As the NBA playoffs roll onward, the New York Knicks can only watch, sit idly by as other teams experience what the Knicks could not achieve. At the forefront of that movement is the San Antonio Spurs, the only team left in the playoffs who have not lost a game. In fact, after overcoming a 24-point deficit against the Los Angeles Clippers to win Game 3, the Spurs have won 17 straight games, dating back to April 11.
The Spurs represent what every NBA team should strive for: continuity, perseverance, unwavering confidence, a complete team. Down 24 to the Clippers yesterday, in a rowdy Staples Center, the Spurs never faltered. Even at 36 years old, the virtually indefensible Tim Duncan did not call for isolations and stagnate the offense. The Spurs – the best 3-point shooting team in the NBA – did not hoist shots from beyond the arc in hopes of initiating an improbable run. Instead, they stuck to what they always do. Tony Parker continued to attack and attack, driving into the paint with his patented crafty force. They moved the ball from side to side, in and out, consisting hitting Tim Duncan in pick-and-rolls, and forcing the Clippers to pick their poison on who to send help to.
What the Spurs represent is a team that believes in their system, believes in their team. The Knicks and the rest of the NBA would be smart to follow the Spurs’ example.
This is not meant to be a debate about Mike D’Antoni vs. Mike Woodson, but while D’Antoni was head coach, the Knicks had an offensive system that could have been successful if everyone bought into it. However, as we know, not everyone did, namely Carmelo Anthony, though there were likely others.
With Mike Woodson, we saw that the Knicks bought into and trusted his defensive system, and as a result, they jumped into the top five most efficient teams on defense in the NBA. However, on offense, as we saw during the playoffs, the Knicks didn’t have enough go-to plays on offense. There was hardly any consistency in play-calling as well.
For the Knicks to make the jump to becoming an elite team in the East, they have to buy into a system on both ends of the floor and stick to it through good and bad. Of course, there is something to be said of stability and consistency, neither of which are words that can be identified with the Knicks for the past decade. However, as the Spurs have proven, with their core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, other players and parts can be integrated into the system, and because Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili believe in that system, the surrounding players follow suit.
For the Knicks, this means Carmelo Anthony cannot dominate the ball on every possession and call for clear-outs. It means he has to trust his teammates and be willing to share the ball, and not go one-on-five when things aren’t working. It means that Amar’e Stoudemire has to stay focused on defense and rebounding, even if he isn’t getting his touches on offense. And when he does get his touches on offense, he has to keep an open mind as to what to do with the ball, as Duncan has proven throughout his career – not every touch is a scoring opportunity.
The Knicks have their core in place, and while the surrounding cast of players may continue to be of the turnstile dynamic, if Anthony, Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler completely buy into a system and prove it can be successful, other players will too.
The Spurs could have given up yesterday afternoon, but they didn’t. The Knicks shouldn’t be willing to give up either.