Knicks 106, Magic 94

Orlando Magic 94 Final Recap | Box Score 106 New York Knicks
Kenyon Martin, PF 28 MIN | 5-6 FG | 1-3 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | +20On, the unending game of Whack-a-Mole! Time swings the mallet, Injury, and yet the heads of quadragenarian power forwards keep popping up out of orange and blue jerseys, ready to provide defense, rebounding, and “edge” and — on the right night — more makes than misses. Tonight, with Kurt Thomas laid low, it was Kenyon Martin’s turn. Starting at center, K-Mart clogged the lane, helped on to penetrators, took what was given him on offense. Docked a half grade for a lack of rebounding — the whole team protected the defensive glass poorly — but recognized here for providing what the Knicks needed on a night when their frontcourt was beyond thin.
Carmelo Anthony, SF 33 MIN | 7-14 FG | 4-6 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 21 PTS | +21Was immediately apparent that he was able to move better tonight than he has in weeks. Fought for position off the ball, bullied Arron Afflalo on it, forced doubles and — despite a goose egg in the assist column — passed out of them smartly. Didn’t force his shot but when he did take it, didn’t show much rust. Defense was good on the perimeter, not quite as good in the pivot. All in, an encouraging return. The home and home with Toronto will provide a test for his knee.
Iman Shumpert, SF 14 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +2Really liked Shump’s effort tonight. Hit a corner three and had a nice finish in transition after receiving the ball just inside halfcourt. Played a big role in how ineffective the Nelson/Afflalo/Moore trio were in the first half. Had a lovely drive-and-kick in quarter number two that promised of the kind of expanded skill set for which we’re all watering at the mouth. Came up limping on a strained knee at the end of the first half and sat out the second. We hold our breaths.
Raymond Felton, PG 25 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +21Quiet aside from a lovely reverse layup off a baseline cut. 4 assists without a turnover though, plus-21 in 25 minutes, and some of that bulldog defense we hear so much about was there for real tonight. A fitting symbol of the night’s general theme: “Unexciting but effective.”
Pablo Prigioni, PG 20 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +13Somehow Prigioni has become the best shooter in the Knicks’ entire stable of backcourt players. He’s also toned down the predilection for cartoonish turnover totals that plagued him in the early part of the season (he had only 1 in 20 minutes tonight). Combine his line with Felton’s and you get 13/9/6 with a steal and only 1 turnover in 45 minutes (on 5/10 and 3/6 from deep). The played well together (comprising the starting backcourt and staking the Knicks to a 22-7 lead) and apart (taking turns at the point as the Knicks held on in the second half); Prigs was the slightly better of the two.
Chris Copeland, SF 20 MIN | 4-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 9 PTS | -5His value is inversely proportionate to Carmelo’s health. When we are absent another player who can create his own shot, you can put up with the defense and the chucking and the general lack of any non-scoring value. But when Melo is Melo-ing, all the negative stuff in Copeland’s game stands out. He’s basically the Taco Bell to Melo’s Chipotle: I’m happy to give him minutes either when Melo isn’t available or when it’s 4 AM and I’m drunk.
Steve Novak, SF 26 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | -3Look who hit some threes tonight! Novak is back to being as exciting as the insurance company commercial that he loves so well. Cool defense, though, bro.
Marcus Camby, C 7 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -7Nooooooooope.
Jason Kidd, PG 23 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 5 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | -9The recent theme with Kidd, I guess, is that he’s still good when we don’t give him much to do. A few months ago he was the third or fourth most important guy on the team. Now we basically need to marginalize him for him to be effective, which seems like a paradox but is the best way I have of articulating it. Perfectly fine tonight — opportunistic on defense and mistake-free on offense — but no longer a player who seems to be at the center of everything that’s going right.
James White, SG 6 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -5Glimmers of life from Flight this evening. God knows we could use some more depth on the wings but it’s more likely that this was a one-time thing, juxtaposed as it was against the backdrop of an Orlando team that was well-beaten by the time he got involved.
J.R. Smith, SG 38 MIN | 8-16 FG | 4-5 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 22 PTS | +12We’ve been very quick to turn on Earl since things have gone south for the ‘Bockers and from a statistical perspective (and from plenty of other perspectives) our frustration is perfectly legitimate. Here is what I know: His efg% is 48% with Melo on the floor and 45% without him. The Knicks outscore opponents by 6 points per 100 possessions with JR and Melo playing together, that number goes down to an even zero with JR out there sans-Melo. He knows his role when he’s playing next to the guy who has been the alpha dog for most of his career; when he doesn’t, Bad JR is badder and Good JR is scarcer. He won’t give us 22 on 16 shots with 7 rebounds every night, but as long as the team is at or near full strength and he’s playing the role he should play, we can all calm down.
Mike WoodsonCredit where due. Made a bold choice to start Felton and Prigs together: it worked great. Went with a 0 PG look for a stretch of the 2nd quarter, it didn’t work, he adjusted at the half and went away from it. He sat Shump when his knee acted up and got Melo plenty of rest once the game was out of reach. Yes, this was a game against lowly Orlando, but he managed it well and got them a victory with minimal collateral damage (during a stretch when getting through a game without a broken foot or a torn MCL feels like a victory).

One Thing We Saw

  1. Speaking of broken feet, it looks like Kurt Thomas’ injury is more than just bone spurs. The 41-year-old big has a stress fracture in his foot, one he thinks he’s had for the better part of a week. He’s very likely out for the year and, if you’re betting on him playing another game in the NBA in his career, I hope you’re getting the odds.If this is the end for Kurt, let’s remember a player who came to the Knicks a decade and a half ago as a foul-prone banger who had shot 37% in just 24 games in the two previous seasons in Dallas and Miami. He was a role player during a Finals run, added a mid-range jumper, and became an improbably critical player on both ends of the court for three more playoff teams.
  2. He was traded for the rights to Nate Robinson on Draft Night in 2005, an evening that changed the face of the Knicks as much as any other in the past decade. Thomas played for six teams after leaving the Knicks, most memorably including a deep playoff run in San Antonio, and returned to New York this summer as a throw-in, included in the Raymond Felton deal due simply to the vagaries of the NBA Salary Cap. Injuries vaulted him to a role of unexpected importance, a humbler ascent than in his first Garden stint, but one no less unlikely. He was occasionally useful, frequently apprehensive, constantly old.
  3. But at the end, on what looks like it may have been his last night in a Knicks jersey, he stepped up on a foot he knew was broken, fought through 27 minutes in a game that the reeling, depleted Knicks had to have. He set screens, protected the rim, impacted the outcome in ways that far exceeded his statistical line. Did it all in pain that he downplayed so that he’d be allowed to do it.
  4. If Kurt Thomas exits now, he exits a Knick and he exits a fighter. And that is absolutely the farewell that he deserves.

Knicks 109, Warriors 105

Golden State Warriors 105 FinalRecap | Box Score 109 New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony, SF 40 MIN | 10-26 FG | 13-15 FT | 1 REB | 8 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 35 PTS | +11If you’re in the “Melo needs to be our primary creator” camp, this may have been your favorite performance by him in some time. On a night when the jumpers were (mostly) not falling, he broke down the defense off the dribble, got to the line a ton, and mixed in some filthy post moves and breathtaking passes. Bullied smaller guys, went around slower guys, drove with his head up ready to see cutting teammates, hit a gorgeous baseline fadeaway to make it a two-possession game in the final minute. Solid defensive effort as well. Good marks all around and only a cold night on jumpers kept it from being a singularly great performance.
Tyson Chandler, C 42 MIN | 5-9 FG | 6-7 FT | 28 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | +8Speaking of singularly great performances, everything we love about Tyson Chandler was on display tonight. A smash here, a swat there, screens and cuts aplenty and, my goodness, the rebounding. He hit double digits in the games first 7 minutes and didn’t look back, completely controlling the glass and, by extension, the game at both ends. Lost in the confusion generated by the Stephen Curry Pain Tornado was the fact that the rest of the Warriors offense was actually pretty brutal — Curry had 54 points on 35 possessions used (154 O-Rating, not so bad) while the rest of the team had 51 on 59 (86 O-Rating). Chandler’s switching, contesting, and ball-hawking was a major factor there. If the rest of the Warriors offense had been even mediocre, Curry’s night for the ages would have stood up. Chandler was the biggest reason it didn’t.
Jason Kidd, PG 19 MIN | 0-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +2Read all about Kidd’s performance here.
Raymond Felton, PG 39 MIN | 3-10 FG | 2-6 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 4 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +11Shot poorly and ceded the evening’s playmaking responsibilities to Carmelo Anthony so in terms of offensive value, not so much. On the other end, was the main culprit in the stunning amount of space that Curry continued to have on pull-up threes, even as he registered heat check readings a couple degrees north of “Fires of Mount Doom.” Why did he play 39 minutes when he wasn’t being utilized in the offense and was overmatched in his attempt to check the Warriors sole offensive threat tonight? That’s a great question. But just at the moment when his matchup on Curry seemed most likely to give the game away, he came up with a vicious block on a long jumper and then a game-icing steal in the dying seconds. Waddle waddle. Woof woof.
Iman Shumpert, PG 22 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 6 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 2 PTS | +12Had some very clean looks on jumpers tonight and didn’t even come close to knocking them down. His dribble penetration looked good but his inability to finish confidently (aside from a nice roll off a pretty Eurostep on his lone make of the evening) rendered it largely moot. Now shooting 19% in his last 5 games and in real danger of dropping below 30% on the season. Needs to be put in position to be an impact defender to have value because he’s a weight around the neck of the offense right now.
Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 20 MIN | 6-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | -4Another night with a great FG% and a bad +/-. In isolated games that’s a pretty meaningless statistic but as a trend it certainly suggests some measure of defensive liability, an inference supported by the eye test on this night. Still, I’d say a little more good than bad for STAT.
Kenyon Martin, PF 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -10A 5 trillion with a -10 for K-Mart in his Knick debut. Actually liked what I saw from him on defense — he may prove our only option that combines iron in the low post with any kind of mobility, although that distinction likely says more about our motley crew of frontcourtsmen than about Kenyon himself. Let’s go with a cautiously optimistic B- here. I’m interested in seeing more.
Steve Novak, SF 9 MIN | 0-4 FG | 3-3 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | -7Hey look it’s like we always say about Novak, he can’t make any outside shots but you know he’ll always get to the line.Please stop getting beat on defense and then compounding the error with horribly lazy-looking recovery fouls.
Pablo Prigioni, PG 9 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | -7Played a little at the two tonight and hit an open three. I’d imagine that even the most ardent Felton supporters would have a hard time justifying the 80/20 split in minutes between he and Prigs.
J.R. Smith, SG 35 MIN | 10-19 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 26 PTS | +4As well as Melo played and as much as Chandler dominated the paint, Hurlin’ Earl brought this thing home. Shot 6 of 11 from deep on a night when the rest of the team (5 for 23) couldn’t establish much of an outside presence, had two late go-ahead makes, and turned it over only once on 21 used possessions in 35 minutes. Long live Good J.R.
James White, SG 1 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0The only noticeable thing he did was decline to put up a full-court heave at the end of the first quarter, presumably to protect his Field Goal Percentage. Pro tip, Flight: that’s gonna be the best look you get a lot of nights. Don’t be that guy.
Chris Copeland, SF DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | There was a role for him tonight. Didn’t love the DNP.
Mike WoodsonI don’t think there was much we could have done about Curry tonight but he really did have a lot of space on too many of those pull-up threes. It’s not like it should have been a surprise after about a quarter and a half of this one. I know he doesn’t like to cross-match but Curry is a particularly bad matchup for Felton and if the worst outcome of using Shump on Curry is that Harrison Barnes might torch us then I’m willing to take my chances at least for a little while. Minute management at the point also wasn’t great. Not a horrible night but if Curry makes one more three and JR misses one, he has some tough questions to answer in the post-game presser.

Four Things We Saw

  1. You basically have to be in open denial at this point to not feel like the Knicks’ postseason is going to end at the hands of a quick ballhandler. It’s nice to think that Shumpert will emerge as a panacea to our defensive woes but Woodson isn’t an idiot and the fact that after 2 months he still won’t use him on a player like Curry might be telling us something about how ready he is. I’m not taking anything away from Steph — he was absolutely sublime and would have gone off against basically any team in the world tonight — but the fact that we just concede that nights like this are the cost of doing business is a total bummer. It’s a point guard league and we can’t defend them.
  2. David Lee almost certainly swings this game if he’s not suspended — Golden State had absolutely zero inside presence on offense and were unable to hinder Chandler from controlling the glass on both ends. Given the decisiveness of those two factors, you would think Lee would have been worth at least the 4 point that made up the margin.
  3. It’s funny: we usually get a lot of iso-Melo in late game, hero-ball situations but it seems to me that the best time for it is actually right out of the gate. When he starts the game with an obvious mismatch — like he did tonight against Draymond Green or, more notably, a couple of weeks ago against Blake Griffin — a few strong drives and some physical post play can put an opposing player in quick foul trouble. I like iso-Melo early as long as we move away from it once the mismatch is corrected.
  4. Obviously Curry deserves more of a write-up but what is there to say, really? He just made all his shots. It was like Davidson’s Elite 8 run all over again. I watched the game with a Warriors’ fan friend who, about 5 three-pointers into this one, said without a hint of irony, “I’m really happy they chose him over Monta.” Crazy that it was ever a question and seems crazier by the day.

Raptors Meh, Knicks BLECHHHH. Plus/Minus Talk, Though!

Toronto Raptors 92 FinalRecap | Box Score 88 New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony, SF 41 MIN | 5-24 FG | 1-4 FT | 12 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 12 PTS | +5|BOOOOOOO!

Oddly enough, the Knicks actually — sorry you know what, hang on a minute.

BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

OK that’s better. Oddly enough, despite how awful Melo was in this game, the Knicks lost this game in the 11 possessions that saw Melo on the pine, possessions in which — as was pointed out by beat writer extraordinaire Chris Herring — the Knicks got absolutely lit. UP.

This provides us with an excellent opportunity to ignore the totality of Melo’s performance this evening — and really the whole game because, and I ask this with nothing but sincerity: WHY? — and conduct a case study on the merits and shortcomings of the +/- statistic in the NBA! Aren’t we LUCKY?

Indeed, it is tempting to write off Melo’s hideous 5/24 shooting performance, his assortment of blown finishes and not-even-close foul shots, his headstrong chuckery even as a couple of his teammates (Shouts to JR and Felton) improbably began to heat up. Tempting to write those things off and point to the +5 in his stat line and conclude that he provided the “intangibles” necessary to give the Knicks an “edge” (or some other similarly half-hearted excuse) and that they only failed when they were without him. BECAUSE they were without him.

This would, of course, be bullcrap.

Herring’s tidbit starts to tell the story — what killed the Knicks in the 9 possessions when Melo sat was their defense. Was Melo’s absence the reason for their defensive failings? Well, Melo was completely unable to contain Alan Anderson (!) tonight, had little to do with Rudy Gay’s 4-for-21 (props for that, somehow, go largely to Raymond Felton), and can point to only his 10 defensive rebounds as evidence of any contribution on that side of the ball.

So, although it’s obviously dangerous to put too fine a point on a any conclusions relating to a parallel universe where Melo played the 7 minutes that he did not actually play, we can probably infer that he would have been unlikely to have a significant positive impact on the Knicks’ defense on those 11 fateful possessions UNLESS second-chance points were a significant element of the Raptors’ offensive success therein.

Let’s go to the play-by-play or, as I like to call it, “The 11 Possessions You Meet in Hell”:

Possession 1: (Q2 11:36 Rudy Gay makes 1-foot dunk (Alan Anderson assists))
Possession 2: (Q2 10:47 John Lucas makes three point jumper (Rudy Gay assists))
Possession 3: (Q2 10:22 Rudy Gay makes two point shot)
Possession 4: (Q2 9:52 Alan Anderson makes driving dunk)
Possession 5: (Q2 9:18 Rudy Gay makes 6-foot two point shot)
Possession 6: (Q2 8:51 Alan Anderson misses layup)
Possession 7: (Q2 8:27 Rudy Gay misses 22-foot jumper)
Possession 8: (Q3 2:31 Rudy Gay misses 4-foot jumper, Amir Johnson offensive rebound, John Lucas makes three point jumper (Alan Anderson assists))
Possession 9: (Q3 1:49 Alan Anderson makes 25-foot three point jumper (DeMar DeRozan assists)
Possession 10: (Q3 1:15 Amir Johnson makes layup (Alan Anderson assists))
Possession 11: (Q3 0:12 Jason Kidd shooting foul (DeMar DeRozan draws the foul)
DeMar DeRozan makes free throw 1 of 2, DeMar DeRozan makes free throw 2 of 2)

First of all: Eesh. Tally it all up and that’s 21 points on 11 possessions (D-Efficiency of 190!), an absolutely stunning number under any circumstances but especially so given that the Raptors scored just 71 points in 87 possessions when Carmelo was on the court (D-Efficiency of 81.6 which, of course, would be historically great if sustained over even a few weeks).

So there’s our answer! Defense with Melo: great, Defense without Melo: terrible. Nice and clean. Except, wait, let’s look at how Toronto got those 21 points:

– 9 came on 3-pointers — two by Lucas and one by Anderson. Unlikely Melo would have done anything about Lucas’ and given how Anderson shot when Melo WAS guarding him, it’s unlikely he would have done much about that one either. Maybe he would’ve prevented Johnson’s offensive rebound but this was the only 2nd chance bucket Toronto had with Melo out.

– 2 came on free throws by DeRozan off of a Kidd foul. No reason to think Melo changes this.

– The remaining 10 came inside 12 feet. This last point is key because there’s one other thing about Toronto’s 11 offensive possessions without Melo on the court. Ready for it? Have you already guessed it?

Tyson Chandler was also on the bench for all 11 of those possessions. Amar’e Stoudemire was playing center on ALL 11 of those possessions. And Toronto had 5 makes from close range and a three off of a second chance opportunity.

I have generally been a supporter of using some Amare-at-the-5 lineups; frankly I don’t see another choice given the current complement of Knick injuries and the Prigs/Shump/STAT/shooters look has been mostly excellent on the offensive end. But tonight, the Knicks got burned for 11 possessions with Amar’e playing center and those burns proved fatal (and his 4/13 shooting performance did nothing to offset the disaster at the defensive end).

If Carmelo had been on the court for most or all of those possessions, the Knicks wouldn’t have won the game; Carmelo would simply have had a negative +/-.

Tyson Chandler, C 34 MIN | 4-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | +6|Anchored a very good defensive effort tonight. See Melo’s section: aside from 11 stray possessions when Tyson was on the bench, their defense was superhuman. Had some nice finishes as well, one reverse alley-oop finish off a ball screen in the second quarter stands out in particular.
Jason Kidd, PG 32 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +6|In. Visible.
Raymond Felton, PG 41 MIN | 3-9 FG | 10-12 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 16 PTS | +3|Ray’s been taking a beating on the defensive end lately and that beating has carried over into the world of Knicks’ social media. Woodson has insisted upon using him on quick point guards and they’ve torched him on the reg. Tonight he mostly guarded Rudy Gay, which sounds crazy. Gay went 4-for-21. Crazy like a fox? Or lucky like a duck? Or crazy like a bulldog? Or lucky like a Penguin? WOOF WOOF WADDLE WADDLE QUACK QUACK…FOX NOISE.Despite the team’s overall output, Ray ran the offense pretty gamely also. I think the Knicks’ shot selection tonight was better than it’s been in most of their games since the calendar turned.  They just couldn’t hit anything. Not the point guard’s fault  (except for his own 3/9 mark but even that was basically washed out by his 10/12 from the stripe). A nice performance on a crappy night.
Iman Shumpert, PG 21 MIN | 1-3 FG | 3-4 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -10|Hit the boards.  Defense was fine I guess, mostly had him chasing shooters off the ball again which is never my favorite.  Invisible on offense.
Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 18 MIN | 4-13 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | -13|The worst Knick tonight by a decent margin. As bad as Melo on offense and worse — and more critically so — on defense.

He’s been great the past month. He was terrible tonight.

Steve Novak, SF 12 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +2|Is it me or do we get him more shots on nights when he doesn’t have it than on night’s when he does? 9 points and 4 boards on 4 shots in 12 minutes which is awesome but on a night when we couldn’t buy a bucket by conventional measures why only 12 minutes? Why only 4 shots? Could’ve stood to give him a few of Carmelo’s FORTY-FRIGGING-ONE minutes, that’s for sure.
Pablo Prigioni, PG 7 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -7|Not much to go on tonight so I will just restate my disappointment that he won’t be in the Rookie/Sophomore Game where he could have a chance to psyche out one of his teenage opponents by telling him that he hooked up with his mom when she was on Spring Break in Buenos Aires in the late 80’s. The world is poorer.
J.R. Smith, SG 34 MIN | 8-17 FG | 5-8 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 26 PTS | -12|In the land of the low-percentage offense, the one-eyed Earl is King. Was so, so sure he was gonna get hot down the stretch and win us this one. Proved to be right on one of two counts, I suppose. I hate to say that anyone other than Melo should have been our first option in the dying minutes but he really didn’t have it at all tonight. Would’ve liked to see JR have a go.
James White, SG DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS || THREE DAYS TIL THE SLAM DUNK CONTEST!!!!
Mike Woodson |A pretty good grade for the potato man tonight. The offense created decent looks; Woody can’t make the shots. The defensive match-ups and schemes worked nicely; it ain’t Woody’s fault that we didn’t sign a back-up center under the age of 38. His team held the opposition to 42.5% shooting, turned it over only 11 times, had 20 (TWENTY!!!) offensive rebounds. Defense, discipline, effort — these were not the issues. Can’t pin this one on the coach. My one gripe was that we didn’t see more Novak on a night when he seemed to have it and the other forwards didn’t.

Five Things We Saw

  1. An abomination of a game before the eyes of our Benevolent Maker. Or, for the less religiously inclined, before the eyes of Bernard King which is really almost as bad.
  2. I mean what can you say? They really didn’t play THAT badly they just missed a TON of easy shots. I get that this isn’t a game that you can lose and feel good about yourself but this is not the kind of performance that we need to worry about in the long run. The things that went wrong tonight were weird and flukey. Deciding that tonight says anything damning about the team is tantamount to saying that a night where they hit 60% of their threes is proof that they’ll cruise to the Finals (and, yes, I know those people are out there).
  3. The timing here does kind of stink though. The Clipper loss was demoralizing enough but at least that happened against a contender. This happened against a lifeless Raps group that wasn’t even defending well and it happened on a day that sets us up for a week of “Are the Knicks Fading?!?!” stories which, while not entirely unreasonable in concept, will surely have all the incisive, analytical, measured gravitas of a frat boy getting kicked out of a bar at Mardi Gras.
  4. So this is the All-Star Break and we’re 32-18 after an 18-5 start. The glass-half-fullers among us will focus on the first two thirds of that sentence and the glass-half-emptiers on the last third. I think the biggest thing to take from the ups and downs of the Knicks season thus far is that they need their depth to be special. The sword hanging over this team since training camp has been its age and propensity for injuries and when they’re unable to field a complete wing rotation or a legitimate backup center, mistakes get made.  Worse, injuries and inconsistency mean that those able-bodied players that CAN be trusted get run into the ground, which leads to more injuries, which resets the cycle. This is a good basketball team and it should be applauded for playing passably throughout the season despite being forced into a number of different iterations. But it’s going to need its full complement of weapons — and it’s going to need those weapons back in time to get the rotation just right — if it’s going any deeper than the second round of the playoffs.
  5. Put me down for 51 wins and a First Round victory as I sit here tonight. I want to see the matchup and who’s healthy before I go any deeper than that.And with that, we can put the non-mathematical “First Half” of the season in the books, call it a success with some notable asterisks, and look forward to the most compelling homestretch in more than a decade.
  6. Don’t miss it.

Knicks 106, Hawks 104

Atlanta Hawks 104 FinalRecap | Box Score 106 New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony, SF 44 MIN | 15-28 FG | 3-3 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 42 PTS | -4

11 minutes into this one he was 0 for 4 from the field with a couple of boards and a turnover.  The Hawks will hereafter look upon that moment with kindness.  The rest of the way: 15 for 24, 9 for 11 from deep, 3 for 3 from the line, 40 points.  Thats 80% true shooting and a cartoonish 81.3% eFG.  Even his heat checks had heat checks, and the readings that came back ranged from “20 laps in an Olympic sized deep fryer” and “Ball of pure energy rolling down the cyanide hills of the Underworld.”  His 9 three-point makes tied a Knick record (we’re talking Toney Douglas territory here, people!) and he employed a quick first step, a gorgeous lefty handle, and a strong, confident finish in torching Josh Smith for the game-winning and-one.And yet, I came out of the game thoroughly uncertain about the grade I would give him.  He joined the majority of his teammates in a relatively disinterested defensive effort and, though the blame for this doesn’t all fall at his feet, the portion of the credit his defensive intensity received for the Knicks’ early-season success on that end suggests an equivalent and opposite effect when his defensive performance comes up short.  He took a technical in a brutal spot and while the trigger on it may have been a little quick, his habit of giving officials the opportunity to make such calls is troubling.  And while his outside shot was tremendous, his shot selection remained somewhat uneven.  His attempts consisted more heavily of catch-and-shoots than in recent games (partially attributable to strong showings from Felton and Prigioni) but had he made, say, 5 of his threes instead of 9, tonight’s game would fit in with the rest of his recent performances that have been criticized as much for his approach as for the results.

So, let us thrill in his hot hand and enjoy his sublime game-winning finish while at the same time realizing that one big-time performance does not solve all the issues that have recently plagued a sometimes disjointed offense.

Tyson Chandler, C 36 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +5

Reports after the game had him dealing with some neck pain throughout the duration, a diagnosis that matches his general inability to impact the goings-on. If the injury is the explanation then you can excuse an off-night but, judged purely on the merits, he was completely, utterly, and jarringly invisible. Atlanta got to the rim with ease en route to a 29-for-42 showing on two-point attempts and rebounded over a quarter of their misses. Take your pick between eyes and numbers: Chandler simply did not affect this game.

Jason Kidd, PG 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3

Decided not to write up this paragraph. Just feel like I need to rest. Either that or I have a shattered spine. I’ll let you know at a later date.

Raymond Felton, PG 38 MIN | 5-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 10 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 12 PTS | -1

More like it. Hit the Knicks’ first three shots of the game before settling in as a distributor. Here’s one of the evening’s more interesting stats: 8 of Felton’s 10 assists produced three-pointers — a number that makes sense in light of the Knicks’ general abandonment of the pick and roll in favor of a big helping of iso and a side order of drive-and-kick. This season has seemed to only have two kinds of games: the kind where it seems like we don’t have a point guard and the kind where it seems like we have too many point guards. This was the latter.Defensively, his lack of lateral quickness paired with Woodson’s continued insistence on matching him up against the other team’s point guard remains a particularly irritating problem. Keeping Felton away from the likes of Jeff Teague and his wing-ed high-tops seems to me a desirable goal and – against an opponent that played Kyle Korver for 41 minutes and the ghost of Devin Harris for 21 – a downright attainable one to boot. I’m coming to grips with the fact that the Coach must either disagree with that assessment or be torturing Felton as a way to exorcise some grudge (maybe he told him that Mrs. Potato Head tastes like Sour Cream and Onion chips?).

Either way that’s more on Woodson than Ray but you’ve gotta dock a guy a bit when he gets eaten alive and Teague dropped 27/6/5 on 9-for-15 tonight so there you have it.

Iman Shumpert, PG 19 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -4

After the Knicks announced pre-game that he was cleared to play, Shumpalumpagus Shumped his way to just 19 minutes, Shumping both of his three point attempts (an utterly delightful trend) and a couple of steals. Maybe Woodson’s trying to bring him back slowly by matching him on lesser offensive players (he mainly drew Korver, some Harris, zero Teague). Hardwood Paroxysm’s Jared Dubin waxed perplexed on Twitter, questioning the completely backwards decision to use of an excellent on-ball defender who has trouble with screens on a spot shooter like Korver. To paraphrase Joshua Lyman, I make it a point never to disagree with Jared when he’s right. Shump was good though and continues to show no ill effects of his knee injury.

Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 29 MIN | 6-9 FG | 6-8 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 18 PTS | 0

Amare’s play the last couple of weeks demands its own long post and I’m hoping I will have the time to write it this week. His offense has been excellent despite the Knicks’ stubborn ignorance of him as a pick and roll finisher. This evening he had his inside and mid-range game going, got to the line on the reg, killed it on the offensive glass.His defense — really not bad. He still has moments that display a baffling lack of awareness but his rotations have been sharper, his close-outs quicker, his work facing up ball-handlers more effective. Again, this needs a longer post. But if my range of expectations for Amare’s first month back was represented by a 1-10 scale, I’d say Amare’s at about a 14 so far.

Kurt Thomas, PF 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +8

The reaction among Knicks’ fans across cyberspace when Kurt checked in tonight was such that I compared him to a 500 pound bag of oranges in the “Godfather” movie of the Knicks’ season. Caught the ball twice on the right wing, maybe 18 feet out, and in each case look absolutely bewildered until such time as a teammate ran right over to him so that he could basically hand them the ball. Didn’t shoot, picked up a board and a steal and, somehow, led the Knicks in +/-. Ain’t the world a wonderful place?

Ronnie Brewer, SF 0 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0

Excluded from even Club Trillion due to the cruel vagaries of “rounding down” as applied to his minutes played. That crap is all political Ronnie, don’t let it get to you. I once tried to order a turkey club sandwich and got waitlisted.

Steve Novak, SF 13 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -1

*Spreads floor* *Collects paycheck* *Thumb!*

Pablo Prigioni, PG 10 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +3

Played an inspired stretch of second-quarter ball in which his full repertoire of skills as a playmaker were on full display and his OH-MY-GOD-I-HOPE-THIS-BUCKET-OF-SAND-PUTS-OUT-THIS-GREASE-FIRE!!! stroke was uncharacteristically pure. Also outplayed Felton in the all-important category of “attempting to at least vaguely hinder the guy that Shumpert should be guarding.” His one miss was a 90-foot heave that made NBA history by employing the exact same shooting form as his 18-footer. All in all, an effective stretch of point guard play and a rollicking good time.Naturally, he spent the rest of the game in the witness protection program. It was that kind of night in the floating city of New Woodsonia.

J.R. Smith, SG 37 MIN | 7-15 FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | 0

The final stat line is pretty garden-variety JR and that isn’t a long shot from what we saw on the court. Was nice to see him back on track after a 2-game stretch that included 3 heroic minutes amidst a trail of garbage scattered Hansel-and-Gretel-style across a few hundred miles of the Northeast Corridor. Way too iso-happy for some stretches (not sure how much is him and how much is Woodson but I could do without so many clear-outs for in big spots). Hit a big tie-breaking three from the left wing at around the 4 minute mark in the 4th quarter and then missed the rim completely on the next time down which pretty much conveys the experience.Starting to drift too much on defense and look for steals, a departure from some of the more disciplined defense that we’ve seen from him over the past few months. The secret’s out: we know the guy can play defense. He’s gotta keep doing it.

James White, SG 4 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +1

In a bold stroke, Woodson changed things up tonight by starting him in the second half instead of the first before marginalizing him. I wonder if he thinks JR Smith would get confused and lose control of his bodily functions or something if he didn’t spend 3 minutes on the bench getting his bearings before taking the court.20 days until the Slam Dunk Contest.

Mike Woodson

See below.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Iman Shumpert chasing Kyle Korver around screens and standing aimlessly in the general vicinity of Devin Harris while people who weren’t Iman Shumpert tried to guard Jeff Teague.  In other words, the same defensive strategy that allowed a career night for Jrue Holiday 24 hours prior in a game that I refuse to mention other than to make that point.  The Hawks scored 104 points in 86 possessions — an Offensive Rating of 120.9 for a team that averages 101.7 on the season.  Every team in the league knows they can get basically any mismatch they want by gently prodding the Knicks to switch.  They’re starting to exploit it.  Lets hope some adjustments are forthcoming.
  2. An ill-conceived, iso-heavy offense that was bailed out by an impossibly hot performance on threes, not simply from Carmelo Anthony but from the entire team (they shot 16 for 27).   106 points on 87 possessions for the ‘Bockers (121.8 O-Rating) is of course outstanding but that is entirely a product of their effectiveness from deep.  If you think the Knicks can keep producing good enough looks to hit half of their three-pointers or more, be happy with the way they played offense today.  If you think that a very good number like 40% is more realistic, dock 15 to 18 points from what they put up tonight and ask yourself how much you would like this offense on a non-hellfire kinda day.
  3. Tyson Chandler guarded Jeff Teague on the last play of the game, leaving no real help guarding the rim.  Iman Shumpert was on the bench despite the play coming out of a timeout and thus an opportunity to go offense/defense.  Draw your own conclusions.
  4. Tyson Chandler sat out the Knicks’ last offensive possession.  It’s possible that this was an accident, foisted on Woodson as a result of his aggravated neck (a new one, injury-description-wise).  It’s also possible that this was the result of a conscious decision by Woody and, if so, it was an extremely gutty one that may have won the Knicks the game.  Woodson went with a Melo/Novak/Amare front line and sat the latter two 20+ feet from the basket, completely emptying the lane and leaving no help behind Josh Smith.  If Melo beat Smoove off the dribble, the Knicks would win the game.  If Smith got the stop, the Knicks would have virtually no chance at an offensive rebound.  Melo made his move, finished clean, and took the harm to boot.  The possibility that Woodson conceived of this tactic, trusted his star, and stuck to his guns on it despite something of a dumpster-fire of a performance up to that point is worthy of commendation and saves him from a failing grade here.
  5. Make no mistake: this was a bad win.  The Knicks beat an inferior team at home by a narrow margin despite unsustainable shooting from distance.  The good news?  Bad wins are luxuries.  Only good teams can register bad wins because teams that aren’t good have to take what they can get.  I’ll take a bad win over a good loss any day.  I say this not to be unrelentingly negative (it was actually a fun game, if you check out my Twitter  I think it will be clear that I enjoyed a lot of it) but because the Knicks have an opportunity in the coming weeks — with a soft schedule and a healthy squad — to run off a whole bunch of wins and put themselves in a pretty killer position for the stretch run.  They are entirely capable of doing this.  But it won’t happen if they play like they did today.  This game was a wedding gift from a relative you don’t particularly like; this recap is a thank you card that I hope won’t make them think I want them to come visit any time soon.

The Cereal Bowl: Knicks 89, Celtics 86

Prologue: In Which Our Hero Suffers an Affront to His Honor and the Surreal becomes Commonplace

So it’s January 7th and you’re sitting in your living room waiting for the Knicks/Celtics game to start and all of a sudden tires screech and a horn honks and you step outside and there’s Doc Brown in the DeLorean and he’s telling you that you have to go back…back to the future.  Apparently something about a Notre Dame linebacker and a Twitter account and a presidential inauguration and a singer and a scandal and it doesn’t make a lot of sense but he’s Doc Brown and this has always kind of been a dream of yours so you hop in the car and you fast forward a couple weeks and you tell Ms. Knowles to just do it live (she’ll thank you) and tell Jeremy Schaap that most good journalism doesn’t occur on the side of a highway at 1 AM and decide this not-so-distant future suits you just fine so you’ll hang out.  You check the NBA schedule and hey, whaddya know, Knicks/Celtics in a couple days!  Just like the game you had been getting ready to watch!  So you trek up to Boston and scalp a ticket and as you’re entering the arena you see a security guard pat down a Celtics fan, notice some sort of contraband, and gruffly inform its bearer that he is not permitted to enter the arena unless he forfeits the object.  Intrigued, you crane your head to see what all the fuss is about and discover that the confiscated item is, quite unmistakably, a Value Size box of General Mills Honey Nut Cheerios.

You take a moment to appreciate what a batshit insane few weeks you’ve missed.

Had you waited just a few more hours before hopping in the DeLorean, you would have learned that Kevin Garnett – a Celtic who was already a few hundred leagues on the wrong side of  insufferable — implied, or maybe intimated, that he had conducted sufficient field research to conclude that Carmelo Anthony’s wife, LaLa Vasquez, would not look at all out of place with a picture of a cartoon bee and a heart-shaped “Will Lower Cholesterol” insignia stamped on her undergarments, if you catch my drift.*  Carmelo chose to interpret this as an insult rather than a compliment — understandable, IMO — and waited for Garnett near Boston’s team bus either to talk to him or to beat the living crap out of him but these are high-net-worth individuals so no less than 29 people were between the two players at any point and the situation was diffused without further incident.  Carmelo served a one-game suspension for forgetting where he parked his car (or a failed attempt at assault, your call), KG’s reputation as a “line-crosser” burned itself a little deeper into our collective psyche, and calendars were marked for the rematch.  Which brings us to today.

*You do.

Part the First: In Which Odds are Stacked against Our Band of Adventurers

If revenge is indeed a dish best served cold (like, say, leftover chicken) it stands to reason that it should have been served hot previously, preferably recently enough to preclude spoiling.  In the case of Melo and the Knicks, tonight’s task entailed the consumption of a dish that had been sitting in the back of the middle shelf of the fridge since November of 2006 when Steve Francis and Eddy Curry led the Knicks to a 101-77 win over the Celtics in Boston.

13 times since that evening had the Knicks gone to Boston and 13 straight times had they come home with a loss to show for their troubles.  And though the C’s entered this one having dropped four straight, as long as the scoresheet was populated by the names Pierce and Garnett and Rondo (the latter set to be guarded by former Harry Gallatin teammate Jason Kidd, no less!), memories weighed heavier than analysis and pits in many stomachs throughout Knickendom consumed much of the optimism and desire that typically characterizes a showdown with a hated rival who had only recently raised the stakes from “simmering disdain” to “deeply personal fist-through-the-wall rage.”

89% of the money in Vegas was placed on the Knicks minus 1.5.  I read this and threw up a little in my mouth.

Part the Second: In Which It Seems the Moment May Overwhelm Our Hero

We all have our ways of coping with anxiety, frustration, anger, and pressure.  We punch pillows.  We snap at our pets.  We overcompensate awkwardly.

Carmelo Anthony takes long jumpers.  And so it was tonight when he came out with successive misses from mid-range, converted a layup, and then fouled Brandon Bass and coughed the ball up on a bad pass on successive possessions.  All of this and a pair of rebounds to boot inside the games first 200 seconds.  Active, yes; precise, not so much; his wheels spinning a mile a minute but his transmission stuck in second gear.

His team took cues from its centerpiece, resulting in 12 minutes of the kind of offense you would expect if the players had watched the TNT pregame show together and each taken a long pull of Red Bull every time EJ, Kenny, and the gang referred to an All-Star selection as a “travesty.”  Hot potato shooting, seemingly random passing, little off-ball movement, few attempts to force defensive adjustments through penetration.

It was bad, but the effort on the boards was outstanding and the Celtics played just as tight and the Knicks actually carried a lead into the quarter’s last 90 seconds before a particularly uninspired game of Bad Cop / Bad Cop (with Melo and JR in the two lead roles) wasted the final three possessions and handed the Celtics easy points on the way back.  Still, even down by 4, the Knicks had weathered the Boston crowd’s initial volley, felt out a particularly hardassed officiating team, and lived to fight on.

Part the Third: In Which the Ranks of the Overlooked and the Forgotten Come to Our Hero’s Aid

It is possible — perhaps not likely but certainly possible — that this season’s most important three minutes to date occurred at the outset of the second quarter of tonight’s game.  I think most of us agree that Felton/Kidd/Melo/Chandler and someone else (here we have some differences of opinion but let’s put these aside for a moment) represent the Knicks best lineup, the one that should start games and probably close them.  But from 12:00 to 8:55 of the second quarter tonight, the Knicks may finally have found their second unit.

Out of the break, Woodson sent Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, Steve Novak, and Amare Stoudemire onto the court.  He instructed them to play zone defense.  He likely instructed them very little on offense — they were a distributor, a scoring wing, a lockdown defender, a sniper, and an athletic big with some range on his jumper; some gameplans write themselves.  The defensive alignment flummoxed Boston, which settled for two long three-point attempts by Jason Terry and missed a couple of layups — one attempted by Jared Sullinger and returned with some distaste by a positively rejuvenated (15 & 9 with 2 blocks, a team best +11) Stoudemire, in the midst of his best half in at least a year, maybe two.  The group sprinted out to an 11-2 run with Novak spacing the floor and everyone else contributing at least one bucket.

Though the Knicks would give the lead back several more times before the night was through, it did seem that those few minutes calmed them, reminded them that cohesiveness and balance had a better hope of carrying the day than hastiness and individualism.  Shumpert hit some threes (as important a variable as any to the team’s fate in the coming months), Melo and Amare co-piloted the offense as well as they ever have (oh, yeah, except for this variable.  This one is bigger), and the Knicks took a 50-48 lead to the half.

Part the Fourth: In Which Our Hero Claims that which is His

Tonight’s box score indicates that Jason Kidd made two three pointers.  This has caused me to edit the following sentence thusly:

“Jason Kidd hit about 14 exactly 2 HUGE three pointers tonight.”

The first of the two came at the beginning of the first quarter, brought the Knicks their first three points and came on the heels of three utterly inept offensive possessions.  The latter came at a similar juncture near the start of the third quarter, breaking a 7-2 Celtics run to open the second half and re-tying the game after Carmelo’s 0/3 start to the quarter had helped cough up the Knicks’ halftime lead.

From there, Carmelo pretty much took over.  You know that whole “The Knicks should really run more pick-and-roll with Melo on the ball and Chandler as the screener” thing that plenty of us smart folks have been saying all year?  Well, they tried it on four straight sets, all of which the Celtics countered by switching Jared (!) Sullinger (!!) onto Carmelo and which ended, respectively, layup, layup, non-shooting foul, Melo pull-up 26-foot three-point miss.*  Sullinger awoke from his nightmare but things kept going the Knicks’ way, with Tyson Chandler volleyball-spiking a Prigioni alley into the net for his first points of the game, somehow avoiding an injury ranging from “sprained wrist” to “gruesome death” when he crashed to the parquet, and making the free throw (a feat that would have been considerably more difficult had he perished moments prior) to boot.  Melo hit a pull-up.  Chandler got smacked in mid-oop by Jeff Green and made his free throws.  The Knicks led by 6 after three.  They looked to be in total control.

*Spot the one that doesn’t belong!

Enter JR Smith.

Part the Fifth: In Which Sancho Panza nearly Crashes the Team Bus right into the Damn Windmill

It has been my general impression since JR Smith’s arrival last season that he largely looks to Melo for inspiration.  It makes sense: he’s played off of him in two cities and the two have vaguely similar offensive skillsets though Melo’s is clearly superior.  This year, the dynamic has brought more good than bad — JR has played smarter and more in control, staying in line until needed and exhibiting a fearless desire to come through in big spots when asked.  Despite shooting numbers that are undeniably in decline in recent weeks, his acceptance of his place on the team has been a true pleasure to watch.

It was not on display tonight.

After a 1 for 9 showing in the game’s opening half, Smith stood to the side in the third, attempting nary a shot as cooler heads and steadier (on this night) hands built a semi-comfortable Knick lead, seized unmistakable control of the night’s affair, and neutralized a once-frenzied Boston crowd.  But the lid could only stay on so long.

50 seconds into the fourth quarter, Smith missed a three.

52 seconds later, he missed another.

At 9:15 he hacked a cutting Rondo.  At 7:33 he was whistled for a defensive 3 seconds violation.* At 7:18 he missed a long two.

*Note the juxtaposition: a wing first fouling a point guard and then conceding a technical free throw (gloriously clanked by Paul Pierce, by the by) for idling too long in the key.  “Defensive versatility” would, I suppose, be a euphemism.  “WTF” would be the more apt description.

For a while, Melo and friends kept things stable but eventually all aside from JR stopped, his teammates enraptured by the siren song of his bravado, sucked into his vortex of heave.  A blind-squirrel-finds-acorn make on a mid-ranger before the next two rimmed out, leaving him at 2 for 15 on the night.  And all the while the lead narrowed.  80-70.  82-76.  84-80.

Then at last, after a pair of Rondo free throws with 2:58 on the clock, 86-84.

We had seen this movie before.  The ending was as sad as it was immutable.  We held our loved ones close as Pierce readied his step-back jumper.  Celtics’ fans leaned in, smelling blood.  Kidd missed a three.  Amare hustled to the rebound but couldn’t control it.  The Celtics hurried the ball up court with 2:30 to play and the look of the executioner in their eyes.

Part the Sixth: In Which Hope

Rondo had an angle.  It was there only briefly and Chandler may have been able to cut it off, but for a fleeting moment before the Knicks defense set itself there was a path from Rondo to the rim at the end of which may have resided a game-tying layup or a shooting foul.  Wizard that he can at times be, the Celtics point guard is notoriously pass-happy and, though he scored 23 points in a triple-double tonight, one may wonder at his potential for greater devastation were he just that much more willing to take points when he sees them.*  Here, he pulled the ball back and the Celtics set up their half-court offense.

*Tonight’s most notable example of this came on a third-quarter 2-on-1 break that looked certain to end in an easy Rondo lay-in before he hesitated and elected to leave an alley-oop lob for an oncoming Brandon Bass.  JR Smith sniffed the maneuver out and slapped the ball to a waiting Carmelo Anthony at halfcourt who worked it ahead to Stoudemire for a slick finish in the paint.  A four-point swing that could have meant everything on this night.

At 2:25, Rondo lobs the ball to Paul Pierce 18 feet out on the left wing.  Pierce backs down Jason Kidd (forced into the mismatch by the Knicks hurried scramble to get back on defense), draws help from JR Smith, and dumps it back up top to Rondo who finds Avery Bradley in the right corner.  At this point, the Celtics motion has left the Knicks so disorganized that Bradley is left one-on-one with Stoudemire and takes him baseline.  Amare cuts his path to the rim off nicely, Garnett mugs would-be-helper Tyson Chandler, and Bradley elects (smartly) to reset the play again with 8 to shoot.  He hits Pierce up top and (again, smartly) makes a beeline for the left corner.  Stoudemire predictably doesn’t follow.  Pierce shakes Kidd with a ball fake and takes two steps to the top of the key, ready to lower the boom that we all knew was coming with a game-tying jumper.  JR Smith, forced to pick between guarding three Celtics, closes out on Pierce.

Pierce sees Smith coming and realizes that this means Ray Allen is wide open in the corner.  He kicks the ball out to Allen, who buries the corner three and puts the Celtics on top 87-86.

Except for one thing.  It’s not Allen.  It’s the aforementioned Avery Bradley.  And, you’re not going to believe this but stay with me here, he MISSES.  A Celtic, in Boston, with 2 minutes left and a chance to complete a comeback and force a Knick timeout so the crowd can go bonkers for 2 minutes while they sing Sweet Caroline or whatever annoying tradition they have in this arena.  And he MISSES the open shot.

I can’t speak for you but, for me, this was the moment when the first crack showed itself.  When the first bud of spring stuck its head up through the snow.  When we saw that the emperor, though not totally naked, was wearing some clothes that looked like they might be going a little bit out of style.  I wish I had the video of the play (if you have access to it and want to post it in the comments I’ll drop it in here and credit you happily) but if you can get it on your TiVo or wherever, freeze it when Bradley is in mid-air.  Watch every Celtics fan in the picture.  Watch every Knicks fan in the picture.  They’ve ALL seen this movie before.  Except it’s not the same movie and it doesn’t have the same actors and the shot hits back iron and Chandler controls the rebound and now it’s a basketball game with two minutes left on the clock and two teams who have learned that the normal rules have been suspended and whoever can get the best of the last few possessions is going to win.

Part the Seventh: In Which Redemption and Joy

On the ensuing possession, Carmelo picks up a loose-ball foul (his fourth).  Boston comes back the other way, Rondo sucks all the Knick help into the paint and kicks to Garnett for an open 15-footer.  It misses.  Rules suspended, indeed.  The Knicks walk the ball up court and have an utterly unimpressive offensive possession that starts with an iso-Melo that is easily shut down by Jeff Green and a doubling Rondo.  With 8 to shoot, Anthony realizes it ain’t happening and he sends it up top to Kidd who looks at it like its a pair of socks that just came out of the biggest box under the Christmas tree.  He quickly sends it to JR Smith on the right wing.

And JR Smith, 2 for 15 as he catches it, calmly bangs home a 24-foot three pointer right in Paul Pierce’s mug.  He raises a hand over his head.  Doc Rivers calls timeout.  TD Banknorth Garden is reduced to a whisper.  Somewhere, John Starks nods resolutely, a single tear rolling down his cheek.  “Be you, JR” he says.  “Be you.”

Then, just because, JR deflects a pass off of Pierce and out of bounds on the ensuing possession.  Melo misses.  Rondo makes (89-86).  Kidd misses.  13 seconds to play.  Celtics in-bounding in the frontcourt.  Lob to Garnett.  Hand-off to Rondo.  Pierce pops out.  Rondo rushes the pass.  Pierce bobbles and, sensing his moment, Earl Joseph Smith sticks his hand in, bothers the ball, forces Pierce to lunge and deflect the ball out of bounds, completing the greatest 3-for-16 game in NBA history.  It was as well as I’ve ever seen the Knicks defend a late-game inbounds play and they did it in Boston, to Paul Pierce, with stakes no less than a game inflated by hype and passion into something more than just one game.  I could talk about Anthony defending his pride, about the Knicks breaking a jinx that had hung over their heads for far too long, about the potential that this was, at last, the changing of the guard moment in the Atlantic Division.

I could talk about any of those things.  But I’ve talked enough.  And I’d rather show you the face that the Knicks made Paul Pierce make at the end of the night, the face that made tonight different from any other night the Knicks have spent in Boston for the better part of a decade:

 

All those years of Catholic School, I heard about the Promised Land.  A place called the “Land of Milk and Honey.” I should’ve guessed what made the milk taste that way.

Celtics 102, Knicks 96

Boston Celtics 102 Final
Recap | Box Score
96 New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony, SF 37 MIN | 6-26 FG | 4-7 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 20 PTS | 0

Bad. Two silly fouls early stopped the Knicks from capitalizing on a lackluster Celtics’ 1st and forced them to play a number of lineup combinations (Prigs/Brewer/Novak/Cope/Amare????) that I hope to never see again. When he got back on the floor he settled for far too many contested jumpers, missing 8 of his 10 fourth quarter shots and 20 of 26 overall. Worst of all, he let his pride and his beef with KG get in his head and, by extension, in the way of the Knicks salvaging a winnable game. Despite a couple bright spots, this was all that needed to change about Old Melo on display in one game.

Ronnie Brewer, SF 18 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 3 PTS | -1

Ronnie was fine. If the small lineup had gotten more run the Knicks may well have won this game.

Marcus Camby, C 10 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | 0

Not really sure why he’s starting, to be honest. If the whole point of not starting Amare is that we want to play Melo at the four, then starting a big who can’t do anything outside of the paint makes less than zero sense. He played well, grabbing 7 boards and blocking a shot in just 10 minutes, but was misutilized.

Tyson Chandler, C 41 MIN | 4-6 FG | 5-6 FT | 17 REB | 1 AST | 13 PTS | +9

Monster effort on the boards and as the roll man. Defensively, Boston spent the second half forcing him into a lot of switches that let them prey on lesser defenders and take advantage of the Knicks desire to keep Melo from fouling out. Hard to say Tyson was “bad” on that end — he’s never bad — but Boston did a good job limiting his effectiveness and he didn’t do anything superhuman to overcome it.

Jason Kidd, PG 33 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 8 PTS | +11

Really a very good performance by Kidd, if not on the statistical level of some of his recent output. Effective as a spot shooter and, as the primary beneficiary of the Rondo suspension, as a defender. Has begun to attack a bit more with Felton out which is a necessary evil; he’s not the finisher he once was and we want him camped out deep, but if he’s completely unwilling to drive then it’s hard for us to initiate much offense without #IsoMelo.

Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 28 MIN | 4-6 FG | 5-6 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 13 PTS | -15

Honestly I have no idea what grade he deserves. He scored 13 points on 6 FGA’s and no turnovers. So that’s awesome. He was also minus-19 and thoroughly played to the level that number suggests. So that’s not awesome.

Right now, Stoudemire is moving well, his shot seems to be finding its way back, and his burst is better than I remember it being since his first season as a Knick. On the other hand, his defense and his ability to move off the ball remain, to my eyes, something of a horror show. He switches onto anything that moves, seemingly unable to weigh, for instance, the relative import of covering an open Kevin Garnett 10 feet from the rim or doubling an already-guarded Avery Bradley 28 feet out. He can’t be relied upon to guard the rim, bad news when we have a center who is better than any other in the NBA at straying from the paint to help guard perimeter players. And on offense, his movement off the ball has just one goal: putting himself in whatever position maximizes the odds that he will score, regardless of the effect this has on the Knicks’ spacing.

Stoudemire played nearly the whole fourth quarter tonight as a visible negative on defense and, while efficient when given a chance to finish, not enough of an offensive factor that the Knicks made any effort to run plays for him. All of this left me and many others on Twitter wondering what exactly the point of it all was. Here was a player with a minutes limit that was openly disregarded for the purpose of — what? Providing significantly worse defense than Marcus Camby? Less floor spacing than Steve Novak? An ability to finish so well-honed that none of the team’s primary ballhandlers made any effort to get the ball into his hands?

The window is not shut on Amare getting back to being the kind of offensive force that can make him a borderline star despite defense that will never be a plus in and of itself. But until he’s there, we better figure out what he is and how to use him. Because this wasn’t it.

Steve Novak, SF 16 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 9 PTS | -5

Should have gotten a lot of Amare’s 4th quarter minutes tonight. His shot was going and he was extending the Boston wings enough to leave their smallish (other than KG) bigs isolated trying to contend with a rolling Chandler and a penetrating JR Smith. He’s not a worse defensive player than Stoudemire either; he’s easily beaten but he anchors to his man and doesn’t screw up the spacing.

Chris Copeland, SF 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -4

Nuh-uh.

Pablo Prigioni, PG 15 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -19

Bad twice as often as he’s good, it seems, and when he’s bad he. Is. BAD. And he was BAD tonight. 0 assists, 4 turnovers, and a silly foul in 15 minutes. Seriously would have planted his ass on the pine for the rest of the game after his unconscionable ball-kicking technical in the third quarter. On a night when the Knicks as a whole didn’t have a great grasp on their fee-fees, a 35-year-old whose decision-making is supposed to be his primary asset allowed himself to stand in as the symbol of their immaturity and petulence.

J.R. Smith, SG 39 MIN | 7-18 FG | 6-7 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 24 PTS | -4

If the last month is to be believed, JR Smith is:

1) The Knicks’ second best scorer.
2) The player the Knicks have increasingly gone to when their offense has begun to veer off the rails.
3) The Knicks’ primary peacemaker when emotions look ready to boil over.
4) An above-average defensive player (Yes. Really.) who can guard multiple positions.
5) The best point guard on the team under the age of 39.
6) Not markedly worse at anything than Latrell Sprewell was during his time in New York.

All of this is improbable. All of this is unexpected. All of this is true.

Rasheed Wallace, PF DNP SORE LEFT FOOT MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | PTS |

NOT. A MOMENT. TOO SOON.

Mike Woodson

Was he boxed into a corner by Melo’s foul trouble? Sure. Are the players largely to blame for their shot selection? Definitely. Should highly-paid professionals — to say nothing of adults — be trusted to deal with a little bit of pushback and physicality without losing their heads? Of course.

But you know what? I don’t care.

Broadly defined, a coach has three jobs. Game Preparation. Game Management. Motivation and Leadership. To my eyes, Woodson failed tonight on all three counts. The Knicks looked entirely unprepared for the kind of physicality the Celtics have only been known for since they traded Al Jefferson for Kevin Garnett. His lineups were baffling from wall-to-wall, starting with the decision to slide Melo from the 4 to the 3 to make room for Marcus Camby in the starting lineup and ending with his insistence on blowing STAT’s minute limit to smithereens to keep him on the court for the whole fourth quarter which I wouldn’t have much of a problem with if, you know, the Knicks weren’t a significantly better team with STAT on the bench right now. And the hot-headedness and immaturity on display in a game where, I hate to break it to you, most of the calls and breaks DID go the Knicks’ way, was inexcusable and part of a recurring pattern which, at some point, must fall at the feet of the coach.

This wasn’t all Woodson’s fault. But enough of it was.

Five Things We Saw

  1. This was a bad performance; a winnable game handed to an inferior team despite enjoying the lion’s share of the breaks and calls. The sense of entitlement that sometimes seems to take hold of this team has become the primary buzzkill in an otherwise wonderful half season.
  2. The Knicks exploded out of the gate this fall with a balanced small-ball offense that played to the strengths of everyone on the court and emphasized sharp passing, efficient shot selection, and low turnovers. When they’ve had anything resembling their full compliment of players, that formula has continued to work for them. When they’ve lost, they’ve lost by going away from those principles, focusing instead on isolation and employing big lineups that allow defenses to collapse on the rim and force the Knicks into pull-up jumpers and contested lay-ups. Carmelo Anthony is…wait, sorry, needs its own section…
  3. Carmelo Anthony is a power forward.
  4. This has been well-established. I don’t care if Amare plays the first minute, the 48th minute, the 19th minute, or any other minute. I only care that our best player plays the position that he is best at playing at that player is Carmelo Anthony and that position is power forward and every game that sees him playing most of his minutes at the three represents a significant tactical error.
  5. Tonight Mike Woodson started Marcus Camby at the 4, Carmelo Anthony at the 3, and brought Amare Stoudemire off the bench. In crunch time, he played Stoudemire at the 4 and Anthony at the 3 until the game was basically out of reach. This suggests that Mike Woodson is missing the entire point of the whole “Amare off the bench” thing. The point is NOT to make a statement to Amare that we don’t think he’s good enough to start. That’s actually the negative by-product that the Knicks have to stomach to achieve the ACTUAL point which is that Carmelo Anthony is our best player and the position that he is best at playing is the four and that our best player should play the position that he is best at playing for as many minutes as possible.

Roundtable: Return of the Stoudemire

With reports that Amare Stoudemire is returning to play in tonight’s game having completed their transformation from conjecture to rumor to consensus to confirmed reality, we here at KnickerBlogger decided to get together and collect some of our thoughts on the impact of STAT’s 2012-13 debut as well as our hopes and concerns for the weeks and months to follow. Here’s where we landed:

1) If you’re the coach, how do you use Amare in his first few games back (minutes, role, lineups, etc.)? How would you expect that to evolve throughout the remainder of the season?

Mike Kurylo: Coaches don’t like to lose games, and they’d sell their soul to end the night with another W. They are about as short sighted as a starving dog, with seemingly zero understanding of long term ramifications.

With ‘Sheed out, Amar’e is likely to see more minutes than he otherwise would have. Hey, if the game is on the line and you have the choice between Amar’e, Kurt, Copeland or Camby, that’s an easy call to make.

If it were me, I’d do it real slow, seeing which players he meshed best with and seeing how the other players have to change their game to accommodate him. But then again I don’t have to field questions from Berman & Isola.

Jim Cavan: Before the season began I remember saying that the one thing that could give Woodson good cover for bringing Amar’e off the bench was if the team went gangbusters out the gate. Which — to the amazement of all, I think it’s safe to say — is exactly what’s happened. The ‘Bockers being 21-8 basically gives Woody license to tell Stat, “look, I don’t care if you make $20 million a year or $20 an hour, we have something good going here, and we’re not going to let egos — any ego — fuck it up.”

I see Amar’e coming off to the tune of 20 or so minutes a game to start, with a gradual uptick thereafter. Sooner or later, that’s going to mean extended minutes on the floor with Melo and Chandler. But given a combination of improved roster familiarity, cohesiveness, and the kind of practice time that a lockout-shortened season simply didn’t allow, there’s no reason to think Woodson — who I think we can all agree has shown heretofore flashes of unseen creativity and flexibility — can’t figure out a way to get those guys to play together.

Robert Silverman: I’m coach? See guys, I knew that open letter to Dolan thingy would net me the gig sooner or later! Anyhoo, before the Knicks’ most recent spate of crippling day-to-day injuries (and of course, in Knickville, “Day-to-day” is a frightfully Orwellian turn of phrase that means anything and everything including: “Ceasing to be a sentient life form.”),I was prepared to concur wholeheartedly with Messrs. Kurylo, McElroy and Cavan; bring STAT off the bench, let him serve as the focal point of the second unit/play the Chandler role setting high screens with a spate of three point shooters to open the floor. Stoudemire has more talent than any “3 and D” player one might start ahead of him, but the pieces just fit better coming off the pine. It’s a big oversimplification, but think of it like Pizza and Ice Cream. They’re both great, but you wouldn’t want to put ice cream on your pizza. You would want Ice Cream after you’d had your pizza with some fudge and maybe some whipped cream. and some Jimmies and stuff. And now I feel fat.

But now? Gah. Assuming that Melo’s knee doesn’t resemble guacamole, I think Amar’e’ll be starting sooner rather than later. Brewer’s atrocious shooting this month has gummed up the offensive works already so there’s less potential downside of going with a more “traditional” STAT-Melo-Tyson-Kidd-Brew lineup. For now, I’d assume he gets something like 20 minutes a night, expanding to close to 30 by the time the roster has returned en masse from Lourdes.

Kevin McElroy: There are few things in the NBA that bother me more than a focus on labels over utility. I don’t really care who starts games and I only care marginally more who finishes them. What really matters is 1) maximizing the time your best players’ spend on the court and, even more than that, 2) maximizing the time your best lineups spend on the court. That second point is what makes the Amare issue complicated — Carmelo has been able to create high volume offense at a level of efficiency that should make the Knicks remiss to cut down on his shot attempts.

So the Knicks, as I see it, have three options 1) Play Amare and Carmelo together for a lot of minutes and give a big chunk of Carmelo’s shots to Amare. 2) Play Amare and Carmelo together for a lot of minutes and run a limited amount of plays for Amare or 3) Play Amare as much as possible when Carmelo is not on the court and let him be the first option when he’s out there. To me, 3 is easily the correct answer and if you figure Melo plays 35 minutes a game, then we’ve already found 13 where Amare can be top dog. Other than that, i probably look to have them playing together 10-12 minutes; I do this largely when Chandler is on the bench and let Amare play the 5. I understand this is defensively, er, non-ideal but it could work if Woodson tries to use it mostly when the opposition has limited offensive personnel on the floor. That way you preserve Melo’s role as a small ball four and have a dynamic, diverse offensive attack on the court when Chandler goes to the pine.


2) When and if Amare, Chandler, Melo, Camby, Kurt, Sheed, Copeland, Novak are all healthy, how do the frontcourt minutes shake out?

Mike Kurylo: HAHAHA all healthy. Using excel, I calculated the average age of these players as “Error #43: number too large.” There’s little chance that all will be healthy at once.

You don’t have to worry about ‘Melo or Chandler’s minutes, and Novak has a unique role to fill. Kurt, Copeland, and Camby already have end of the bench roles. Pretty much the two fighting for minutes will be Amar’e and ‘Sheed. If Stoudemire loses that battle, that could be a serious blow to his career in New York. Or America.

Jim Cavan: Assuming full health (While I’m at it, I’ll also assume waking up to a trillion dollars in my bank account tomorrow morning), I think it’s pretty clear that Camby and Sheed will be the odd ducks out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; they both give you different looks, with Sheed providing outside shooting, floor spacing, decent on-the-block D, serviceable rebounding, and a perpetual state of being three seconds from whipping a Bowie knife out of his sock, and Camby wielding better help defense and rebounding at both ends of the floor. Both have expressed their eagerness to fill whatever role needs filling, and to that end I see this less as a minutes drama waiting to happen than an embarrassment of riches — the good kind.

Robert Silverman: A week or so ago, friend-of-the-blog Ian Levy asked a murder of basketball scribes to cobble together an Xmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa/Chrimbus wish list for their respective team(s). I of course asked the gods to grant our noble, pious cagers a big ol’ gift basket filled with good health. Nice right? I could have asked for peace and goodwill towards man, too, but I figured I’d keep it simple. Alas, it seems like our wishes won’t be granted. And I didn’t get a pony or an E-Z Bake Oven either. This holiday season blows chunks.

What was the question again? Oh right, frontcourt minutes. Melo and Chandler get 34-36 a night. Amar’e gets 32 coming off the bench/starting (depending on how Question #1 shakes out), Novak/Cope are deployed when shooters are needed, and Sheed/Camby/Kurt get to roll when faced with a particularly beefy front line, like v. a full complement of T-Wolves or the Jazzmen of Utah or the bearish Grizzlies or the steak-headed Chicagoans–that sort of thing.

Kevin McElroy: 144 minutes for the three frontcourt positions and the Knicks go small frequently enough that plenty of those will go to JR and Brewer (let’s say 24, which is almost certainly low). Figuring that leaves 120 minutes for the 7 players mentioned above, start by knocking out 70 for Chandler and Melo. That leaves 50. I honestly see no role for Cope or Sheed when everyone’s healthy, they go to the end of the bench where they serve as high-end insurance policies. So 50 minutes for Amare, Novak and Sheed. Probably something like 25, 20, and 5 respectively, with Sheed’’s minutes having some upside in matchups where playing Amare at the 5 is especially terrifying.

3) How does Amare’s return affect the distribution of guard minutes and roles? Are there obvious synergies (or a lack thereof) between him and any of the guards that will or should affect the way the Knicks backcourt looks?

Mike Kurylo: I don’t see him affecting the guards, but the tail might wag the dog. One theory for STAT’s decline from Phoenix is a distributor problem. Assuming he’s coming off the bench, Amar’e might play minutes with all three points, and perhaps he makes beautiful music with one of them (Pablo, I’m looking at you). That could certainly affect Stoudemire’s minutes, if coach thinks that he’s more efficient with that one PG. Or better yet, if Amar’e doesn’t mesh well with a certain guard, that could keep him glued to the bench more than otherwise.

Jim Cavan: When the extent of Felton’s injury started cascading its way through the Twitterscape, my first thought — other than wondering what Delonte West was doing at that particular moment (I settled on “spending $50 in quarters trying to get the Celtics basketball out of the Denny’s claw machine”) — was how much Prigioni could benefit from having a dynamic roll-man of Amare’s caliber. Pablo has a clear fondness to the game’s staple set, and has found intermittent success with Chandler and Copeland in the season’s early going. Amar’e basically gives you the best of both P&R worlds; the pop threat of Copeland, and the devastating rolling thunder of Chandler. Obviously the Knicks going out and nabbing Felton had a lot to do with his and Amare’s 2010 chemistry, and to that end Felton’s sidelining couldn’t have been more ill-timed. Still, I think Pablo could provide something of a silver lining on this front.

Robert Silverman: Ideally, you want to make sure that STAT is paired with a good pick and roll point at all times. When Felton returns, that should be a relatively easy task — between Ray-Ray, Prigs, and even J.R, there’s always going to be a guard on the floor capable of playing to Amar’e’s skills. It’ll be interesting to see if his shooting percentage returns to a reasonable approximation of career norms. I’m way too lazy to go look up the splits, but if memory serves, the bulk of his brick-tastic awfulness last season came during the oh-so-horrid “Toney Douglas is a point guard/when’s Baron coming back” pre-Linsanity days.

Kevin McElroy: When Felton and Kidd are healthy their minutes shouldn’t be affected. I do think Prigs becomes a marginally better option with Amare as his roll man — his shooting ability should keep defenders from going under screens as much as they can with Chandler which favors a PG who would rather drive than shoot. I also think that if they use a small-ball lineup with Amare at the 5 for ten minutes a night, we’re likely to see an increase in sets that use Melo as the primary ballhandler and put an emphasis on floor-spacing spot-up shooters at the other positions. This is probably better news for Kidd than anyone else.


4) Assume Amare starts by coming off the bench and at some point a few weeks down the road blows up for a 35 & 10 game on 14/19 shooting. What do the ensuing 24 hours look like? Is this a good or bad thing for the team?

Mike Kurylo: The media will blow this up until everyone in the country knows about it. But as long as Woodson keeps firm with Amar’e is our 6th man, it shouldn’t be an issue. And yes I’m assuming the Knicks will be better with Amar’e not in the starting lineup.

Jim Cavan: If Woodson knows what’s good for him, he’d respond to any and all related media questions thusly: “J.R.’s had a few games like that coming off the bench, but I don’t remember all of you clamoring for him to start the next game. Stat played great tonight, no question about it. But until we figure out what roles and units and dynamics are best for our team, we’re going to stick with the game-plan that gives us the best chance to win.”

Just because it’s full of platitudes don’t make it untrue. The Knicks shouldn’t necessarily look at Amar’e averaging 25 and 10 over ten games coming off the bench as a sign he should start; they should look at it as “Holy shit, we have the best sixth and seventh man combo in the NBA.” That doesn’t mean improved synergy and circumstances won’t eventually render Amar’e starting the smart move; just that it shouldn’t happen after one tour de force performance.

Kevin McElroy: I like Jim’s answer here and don’t have a ton to add. Everyone has just kind of always assumed that Amare would maybe have a problem with coming off the bench but the guy has been a pretty steadfast team-first player since he got here (fire extinguisher haymaker notwithstanding) and I think he has earned the benefit of the doubt on this if nothing else.

Robert Silverman: For the first time since Jeff Van Gundy was guzzling Diet Coke in the halls of the Garden, I actually trust a Knick coach to do a good job handling the delicate parsing out of minutes (which is, like many other things, not something I assumed of Coach Son of Wood before the season started). It’ll be a media clusterfudge no matter what — this is New York, people, and since the 4th estate has been waiting like a throng of starved, feral, rabid, frothing jackals to pounce on this story even when Amar’e was de-debridlementing, I can’t imagine that they’ll put away the sharp knives now that he’s (knock on every object even vaguely resembling wood) healthy. The “START STAT, STAT!” headlines are coming (PS – You’re welcome, Tabloid headline writers. That one’s a freebie). Might as well start girding our collective loins now.

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5) The Knicks are cloned and their two manifestations face off tomorrow. One team is forced to play a healthy Amare at least 30 minutes. The other team is not permitted to play him at all. Which team wins?

Mike Kurylo: Not fair. I haven’t seen such a black & white view on something since the NRA’s last public statement. So I have to choose between Amar’e for 30 minutes or none at all to make a statement about him? Look he has the potential to help this team as a scorer off the bench. One of the point guards should be able to bring the best out of him. The Knicks have done well going small, so he can play center as well. Surely he’s better than that handful of ancient big men that are a twisted ankle away from retirement.

So I’ll take 30 minutes a game. But I’m still pissed off that I had to chose just one or the other. I think 20-25 minutes a night would be best for him & the team. You bastich.

Jim Cavan: Can I have Amar’e for 20 minutes and a pretzel with cheese sauce instead? Look, to win a title in this league, you need depth. All this kvetching (and I’m guilty of it just as much as the next person) about what’s going to happen when Amar’e comes back and will the whole show screech to a halt and I think my cat pissed on my Knicks slippers it smells like an ammonia factory in here completely misses the greater point about winning in the NBA: You need depth. And you only have too much depth if the egos become too much.

I for one am genuinely excited for the return of Stat and Shump. There may indeed be early growing pains to traverse, but there’s no question — to my mind, anyway — that we’ll be better off in the long run, particularly as the grit and grind of the schedule inevitably morphs having depth from luxury to borderline necessity.

Robert Silverman: What is wrong with you people? If we clone the Knicks, Melo 1 is going to get into a colossal ego slap fight with Melo 2 over who’s better, J.R. 1 and J.R. 2 are both going to be “Bad J.R.” (if you had said, split J.R. into his good and bad attributes so the evil one doesn’t have a goatee, like in the Star Trek episode/South Park parody, I might have been behind this demented venture into super science), and decide to skip the game entirely and go paint the town red together, Tyson 1 and Tyson 2 would just stand at center court, glowering, frozen with immesaurable levels of red-hot rage/intensity, and on and on. This is evil, pure concentrated evil and I, for one, won’t be a part of it. Good day, Sir. I SAID GOOD DAY.

Kevin McElroy: I wouldn’t have designed the question this way if the answer was easy, gentlemen. I agree that 20-25 minutes is his sweet spot to start out but what I’m really interested in is whether the Knicks are a better team with him on the court or off. And the quantitative evidence suggests “off” and does so fairly resoundingly. Last year the Knicks ran -1.6 per 48 minutes with Amare on the court and +8.2 with him off. There’s a chicken and egg issue that comes with that statistic (Amare was hurt for some of the Knicks best stretches which either 1) biases his number downward or 2) explains why those were their best stretches) but it’s hard to ignore completely.

Right now the Knicks are generating 20-25 shots a game for Melo with extremely low turnovers, getting Chandler the right number of pick-and-roll finishes, and filling in the blanks with a blend of spot-up threes and guard penetration (mostly Felton and JR). If we’re getting career-average Amare (.596 TS%) he can replace some of that (mostly the guard penetration, especially with Felton out) with post-ups and face-ups and mid-range jumpers and (most importantly, perhaps) free throws in a way that replaces less efficient shots with more efficient shots and leaves the rest of the gang with less of a burden to carry. However, if we’re getting last year’s Amare (.541 TS%; lower than the Knicks’ team number this year) and forcing the ball to him because his name is Amare Stoudemire, his ability to positively impact the offense becomes a whole lot less clear. And that’s just the offensive side of the ball — anything we’re losing on the defensive end with him in the game over Camby, Kurt, Sheed, etc. still has to be applied as an offset.

Basically I love the idea of having Amare as another option that Woodson can go to if we need scoring punch. I love that the days of Raymond Felton taking 20 shots a night are probably over (even once he’s back). I like having a big that can pull his defender away from the rim and create more space for penetration. But at 30 minutes a night, I’m not sure his incremental value to the Knicks offense will offset the negative effect he’d have on the defensive end. I think the (otherwise health) team with 0 Amare minutes beats the team with 30+ probably 6 out of 10 times.