Okay, so let’s try to put this in perspective for a second. This was a road back-to-back, third in four nights, and a game in which the Knicks showed serious energy in spurts. They put the clamps on a Pistons team in the third quarter when it looked like they might let another one slip away with little resistance, silencing the home crowd amid a 15-0 run. And then, behind great fourth-quarter performances from Will Bynum (who played the entire fourth quarter after sitting the first three), Tayshaun Prince and Chris Wilcox, Detroit rallied and nosed out the Knicks in the final two minutes.
I’m not trying to obfuscate the fact that this is an awful, awful loss. Much like Tuesday in Indiana, and every loss from here on in, it’s not really that they lost that’s so bothersome – they’re allowed to be tired after this stretch, and truth be told there were a couple of things to like tonight, which we’ll discuss below. But as far as I’m concerned, these remaining games exist only as a distillation of our answers to the following questions: a) did they look somewhat interested in defending? b) did the new-look rotation look any more cohesive than the previous game? and c) how was the crunch-time execution? To me, these are the things to look for as we ponder this team’s chances in April.
Defensively, the Knicks flipped the intensity switch in the third quarter during their big run, and it looked like the Pistons would never score again. Overall Detroit shot 48% from the field, but to my eye they missed some open jumpers that would’ve sent us all to our blogs to bitch and moan about the lack of D. Call it a wash and, again, they’re allowed to be tired after this stretch, and that will manifest itself in the defense.
As far as the rotation, as I noted in today’s game preview, I think it’s time to ask: Why on Earth does this team look better with Toney Douglas running the show? Toney didn’t see everything tonight – he keeps his head up but looks like he has tunnel vision, much like a rookie quarterback taking just an instant too long going through his progressions – but his athleticism and penetration repeatedly broke down the Pistons’ defense to create shots for his teammates (11 assists in 33 minutes). Billups (four assists, eight turnovers), by contrast, looked like he forgot which uniforms he was passing to. I don’t really want to rag on him because apparently he just lost his grandfather and tried to play through the grief. Suffice it to say, though, he was forcing passes where they didn’t belong, and his missed shot and getting beat up court by Bynum late was inexcusable from a ten-year vet. He looks more than a step slow.
And then we hit crunch time. You know, Carmelo has said all the right things about giving up their own shots for the good of the team, and for about 40 minutes tonight, they held true to that. Midway through the fourth quarter, Carmelo was 2-7 and seemed to understand that tonight wasn’t his night, that the Knicks were going to win with him mostly as a decoy. By game’s end, of course, Melo was 2-12 as the Knicks offense stagnated down the stretch and let the Pistons sneak in to steal the win. I have nothing to say about this other than what you probably screamed at your television 30 minutes ago.
It’s Friday night, time to put a bow on this recap with some bullets:
- I know Billups needs to get to know his new teammates, but “not setting up Jared Jeffries under the basket” shouldn’t require a ten-game learning curve.
- Stoudemire’s dunk over Monroe reminded me that one of my aborted ideas for this site was the Amar’e Teabag-o-Meter, to tabulate Amar’e’s various teabags that take place throughout the season. We were going to have a little picture of the guy getting teabagged, with a nice team-colored teabag next to his face. As usual around here, it was going to be high-brow stuff. Maybe next year.
- To borrow from James Toney, I think it’s time to christen our young point guard Lights Out Toney Douglas. Is it clever? Eh. But I think it works.
- Melo commits an offensive foul in the fourth quarter in which he barely grazed his man, but that doesn’t stop the Pistons color guy from calling it “a vicious elbow.” I think that line will be on his WWE audition tape.
- Is there any great spot-up shooter who gets wide open as often with so little movement off the ball as Shawne Williams? I give Mike D’Antoni all the credit for this: Williams’ skill set would be utterly useless to some teams, and yet D’Antoni finds ways to just park Shawne in the corner and get him wide open
- Douglas’ excellent job in the drive-and-kick game enables him to get an uncontested layup in the halfcourt late in the fourth quarter. The Pistons finally had given up so many threes that they had to respect the kickout. When a player’s dribble drive is getting that kind of respect, you may have a real point guard on your hands.