Well, that wasn’t what I expected exactly. It was indeed a fun game overall, but there were two notable injuries to David Lee’s back and Stromile Swift’s ankel and a lot of sloppy stuff- notably traveling and offensive fouls- on the way, and it appears that the early reports of Josh Boone being ready to go were a bit premature. He was badly missed tonight. The Knicks did a bit better in some areas than you would expect, including outrebounding the Nets overall and on the offensive side; the Nets did a bit worse, 17 ugly turnovers being the most notable bit. But the major story of this one has to be the way Mike D’Antoni gameplanned for this contest and two major choices he made which did as much as anything to tip this one the Knicks’ way.
Most importantly, the Knicks did a brilliant job defending Devin Harris. He finished with 32 points on 12-22 shooting and 7 assists which doesn’t look too bad, but he had started 6 for his first 6 before the Knicks made adjustments and thereafter he went 6-16, committed 5 turnovers and was clearly rattled and pressing in the 4th quarter. The job the Knicks did on him and Carter seemed to unsettle the Nets’ entire offense enough to gum up the works a bit and, in concert with D’Antoni’s other move on offense, give the Knicks the advantages they needed. The way the Knicks did it from the second quarter on was mostly by allowing Chris Duhon, and for short stretches Wilson Chandler to guard Harris one on one in an advanced close position taking away his jumper which was working in the first quarter, and daring him to drive past the first man. When he did so, which was not easy against either defender despite their positioning, he usually ran into a wall of Knick forwards looking to take charges against him, which forced him time and again to peel off often at awkward angles and throw passes which didn’t really break down the defense. He finished with 5 fouls and took only 6 free throws, and spent the 4th quarter throwing up quick, off-balance jumpers which were never a good idea. The Knicks deserve credit for their excellent rotations, and D’Antoni deserves credit for switching to this strategy when the initial one of daring Harris to shoot failed.
The other big choice was that, partly by intent and partly because of David Lee’s injury, the Knicks didn’t run too much pick and roll tonight as compared to their usual volume. Instead there was a lot more individual play against a man look and quick ball movement against the zone which allowed the Knicks to isolate their forwards against the Nets’ (and occasionally the guards on switches), and run wild. Remember when the Hawks did this to the Knicks? What goes around comes around, and the result here was that the defensive issues of many Nets forwards was badly exposed, especially when Brook Lopez (4 blocks) was out of the game. The signal moment was when, in the 4th, the Nets put Vince Carter on Al Harrington after the 3rd or 4th forward had failed to guard him and Carter did a better job than anyone else. Several Knicks forwards ran absolutely wild: Al Harrington had 39 on 11-21 shooting, and saw the line 16 times as a long succession of Nets forwards- Yi, Anderson, Williams, etc.- could only foul him as he blew past; Wilson Chandler had a great bounce-back performance and put up 24 on 10-12 shooting; and Tim Thomas had 26 off the bench on 8-12 shooting. All three made some good tough shots, but a huge amount of this was the Knicks hitting ridiculously open looks because of bad Nets rotation and over-biting on moves, as well as the Knicks’ forwards simply being athletically superior to the Nets’ and more skilled offensively than their counterparts were defensively. That, combined with the layered defense on Harris and Carter, is what produced the enormous free throw disparity: 10-17 for the Nets, 32-35 for the Knicks.
Next up for the Knicks is away to Sacramento on Saturday; for the Nets, home Friday against Toronto.
– Wilson Chandler was awesome tonight, one night after a real nightmare in Chicago. His offense was noted above, but he should also be singled out for his defense on Devin Harris in short stretches which was shockingly good for a small forward guarding one of the fastest points in the league; it was his work in the second quarter which seemed to begin to turn the tide against Harris after his strong first quarter. We may have something here.
– The one issue that cropped up for the Knicks defensively is one that’s been seen before, a tendency to lose shooting bigs in transition. Something to keep an eye on.
– Brook Lopez had a pretty good game tonight. A few stupid turnovers and a few hiccups early against the screen/roll, but for the most part he was defensively strong and active despite his reputation. And prior to David Lee’s injury, he kind of ate Lee’s lunch holding him to a single board in 24 minutes while Lee mostly got his points due to the failure of other Nets to rotate. I’m not entirely clear why Lopez spent the 4th riveted to the bench, unless the turnovers just got to Frank.
– The Knicks did a good job taking advantage of mismatches while playing their bizarre big man Jefferies-Thomas-Lee-Chandler-Richardson lineup, until the Nets countered with zone.
– Something really has to give with the Knicks’ roster. Lee is now hurt, Mobley is retiring without ever having played a game for the team, Roberson is clearly not regarded as an option, Marbury’s done, Nate’s still hurt, and no one wants to see Malik Rose or Jerome James. The team’s got until Saturday to sort this out, but there’s simply no way they can play many more games with 6 or 7 players they trust to actually see the floor, especially if some of those like Lee and Duhon are nursing injuries.
– This game highlighted what Josh Boone can do for the Nets, in terms of giving them another option on the screen/roll offensively where Boone excells Lopez and no one else runs it too much, and defensively where, while he’s not overwhelming, he can certainly do a better job than Yi. He wouldn’t have stopped Harrington tonight, but he probably could have slowed him a little which might have made a difference.
Knick of the Game: Al Harrington, who was just unstoppable on offense.
Net of the Game: Vince Carter, who shot well, boarded, ran the offense at times and was the only guy to even slow Harrington down.
Man of the Match: Harrington. It’s not often you see a player run rampant like that, especially one not considered a “star.”
That said, the most important factor in this one was Mike D’Antoni. Been a long time since the Knicks had a real coach.
Devin Harris named EC player of the week. Well done, sir!
Well, I’m an idiot. I wrote a bunch of bullet points during the third and early fourth quarters, before the Nets became AWESOME CONQUERORS. Somehow, I failed to anticipate them following an 18 point quarter with a 43 point quarter. Here are those, rest of the thoughts to follow:
– Shaq looked moderately better tonight than he did against the Heat, but the only real reason for the difference was Steve Nash, who unlike apparently everyone else on the Suns roster can throw a decent entry pass. The Nets defended the big man the same way the Heat did, largely fronting him with Brook Lopez. They did send double teams much more quickly than the Heat did because Shaq was getting more touches in decent positions.
– Bobby Simmons was covered for large chunks of time by Steve Nash, which is a PG renowned for bad defense trying to guard a big small forward. Simmons’ final line: 24 MP, 2-8, 1-5 from 3. 5 points. I believe he only posted Nash up once or twice, which is not a good sign; neither is that Lawrence Frank was the one to move away from the mismatch, pulling Simmons for Jarvis Hayes.
– Yi Jianlian vs. Ryan Anderson is an interesting contrast to watch on the court. If you want to understand the term “basketball IQ”, and why it can’t really be taught, watch this pair for a game or two. Anderson has good anticipation and is a pesky, ball-slapping defender without gambling excessively. He moves well on the court especially without the ball, sensing where to be in order to give the ball the option to move to him, and his athleticism is good enough for his shot to make him a threat. Yi, meanwhile…well, some men you just can’t reach. There was a stretch of this game in the first half when, in a span of 4 minutes, he managed to botch two handoffs, wildly overpersue several non-shooters on the perimeter and collide with his own man trying to defend a screen/roll. All night he would ball watch and pay no attention to his man when his man was moving without the rock, and that man was AMARE STOUDEMIRE. This led to several colossal dunks, as did Yi’s habit of alternating between charging the man and getting blown past on the dribble, and laying 6 feet off and watching an easy jumper go it. Oh, and on one play in the 4th quarter he misjudged a screen/roll so badly that he, zealously closing down the man setting the pick, was whistled for a foul when he wildly swung his hands into the ball carrier who he was totally oblivious to. I recognize Stoudemire is as hard a man to guard as there is in the league, but this was still tragic stuff. He’s twice the athlete Anderson is and almost as good a shooter, but he’s just not got an intuitive understanding of the game.
– It’s also worth noting that Anderson had a crappy shooting night (4-10, 04 from 3), but never let that effect the effort he put out in other aspects of the game. That sounds like a little thing, but for a lot of guys and most rookies it’s rare. Brook Lopez has been the same way.
– Lopez twins guarding each other: high comedy. They were going at each other in the exact manner you would imagine they did as kids in the driveway, with about twice as much energy and thrashing about as the standard cagey, coiled-spring NBA matchup. These two desperately trying to dunk on each other was the easy highpoint of the game.
The real story of the night ended up being Devin Harris, however. 47 points in 41 minutes, 14/25 from the field, 17/17 from the line, 2/3 from beyond the arc, 7 boards, 8 assists, only 4 turnovers, and he ended his post-game interview with “Thundercats, hoooooo!” This is a great, great man. He’s totally come into his own this year, putting up a PER of 26 and change over a previous career high of 17ish, and a huge part of that is a TS% of 60.2% over two previous years at just about 57. He still has excellent quickness and ability to draw contact, but he’s also got far more confidence in his jumper which makes him truly deadly. Throw in that he’s slashed his turnover rate while using far more possessions than ever before and you have a guy whose individual play is suddenly at an elite level. When you take those numbers in the context of the way he’s made the Nets his team, and the way he carries them in games like this, and you start to realize that he’s in the process of making the leap from good sideman to potential franchise player. If this is truly his new performance level, he’s probably one of the 5 best points in the league.
Oh, and he’s signed for a good contract for the next 4 seasons after this one. And the Mavs still owe the Nets an unprotected first from the deal which brought him to town. And the Nets, in their rebuilding year, are above .500 (for the moment). Not. Too Shabby.