The Knicks hopes of extending their modest four-game winning streak was rudely dashed by their worst outing of the season, a 95-78 drubbing in Miami. Simply put, New York was totally outplayed at both ends of the game.
Let’s take closer look at the specifics.
They started out with Kristaps Porzingas nailing a three-ball, and for the first few minutes they grabbed the lead as enough of their shots were falling while the Heat were shooting blanks. Then, ten minutes into the game, Miami’s shooters found the range, the home team’s defense clicked, and the game was ostensibly over.
Swarmed and outhustled, New York’s triangle offense flat-lined for the duration. They clanged whatever open shots they managed to find and shot a meager 29% in scoring a mere thirty points in the first half.
For the game, the Knicks shot 32% including a prodigiously inept 4-24 from beyond the bonus line. Again, Miami’s quick, coordinated defense was the primary cause.
However, the Knicks did manage to regain a shred of respectability in the second half by momentarily shaving a 26-point deficit down to twelve points before Miami turned up the heat.
In addition to this too-late-too-little mini-spurt, there were, in fact, a few positives.
Robin Lopez set several crushing screens, pulled down a total of six offensive rebounds (including a pair of tip-ins), scored on three of his five post-up opportunities, and wound up with twelve hard-earned points.
Carmelo Anthony was double-teamed virtually every time he touched the ball which explains his poor (6-16) shooting. Yet, ‘Melo seldom tried to force a shot in these situations and, for the most part, his passes were accurate. Hence, his four assists plus another three passes to open teammates whose resulting shots missed.
At the same time, three of his four turnovers were due to errant passes. Sure, blame Anthony for these miscues, but also credit Miami’s alert defense. However, a catchable pass out of a double-team hit the cutting Porzingas in the shoulder, but the TO was pinned on Melo. Still, Anthony was aggressive with the ball (9-9 from the stripe) and unselfish when under two-timing pressure.
Before the game, Chris Bosh scoffed at Porzingas’ recent scoring bonanzas. Bosh claimed that the rookie’s success was mostly due to opponents’ defenses simply overlooking him. Bosh then promised that Miami would not make the same mistake.
And the outcome?
KP did fill the stat sheet—7-18, including 3-5 treys, 3-3 from the stripe, and 20 points– in 37 minutes, his longest stint of the season. Plus, he had one assist, only a single TO, and made several timely off-ball cuts. Indeed, on one dive-cut, the rookie was alone at the rim with no defender within ten feet, but the entry-pass never came.
Even so, Porzingas had little impact on the outcome. Two of his shots were blocked, he missed three open jumpers in the lane, and all three of his post-up chances came up empty.
So, call the outcome of KP’s production as opposed to Bosh’s boast a draw.
Otherwise, the most disappointing aspect of the Knicks sub-par offensive showing was the abysmal play of the subs. Hitherto a strong point in New York’s game plan, Kyle O’Quinn stunk up the court, Kevin Seraphin was useless, while Derrick Williams, Sash Vujacic, Jerian Grant and Langston Galloway couldn’t shoot themselves in the proverbial foot.
Only Lou Admunson provided anything worthwhile—providing energy at both ends, and six points in ten minutes.
All told, the bench didn’t register a point until there were two minutes left in the third quarter. Collectively, the second-stringers played 63 minutes and generated ten points.
On the plus side, the Knicks’ perimeter defense (among the worst in the league last season) continued to shine. Their attention to, and closing out of, Miami’s long-range shots limited the home team to 5-19 from out there.
Also, Porzingas had two blocks, one steal, and four shot-altering intimidations. Counted among his fourteen rebounds were seven defensive freebies, i.e., those hauled down when none of the Heat were in the vicinity. He also made a deflection of in inbound pass to the posted Bosh as well as several excellent shows on screen-rolls.
Meanwhile, Anthony played his heart out on defense as demonstrated by his four steals and his part in limiting Bosh to 2-12 shooting. Melo’s only gross negligence was to needless abandon his man to wander into the lane when a Miami guard broke down the Knicks perimeter defense: a nifty pass led to Melo’s man knocking down a three-pointer.
The best news for New York is that Anthony is working hard at both ends of the court. In truth, while his shooting remains somewhat inconsistent, he’s well on his way to becoming a complete player.
The bad news is how easily Miami’s smalls and bigs got to the rim. Blame this on several factors: the Heat’s choreographed ball- and player-movement. This is a testament to the excellent game plan instituted by Erik Spoelstra and his staff.
Also to blame is New York’s routine failure to adequately combat mid-level screen/rolls. As a result, Miami’s bigs rolled their way into several dunks, shooters were open, and switches were botched.
And blame Robin Lopez for viciously fouling Hassan Whiteside’s elbow with his neck!
Okay, over the course of the long season, even the best teams occasionally get blown-out. Still, the Knicks are now 8-7 and 5-3 on the road. Last season they didn’t win their eighth game until January 23.
So, then, this is an infinitely better outfit than they were in the 2014-15 campaign. That’s because Phil Jackson got rid of the several players who had no interest in playing team-oriented basketball, and replaced them with a roster loaded with guys who are eager to sacrifice to chase (and achieve!) group goals.
A critical test for this current squad will come on Wednesday when they conclude this road trip in Orlando. A win would certainly be desirable, but—no matter what the final score might be–playing with passion and purpose in a hard-fought game would demonstrate a resilience that would bode well for both the immediate and long-range fortunes of these “new” Knicks.