As is I hope obvious I hate chasing down rumors, but this one bears comment: the odds of this happening are slim, and if they do it’s a measure of how defeated this club is. Vieira is a legend; but more often than not the definition of a legend is someone who has-done instead of is-doing and that label fits old Patrick to a T. Vieira is not what he was; he’s a 33 year old cast-off from a second-rate league who’s not good enough for Inter and Mourinho and hasn’t played a full healthy year in league play since ’05-’06, and even in that year the blogs were full of laughing comment at his expense when Cesc nutmegged him in the center of the pitch during Champions League play. It’s inconceivable that a 33 year old who was subject to breaking down and looking off the pace in Serie fuckin’ A will be able to keep up with top-level Premier League midfielders. What’s more he’d be a former Arsenal captain coming in to a team which already has a former captain and a current captain on the roster, neither of whom are the team’s best player and all of whom have uncertain futures at the club depending on results. It’s a recipe for dissension and disaster, and if the team goes 3 games without a win at any time this year you could put money on things like “the press will ask Patrick about the things William said about Cesc and Andrey” and wind up rich.
Bluntly put, bringing Viera back is most likely a PR move designed to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy and hopefully distract the anxious. It’s cynical. And if it’s not- if this is really the best idea the people in charge have for the defensive midfielder role- then it’s simply embarrassing. It’s admitting that after getting rid of Vieira 5 years ago and winning nothing at all in the interim without him and never adequately replacing his role on anything more than an intermittent basis despite trying out probably 10 different players for it, you’re bringing back the old and worn out version of the man to try and recapture something long lost, and do so on the cheap. It’s like dating that girl who you ran around with back in high school when you’re 35, because both of you got fat and ugly and no one else would have you, and you know you don’t have to do much but talk about old times to impress her. Have some self-respect.
I hate to belabor the old analogy, but it still fits: one of the points where I realized the current hierarchy in charge of the Knicks was actually serious was when they told Patrick Ewing to politely fuck off when he inquired about their coaching vacancy. Ewing is every bit as much a Knicks legend as Vieira is an Arsenal legend; I would rate #33 the second greatest Knick of all behind Clyde Frazier and he’s one of only 8 players in team history to have their number retired, and a poll of Arsenal fans some years back had Vieira at #5 among the greatest Gunners. But the Knicks would not have Patrick back, because bluntly put: he wasn’t good enough, and they were not fucking around any more. The team was going to be bad anyway and they could have had their Patrick in as a sop to fans and a nice PR move, a warm gesture to the past; instead, they went out of their way to make a serious investment as an organization in Mike D’antoni, one of the best coaches in the entire league. If Arsenal go for Vieira instead of any number of other options literally world-wide for the same position, I take exactly the same lesson in reverse. The best defenses I’ve seen of a Vieira move so far have been “if it’s him or nothing, better him”, and maybe that’s true (or maybe it’s not if he proves disruptive). But the point remains: this is not a move you make if you’re not fucking around anymore. A serious club does not make their fans wonder if it’s this or nothing, after 5 years of waiting.
No, I’m not dead. I had a planned holiday posting break which was interrupted by Arsenal being Arsenal, and there was supposed to be a long post on that team and its situation up last week which got shitcanned because I read it back and realized it was probably more depressed and depressing than was warranted. As is probably clear, they’re slowly driving me mad. Still, you know what they say: when sports depress you and life hands you lemons, throw them at the Knicks.
I’m not sure if I’m getting back to watch them at a good time or not. On the one hand, I’m glad I didn’t write much during that ugly six game losing streak; on the other hand, I’m back in time for the season debut of Eddy Curry. More on him below. For this game alone, oddly, I think both teams can be relatively happy with the result and this certainly wasn’t a bad performance by the Knicks. The best elements were that they managed to go to a good team’s home floor and play their game more or less, and lead most of the way until things melted down latish; they also put on a fine defensive performance in using a variety of double teams, semi-zones and strange matchups in order to frustrate Jason Kidd for stretches and Dirk Nowitzki for almost the whole of the game. More on that below as well. The take away for the future is hopefully some greater confidence on that half of the floor; it’s not exactly easy to comprehensively clown a former MVP like that. many of the other indicators were good as well: this one was a jump shooting contest for much of the way, and the Knicks simply got outshot late, had a few bad turnovers from young players like Wilson Chandler, and gave up a few too many free throws. Sometimes that’ll happen; and the team really deserves credit for even making it that sort of game. They essentially battled Dallas to a deadlock on rebounding (+1, +1 on the offensive end) and turnovers (-2), and given that they trail Dallas by 20 places in team rebounding rate and 16 in turnovers per game, that’s an achievement. With a youngish team like the Knicks which is still adjusting to a new coach/system/teammates, it’s those kind of indicators which I like to see- at least in theory, as they adjust and grow more comfortable their season-to-date stats should lag their current ability somewhat. When you find that, it’s reason to feel that team is on an upswing even if it’s not exactly reflected yet in results or an easy progressive relationship.
– The refs are not the reason the Knicks lost this game. Let’s get that said. They were, however, utterly balls on this night. The highlights included a variety of uncalled bodychecks including a notable one in the second half on David Lee; Nate Robinson getting away with some real flopping; a very odd traveling call on Lee where he was tied up, and the only possible legit calls were either a foul or jumpball; and worst of all a bizarre non-call of goaltending on a Wilson Chandler fingeroll thing which probably fell a good foot before it was touched. This was a very, very bad night for a Dick Bavetta crew, and the only visible repercussions for anyone resulting from this was a technical on Mike D’Antoni for a justifiable exercise in vituperation. Stuff like this drives fans nuts. It wasn’t biased, it was just flagrantly bad work.
– The Knicks did a variety of fun things on defense. The constant denial of the ball to Nowitzki with instant doubles and such was pretty standard, but they threw in a clevar wrinkle of putting Jared Jefferies on Jason Kidd at times, baiting him into the pass to Dirk to exploit a mismatch, instantly doubling Jefferies to Dirk, and daring Kidd to shoot. Ason picked it up late, but for most fo the first half he was a brick factory, and the strategy looked pretty clever. It’s basically a gimmick that won’t work in many cases, but it’s one of those things to keep in mind when you hear people say that Mike D’Antoni can’t or won’t coach defense.
– The Knicks also seemed to be playing some of that floating crypto-zone they employ at times, but changing it slightly to sag a lot of guys into the paint. Dallas are not a great shooting team (24th in 3pt%, 17th in TS%), and I’m assuming this was a deliberate tactic to bait Dallas into mediocre shots and equalize the rebounding numbers. It worked.
– Speaking of Nowitzki, ye gods. 38 MPs, 3-13, 10 points, 7 boards, 7 assists, -1 by Yahoo’s boxscore. If anything this gives him too much credit, as he was utterly invisable until the 4th quarter.
– It is, however, a very good sign for Dallas that so many of their lesser lights stepped up in this game- in particular James Singleton (8 boards, good D) and Brandon Bass (12 points, 11 boards/5 offensive, 4 blocks). Bass is having a bit of a down year statistically, but he looked as good as I’ve ever seen him tonight. Yes, it’s against the Knicks, but still.
– So, what about Eddy Cameo? Well, he’s still huge and slow, but he did seem to be giving much much more effort than he did at almost any point of last season which can only be a good thing. Offensively he looked good on his only shot, nimbly stepping out to catch and entry lob and quickly turning for a lay in. Defensively… lord have mercy. He’s obviously still not got all of his lift back (your joke goes here) and he was trying so I don’t want to hammer him too hard, but that was ROUGH. Yahoo has him at -9, the second worst figure on the team for the game in 2:38 of PT, and a decent Knicks lead totally evaporated while he was out there. He’s very slow to rotate, guys blow past him, and he can’t get up to challenge shots at all, none of which is new, but this was bad even by his previous standards. Time will tell what he can do with both motivation and working knees, we hope anyway.
– The first shot of the game was a David Lee jumper from the baseline about 4 seconds gone. It missed. 82 games has him taking 30% of his shots as Js with a 33 eFG%. I love big Dave and all, but this is no buys.
Knick of the Game: David Lee
Man of the Match: Brandon Bass
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.