The Knicks have returned to MSG on life support; basketball fans from South Bend all the way to North Bend (?) are waiting for their Pacers to finish them off with a sharpened corn-stalk shiv or whatever the hell Indiaños use.
I believe, however, that is is customary for the condemned to make one final request - I learned this from those old Tombstone Pizza commercials where the executioner asks the dude what he wants on his tombstone and the dude is all like "bro, I want pepperoni and cheese, cuz Tombstone is also a brand of pizza. Double entendre, what!"
Since my 2012-2013 Knicks viewing experience stands at the end of the gallows, I'd like to direct my final request toward coach Mike Woodson. Coach, the Knicks will play a basketball game tonight, quite possibly their final basketball game of the season. I'd like you to promise me that tonight, win or lose, I will get a chance to watch the actual, factual New York Knicks.
Make no mistake, my friends, the team that showed up on Tuesday was not the New York Knicks.
Let's break down Mike Woodson's strategy in the series thus far. He went with the regular lineup for the first two games of the series. The Knicks scored 95 and 105 points, respectively, for an average of 100.0 points a game, which is exactly their regular season average. They averaged 109.6 points per 100 possessions - a scant 1.5 points below their regular season average, and nearly 10 points more than Pacers opponents averaged during the regular season. After a thorough beat-down in Game 3, Woodson decided to throw the script out the window and improvised a new starting lineup, one that had yet to start a game this season.
The idea was terrible on a number of levels. Hold on to your seats, everyone, because I'm about to cross-sports-analogize all up in here. Any Yankees fans in the house can tell you that this season's Yankees squad has one glaring weakness - they can't hit left-handed pitching. Like, at all. Their lefty/righty splits are almost comical at this point. This has lead many an armchair manager to the following conclusion: if a Yankee opponent is planning to start a righty of less-than-Justin-Verlander-caliber, they might as well replace him with any scrub lefty down in the minors. It's a cute thought exercise, but managers don't actually call random left-handed bros up to the big leagues to face the New York Yankees, because:
- There are very real reasons these guys don't play in the big leagues - either they're not yet ready for that level of competition, or they're simply not good enough. A good manager doesn't sacrifice inferior players at the altar of MATCH-UPS.
- It sends a terrible message to your players, whom you've relied on all season - that any random player can do your job better than you against certain opponents.
As silly as this idea would seem in baseball, it makes even less sense for a basketball coach to throw out untested lineups in big games - these players rely on trust and familiarity. What did Woodson hope to gain? Defense? Against a team shooting around 40% for the series? Rebounding? I love what Kenyon Martin brings to this team (as a backup), but he's undersized and his DRB% in these playoffs (19.5%) is just barely better than that of Jason Kidd (19.2%).
I'm afraid we might have reached an impasse with Mike Woodson. I agree with Seth - and not only because he beats me when I'm critical - that Woody seems to view this season's offensive strategy as being forced upon him by injuries. The problem with this is that the offensive strategy has been by far the most positive aspect of the team this season. I used get a laugh out of those Woody voice-overs in Knicks promotional videos: "Defense needs to be a constant for us every night." They were so absurd as to be adorable. But it seems like the coach, now backed into a corner, has become obsessed with his own defensive cliches. If Woodson is going to hang his hat solely on defense at this point, then his Knicks epitaph is going to read: "Coached better than Mike D'Antoni" - not exactly the greatest compliment for a defense-o-phile.
It seems clear at this point that the Pacers are, top-to-bottom, the superior team. There's not much that can be done about that at this point, short of inventing youth serum for half the Knicks roster. But please, let us not pretend the Knicks are something they clearly aren't. Bring back Pablo Prigioni. Bring back Chris Copeland. Hell, even bring back Steve Novak. Play the players and the style that got you here, the style we've learned to love. Is this is the end of the 2012-2013 New York Knicks, then give us the gift of seeing the real Knicks in action one last time.