For those who didn’t watch last night’s game you can be forgiven for thinking that a 97-109 loss to the Celts doesn’t sound too, too bad. That’s ‘cuz you didn’t have to sit through it. And ‘cuz the Knicks had a useless run in the fourth against the Celtics’ bench-warmers to make the game seem more respectable than it was. The boys in green didn’t need the luck of the Irish on St. Patty’s Day to maintain a 20+ point against us for most of the game. This iteration of the Celtics over the past few years has made its mark on defense, not offense. We made ‘em look like the high-octane Phoenix Suns, letting them shoot over 50% from the field.
I watch most of the Knicks’ games on NBA.com’s Broadband League Pass, so sometimes I see MSG’s feed, and the rest of the time I see the game from the other city’s broadcasters. There are varying skills amongst the broadcasters (my favorite was when Houston’s guys kept saying how David Lee had become so good because he’s developed his left hand — ooh, look at all them lefty moves! — even though David Lee’s left-handed. I figured when he went to shoot free throws, lefty of course, that they’d catch on, but nope). Anyway, regardless of how good these strange foreign broadcasters are, they all have one thing in common: they constantly rip the Knicks’ defense. Or lack thereof. And they’re right.
On one Celtics semi-fast break, they commented how Tracy McGrady kind of just did a bit of slow speed-walk while allowing the dribbler to just run past. At other moments you’ve got the classic Knick defense against post players, like the Celts’ Kendrick Perkins. Perk, a man more known for his defense than being a shattering post player, gets great positioning and catches it right under the basket. David Lee, not a shot blocker, then literally just takes a step back, giving up completely and offering not the slightest bit of resistance. Mind you, Perk, like with most bigs, is a lousy free-throw shooter, so one can always do what players do when Shaq catches it that close to the hoop: foul him. Make him earn it at the free-throw line.
I know Lee is under-sized at the center position, but the more I watch him on the defensive end, the more frustrated I get. How can a guy who’ll hustle for rebounds, not hustle on defense? It’s like the better he gets on offense, the less he feels a need to do anything on D. In the abstract, it looks like he had a great game: 29 points, a perfect 9-for-9 from the free throw line, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, and a block! In reality, it’s just another instance of a mediocre player on a bad team putting up great stats, but not helping get wins.
Lemme clarify that I don’t mean to put this loss on David Lee at all: he was no worse on defense than most of the Knicks. I mean compared to TMac, Lee looked like defensive player of the year material. At one point, Bill Walker (recently acquired from the Celtics) tried to take a defensive charge, and the admittedly extremely biased Boston broadcasters correctly stated, “you know he didn’t learn that from the Knicks.”
Basically, a lot of these defensive deficiencies have to fall on Coach Mike D’Antoni’s shoulders. When the other team swings the ball around, sometimes no one will rotate out to the shooter, and sometimes two players will step towards him. If they don’t know who’s supposed to go out there, it’s a fault of the system, not the players (or rather not JUST the players). So despite watching & analyzing the Knicks regularly, it’s often hard for me to tell exactly which player is responsible for a defensive lapse.
At one point Kevin Garnett got the ball down low, and the Knicks quickly doubled him. A fine choice. He had the height, skills & positioning on his defender. And that part worked: we got him to pass the ball back out to the player who’d passed it to him. The part that didn’t work? The passer (I forget who, maybe Nate Robinson or Michael Finley) got the ball wide open at the three. And the defender who had doubled off of Nate/Finley was the one who had to resort to running at him.
Now either we screwed up somehow or this (shudder!) was our defensive plan: make one guy do the double-team and then have to run back to also cover his original guy. Let’s assume we have better defensive plans than that, but what was it supposed to be? Was someone else supposed to do the doubling (maybe a defender from the weak side so it’d be tougher for KG to pass to that open man)? Should someone else have swung over to help on Nate/Finley? If so, who? I’ve got no frickin’ clue. And I’m not sure the players do either.
Topics: Boston Celtics, Coach Mike D'Antoni, David Lee, Kabuki, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett, Kilts, Mike Finley, Nate Robinson, Phoenix Suns, Red Auerbach, Shaquille O'Neal, St. Patrick's Day, Toney Douglas, Tracy McGrady