Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Knicks Night #3: Defensive Stability a Tall Order for New York

Mike Woodson not impressed by the play of his Knicks.
After a miserable display at home to Minnesota on Sunday, Mike Woodson and the Knicks looked to steady the ship with a victory over the lowly Bobcats at MSG on Tuesday night. Charlotte arrived in Manhattan with a 1-2 record, exerting a refined, stingy defense, yet being placed 30th in the free throw department (55-90 over the first three games, 61%). With Al Jefferson remaining on the sidelines as day-to-day with an ankle concern, new head coach and former Knicks assistant Steve Clifford stuck with a traditional lineup of Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Josh McRoberts, and Bismack Biyombo. Despite undesirable results on Sunday, New York endured with their 'big' lineup, keeping Andrea Bargnani at the four spot to start the evening.

Wary of his late-game play and fleeting offensive successes, Carmelo Anthony attacked early in the first period, searching for some consistency in his trademark midrange jumper. Anthony's efforts aside (he begun with 1-6 shooting), though, the first quarter of play almost served as a mirror image of Sunday, with the Knicks' primary struggles emerging from their anaemic, sieve-like defense. New York's guards were constantly burned on pick-and-roll opportunities (particularly the point guards), as Kemba Walker shook and spun his way to a 4 of 5 start from the field. Much like the opening three contests, the Knicks were excessively reliant on the robust defence and leadership of Tyson Chandler, whose omnipresent alertness and weak-side help got the team out of jail on countless occasions. Chandler's presence was not limited to the defensive side of the ball, either, as his taps, tip-backs and offensive rebounding hustle masked the fact that New York could not splash outside shots. Tellingly, Chandler and Iman Shumpert (who is seemingly yet to earn the full trust and confidence of Woodson) were rocks of reliability in an otherwise shaky situation. Shumpert netted 9 points in the game's early going, though the apathy of the Knicks nonetheless resulted in the bleeding of 31 first-quarter points. Furthermore, alarm bells were sounded with 5mins remaining when Walker drove hard down the middle of the lane and jarred knees with Chandler, who could not bear weight on his right leg and failed to return after being forced to the bench.

With guard Raymond Felton also being attended to on the sidelines (following a shot to the face), Mike Woodson implemented an unconventional unit consisting of two point guards - having Pablo Prigioni play alongside the sparingly utilised Beno Udrih in the backcourt. Ball movement was an emphasis with this setup, and Metta World Peace (7-13 for 18pts in 33 minutes), who has been shooting well of late, reaped the immediate rewards by sinking a line drive three ball to reduce the deficit. Knowing that Anthony and Bargnani had battled to establish offensive consistency and with already-thin front court depth, Woodson inserted Amar'e Stoudemire for his first game action since Thursday of last week. Even with all that has been said on the subject of Stoudemire, and his unambiguous decline, this showing was particularly difficult to absorb. Stoudemire, remaining on strict minute limits, exhibited waning elevation, having a pair of his shots dismissed by Bobcats journeyman Jeff Adrien on back to back possessions. His first stint on the floor resulted in zero of two field goal shooting with one turnover, earning him a hasty hook from the unimpressed Woodson.

Concerning trends came out of the first half of play - the Knicks continued to peddle a porous defense, being torched in transition, and appearing to have no scheme or communication. The "slicing and dicing" (TM Clyde Frazier) of Charlotte's undersized backcourt, Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions, frazzled New York's defense, operating the pick-and-roll at will and throwing the home team's backcourt into utter disarray. Thankfully, for the sake of the Knickerbockers, World Peace provided much-needed stability and shot-making off the pine, connecting on 4 of his 5 launches in the first half, including two from downtown. Walker, meanwhile, with a melange of crossovers and pull-up jumpers, headed into the halftime break with 17pts on 7-9 shooting from the floor.

The Bobcats pushed the lead to as many as 13 points in the third stanza, punishing the scattered shooting and ball control of their opponents. Amar'e Stoudemire's (2pts, 3 rebounds, 5 turnovers) night to forget did not improve, being heavily limited by his diminishing athleticism and wild turnovers, whilst exacerbating New York's problems with a technical foul. Cody Zeller got his paws on a put-back after Anthony Tolliver's couldn't connect on a buzzer-beating long range fling, but the officials deemed that time had expired prior to the rookie removing his hand from the basketball.

It was clear in the fourth that if the Knicks were to assemble any form of a comeback effort, it would be on the shoulders of Anthony, for whom offensive rhythm and post-up polish had been a problem. Limiting the chances of this, though, was the pestering and suffocating defense of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, which was an invaluable commodity for Charlotte in the closing stages of the game. An inadvertent tip by Anthony late in the fourth quarter stretched Charlotte's buffer to 6 points, forcing Mike Woodson to consider set play options to dial in from 23 feet and slice the difference in half. New York came out of a timeout with Kenyon Martin setting a hard pick at the top and freeing Carmelo for a straight-on treble, and the feint, flickering hopes of the Knicks' caught a hint of luck when Shumpert's liveliness earned the team a steal and transition opportunity. Shumpert, who finished with 14 points and was previously 4-4 at the line, missed the first and made the second, however, comfortably allowing the Bobcats to conservatively play the free-throw game and nestle into a two-possession advantage with time shrinking.

The loss leaves the Knicks clamouring for a seemingly elusive solution to their worrying trends, while Charlotte depart town sitting nicely at .500. Carmelo Anthony gathered five rebounds and scored 32 points, although it took him 28 field goal attempts to do so.

FINAL - New York 97-102 Charlotte

New York 1-3, Charlotte 2-2

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