It seems like the New York Knicks and many writers feel like the team took a step forward by actually turning their rematch against the Miami Heat into a competitive game. Yes, it’s better than being whupped by 437 points like they were in their first meeting in New York, but doesn’t everyone say how moral victories don’t count in sports? Why then do the Knicks get a pass? Particularly when, if they hadn’t stunk it up so poorly in the first half and got behind by 24 points, they might have actually won easily. Although Josh Sage is usually the one who harps on coach Mike D’Antoni’s lack of defensive acumen, this time I felt that his strategy for D was one of the big reasons we got behind by so much.
First, despite popular wisdom, the Knicks actually do play some very good defense at times. Wilson Chandler, Landry Fields, Ronny Turiaf and Toney Douglas have been great at scrambling all over the court and causing chaos, while Raymond Felton can be quite the bulldog on D himself. And Amar’e, while simply awful at one-on-one defense, can be a good help shot blocker. Thus we’ve actually had several games where our D clamped down at the end of the games and really save the day for us. So why am I complaining today — is it just because we lost? No, it’s because this time D’Antoni came up with a specific defensive game plan that I feel put us in a big hole. What was it?
Immediately doubling Chris Bosh (and maybe sometimes LeBron James too when he stood closer to the hoop, but now I forget) when he got the ball. Or when Bosh/LeBron were just dribbling in place. As a result, the rest of their offense was set up, making it easy for Bosh and the rest of the team to know exactly where the free man is. Instead, the Knicks need to do what most teams do to Amar’e: wait for him to start his move before sending help. When you do that, the offensive player is now off-balance, doesn’t have time to check where everyone is, and doesn’t necessarily know which help defender has come over (and thus which of his teammates is open).
Bosh would catch the ball, and yes, he was being covered by the far smaller Chandler, and usually not only would we double too early, the help man would take a few steps toward him to threaten the double then take a few steps back. Then a moment later, while Bosh still hasn’t made his move, the guy then fully comes over to double. That initial “fake” allows Bosh to see, okay, that’s the guy coming over, and his man is the one who’s gonna be free. Likewise the soon to be free teammate also realizes he’s gonna be open, so he has time to check where everyone else is on the floor for when the recovery guys switch onto him. As a result, the Heat were getting wide, wide open shots without Bosh/Bron having to do anything tough that required help.
Also, since so much of our Seven Seconds Or Less offense relies on us attacking before the opposing team’s defense is fully set, it enables them more time to get back after a made basket versus off a rebound where the Knicks can get out running while the other team is still scrambling into position. Anyway, during the second quarter, once we switched to only providing help when a player needed help, suddenly our defense was at the solid level that it’s been at this season and we were able to slowly cut into the lead.
The ironic thing about my rant is that during the middle of the third quarter the Heat decided to feed Bosh several times in a row, and he was able to rather easily score with just single-coverage by Wilson Chandler. However, since he’s not The Man or even The Other Man (I won’t get into which of those is LeBron and which is Dwayne Wade), the Heat soon stopped going to him despite the big mismatch. And yes, D’Antoni was right in realizing that Chandler couldn’t cover Bosh by himself. But you can’t anticipate that happening, you’ve gotta let Bosh prove that he’s gonna abuse that mismatch. And the truth is that sometimes when teams try to force-feed mismatches, it gets them out of their normal rhythm. So even if that mismatch is working for them, it’s kinda throwing off everyone else on the team.
Oh, and on something that’s neither here nor there, the broadcast I was watching was actually being broadcast by Miami and featured their announcers. One of the guys not only apparently has done little research on other teams, but also didn’t seem to be watching the game. He kept saying that Gallinari is our power forward (probably because he’s taller than Wil, so it makes sense to jump to that conclusion if you’ve never seen the Knicks play), but then he even made comments about how Bosh had done a good job covering a perimeter player like Gallo, even though Bosh was on Chandler the whole time. Bizarre. And shameful.
Other final thoughts:
-Felton, while still playing far better than he did at the beginning of the season, no longer seems to be hitting Amar’e/whoever for easy rolls like he did during the team’s winning streak. As a result, it’s felt like lately Amar’e's been forced to try to create off of a standstill on his own more often, and that tends to always result in either awful shots or turnovers.
-After the Knicks finally got it back to being just a three-point game with only two minutes remaining, we kinda did get to see who The Man will be. Dwayne Wade promptly went out and hit a three against decent coverage. My guess is LeBron will be the one who does more creating/ball-handling throughout every game, but Wade has more the killer mentality and thus will more frequently take the big shots.
-After Wade’s three, we got lucky that Fields was awarded three free throws which could then get it back to being a one-possession game. Fields, who has hit many clutch threes in the fourth, seemed nervous for some reason and only hit one of three. I bring this up not to castigate him, but merely to show that his misses surprised me because he’s been so phenomenal. Honestly, I would’ve been less surprised if say it had been Amar’e who missed two out of three, but I figured Fields (along with Felton) both seem totally collected at the end of games.
-Bill Walker made an appearance in the second quarter. Weirdly, it was during the stretch when the Knicks whittled their 24 point deficit back to a more respectable amount, turning it back into a game, and yet he didn’t take a single shot. However, despite being on the court during this siege forward, he didn’t make it onto the court in the second half.