn the court while somebody was inbounding.
- Melo banged his right elbow at one point, but he returned and can't have sustained a lingering injury because that would just be too much disaster for one evening. I will, however, blame Melo's crucial missed free throw and consecutive off-the-ball fouls in Antawn Jamison in crunch time on the elbow. Being a Knicks fan is all about conjuring your own realities.
- After Toney Douglas played best supporting actor (TIMELY!) on Wednesday, neither he nor the rest of the friends could supplement the top three scorers. Landry Fields (3-3) and Bill Walker (2-3) were nice from downtown, but no place else. Shawne Williams couldn't find the potty. Toney, for his part, shot just 1-8 on many of the same attempts he was pulling against the Bucks.
I guess that'll be it. I have more, but rehashing last night's events is seriously bumming me out. Sit tight, friends. The offense will grow. The defense might even make an appearance too. This team will get better and we'll laugh about what happened last night in Cleveland. For now...on to Miami! [Curls into fetal position.]