The New York Knicks have lost four straight games, falling to a pitiful 3-8 record on the season. For a team that was largely considered in the upper echelon of elite contenders in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks are struggling to simply play fringe playoff basketball. At this point, there aren’t any moral victories — the Knicks flat-out need wins.
Except… well, last night’s loss to the Indiana Pacers was kind of a moral victory, even if players, coaches, and fans won’t want to call it such.
Mike Breen said it at the end of the MSG broadcast: ‘If the Knicks played like this every night, they wouldn’t 3-8.’ To a T, Mr. Breen.
The Knicks have plenty of flaws on their roster: a lack of defensive big men, reliable shot-creators, floor-spreaders, etc. However, a fixable flaw, one they’ve preached throughout this current slide, is effort. Tyson Chandler, Mike Woodson, Carmelo Anthony have all spoken about the Knicks’ lack of dire effort and how it must improve. Last night against the Pacers, we got more than a glimpse of the necessary effort — we got full-on dosages for extended periods of time.
The three figureheads of last night’s effort: Carmelo Anthony, Iman Shumpert, Kenyon Martin. That’s not to say the Knicks didn’t all play hard, but Anthony, Shumpert, and Martin displayed the type of energy, passion, and (sorry if this is redundant) effort that’s required to play winning basketball. All of the good teams in the NBA have talent — the Knicks have talent, too. What’s been lacking is a dedication, a willingness to go the extra mile, qualities the best teams possess.
There was Carmelo Anthony, facing any combination of Paul George, Lance Stephenson, David West, and Roy Hibbert, all of whom are strong, rugged, tough defenders. Nonetheless, time and time again, Anthony attacked the basket, posting them up. Sure, the ball stuck to his hands far too often, but there was considerable fight from ‘Melo. What’s more — his 18 rebounds on the night, 9 of them offensive. Despite facing a physical frontline, Anthony never backed down as he clobbered underneath the rim, fighting for position and putbacks. Not every Knick has the strength and skill set of ‘Melo to do that every night, but his effort should be the take-away.
There was Kenyon Martin, on a minutes-limit all season, playing under-sized against Roy Hibbert and David West. The 36-year-old, who clearly has health issues, banged in the post all night, delivering 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 5 fouls, not to mention a general presence the Knicks miss dearly when Chandler isn’t around. Martin logged 38 minutes — easily a season-high — and never griped about it, never let up.
There was Iman Shumpert, whose unfortunate late-game foul and iffy shooting will overshadow one of his best defensive games of the year. For most of the game, Shumpert hounded Paul George, fighting over screens, contesting shots, pestering his dribble. Heading into the 4th quarter, Shumpert had 5 steals on the night while George was 5-15 with 14 points. A signature moment in Shumpert’s effort and game was when he ran from the weakside of the court on defense, over to the strong side, to sneak behind Roy Hibbert in the post and steal an entry pass. It was a smart, heady play that got the Knicks a steal, but it’s also — again — the type of effort and energy the Knicks all need to aspire to.
As for the foul… most of the Knicks said it was. Down three in the final seconds of the game, if I’m the refs, I’m letting this go (fight through the low screen resolution if you can):
Is it a foul? Yeah, pretty much. It’s also nothing compared to what Carmelo Anthony receives on a nightly basis. Like I said, I wouldn’t make that call in that situation. But such is life.
Regardless, the Knicks did what it takes to win for most of the game last night. There are, of course, many issues to still iron out, but what was most encouraging was a real effort, a real willingness to fight. The Pacers are the Pacers — they’re 10-1, tied for the best record in the league. Sometimes, teams like that just are better. But if the Knicks apply the effort they demonstrated last night to all of their games, they’ll soon find themselves back in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
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