Damn. I've said this before, but when these Knicks and Nets meet, they just seem to find ways to keep it close. Each game has included different personnel and a whole different complexion, but in three out of four, the intersecting twists and turns have converged on the final few possessions. This time around, Joe Johnson drew a switch and hit a tough step-back over J.R. Smith to put Brooklyn up one, Carmelo Anthony missed an isolation pull-up of his own, then after some missed free throws each way, Smith missed a desperation game-tying three at the buzzer.
And how did we arrive at that point this time around? This was one of those contests in which wild disparities in several categories balanced out to even the score. The combination of a taller, feistier Brooklyn frontcourt and the Knicks' tendency to switch themselves dizzy on defense (and brick long jumpers on offense) allowed the Nets to dominate both backboards. The Knicks more than evened that out, though, by forcing 19 turnovers while committing just five of their own. The Nets may have gotten more second opportunities, but the Knicks got way more first opportunities, out-attempting Brooklyn 84 to 74.
To me (and as The Borg pointed out in our thread), the disparity behind the arc really decided the game. The Nets got loose from downtown, cashing in on open looks and Johnson's unshakeable heat over New York's late post-switch close-outs. The Knicks got ample open looks of their own, especially when the Nets sent help to contain Melo, but just couldn't get them to fall. Chris Copeland and Iman Shumpert whiffed their open attempts from the corners, J.R. Smith hit very little off the catch, and Steve Novak couldn't even get a clean look. Brooklyn (12-24) doubled New York's output (6-21) from downtown, with a high-caroming Keith Bogans bomb standing out amongst several debilitating makes. Gotta say, I like being on the winning end of a three-point barrage a lot better than what went down today.
A few notes and individual things:
- This was sort of an odd Melo game. It was arguably his best passing game of the entire season, yet a lot of his shots were off-balance and taken over multiple defenders. Melo opened the game by torching bigger guys over picks, then settling for a couple ugly mid-range looks that missed badly. When the Nets began to send help, he threw a couple gorgeous entry passes to Amar'e Stoudemire cutting free along the baseline. The rest of Melo's game seemed like a pretty even blend of bad misses over help, tough makes over help, and beautiful feeds out of help. He faced a lot of help defense, you see. Pretty much the only times Melo got clean, open looks were quick catch-and-shoots from inbound passes, and he hit most of those. Nearly everything else came off the dribble. Particularly in the second half, when Melo tried to create for himself, things didn't go so well (0-6 in the fourth), but when he dished to a cutter, the Knicks drew at least a foul. And as for the big miss down the stretch, Melo's legs seemed to give a bit. 45 minutes of playing time can do that. I do wish Mike Woodson had run something-- a solid pick, some misdirection...anything-- to gain Melo an edge instead of just letting him go solo on two crucial possessions (one of which earned him two free throws, but still).
- I though Amar'e actually played his best minutes alongside Melo, even when Tyson Chandler shared the floor with the two of them. In the first half--and especially during his few minutes sans Melo-- Amar'e hurt the Knicks. He didn't produce much on offense and got horribly outworked by Kris Humphries on the glass. Amar'e returned midway through the third with a bit more life: He "boxed out" (he really just shoves and grabs people under the rim, but whatever works, I guess) more, rotated a bit better defensively, and did a wonderful job creeping along the baseline to get inside looks when Melo or J.R. drew the defense. I would have preferred fewer dropped passes, better free throw shooting, and no attempt to dunk on Brook Lopez from like nine feet out (I love you, Amar'e, but that's going to get stuffed in 2013), but Stoudemire's work off the ball was excellent, and I appreciate that he got his rebounding/defense shit somewhat together after a dreadful first half.
- Chandler had pretty much the game you'd expect. Brook Lopez got his open jumpers and offensive rebounds when Chandler got distracted by a loose guard. On offense, no Raymond Felton meant nothing even close to a repeat of that dominant performance in the last Nets game. Chandler dunked one incredible rebound of his own miss in the first quarter (and got T'd up for shouting in Reggie Evans's face, which is bullshit. You should be not just permitted but encouraged to scream in Reggie Evans's face.), and, save for a couple nice feeds when he slipped picks in the second half, the offensive glass was pretty much the only entity able to pass him the ball in position.
- It's hard to get too grumpy about Jason Kidd's defensive freelancing and questionable doubles when he has such a marvelous defensive game. Kidd had six steals and countless more poke-aways and deflections, including a stretch in the late third in which he drew a ballsy charge on Gerald Wallace, then snaggled the ball away from bigger Nets on like three or four consecutive possessions. Kidd also had a block somewhere in there and was the only Knick to do much (2-3) from downtown.
- The J.R. Smith slump continued (both good shots and bad shots just wouldn't fall), though he did pick things up considerably in the second half with some nice drives and a gorgeous wrap-around dish to Chandler that the big dude sadly wasn't expecting. Anyway, a 5-10 second half after a 2-9 first half was mildly encouraging, but the Knicks really could have used J.R.'s production more and sooner.
- Iman Shumpert's minutes rolled up to 20 as expected, though you could tell Woodson desperately wanted to use him more. Shump did an okay job on Johnson (as good a job as could be done, anyway) and took the right shots on the other end, but just couldn't get them to fall (1-6). And, excluding an early airball, I'd say they missed in an "unfriendly roll" way, not a "way off, never gonna fall" way. Kinda reaching there, but...
- ...it's an important distinction. Ronnie Brewer played three minutes and attempted two of the most woefully awry shots I've ever seen.
- Chris Copeland started again. He made his first three and grabbed a couple impressive rebounds, but defended very poorly, missed a couple more shots (including one really hideous attempt where he held the ball way too long), and ended up playing just 15 minutes.
- We didn't see any two-point guard lineups, which was a shame. Pablo Prigioni played just nine minutes and left early after hurting his toe (not sure if that occurred when Humphries absolutely leveled him with a pick or afterward). Thus, we did wee some zero-point guard lineups in the second half.
- Nothin' from Steve Novak. Not a thing.
- Clyde's a fan of the Acela train: "Before you finish your paper, you're pulling into the station!".
- Cool shoes, everybody.
That's all for now. We'll discuss this more later. Ultimately, I was more upset with the context of the loss than the content. The Knicks didn't play so terribly, but they did lose some major ground in the defeat. Oh well. On to the Celtics.