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.
Oh, what a game this was. I’ve been on basketball backlog between all the Arsenal silliness and the huge fight last weekend, so I ended up catching up on the Pistons game before this one. Big contrast. This wasn’t really a bad Knicks performance beyond the heinous shooting figures (42% from the field, 6-28 from 3), but between both teams bricking it up in the first half, some very odd lineup choices producing weird mismatches and 14 TOs for each team this one had a very ragged feel to it. It wasn’t quite a pickup game vibe, but there were a ton of tipped passes, stripped and tipped rebounds, travels, double dribbles, guys left completely open, scrambles on the court and general sloppiness that doesn’t quite all come through on the boxscore. It was fitting that neither team ever had much of a lead and the final score was so close, since the teams seemed to mirror each other so well on the court and are within a game of each other in record. Not much to analyse on a macro level in this one: the Knicks play a high variability 3 ball oriented style which sometimes pays dividends as in the Detroit game where they went 12-24, and sometimes produces stinkers like this one. The effort of every player was still very good, so not much to say but better luck next time, guys.
– Aaron Gray. I remember when he was Bill Wennington, and Will Perdue, and Luc Longley. Is there a league bylaw requiring the Bulls to have one of these guys on the roster at all times? And why on earth did he start the game and the second half, only to be pulled after 5 minutes or so in each case never to return, having contributed almost nothing? His final line: 10 MP, 6 points (3-4), 3 boards, 2 TOs, 3 fouls. The Knicks started their usual 5 and Vinny Del Negro seemed astonished that somehow Gray couldn’t lumber after any of those guys fast enough to make a difference on defense or credibly defend the screen/roll. Not a good sign about Chicago’s coaching.
– At one point the Knicks had a lineup of Jefferies-Thomas-Harrington-Chandler-Qrich out there to rest Duhon (45 MP). Anthony Roberson had to just feel awful at that point, but bless him, he was leading the cheers from the bench. Good man. I hope he gets some more burn in the future because Duhon’s warranty really can’t cover the abuse he’s taking with this much burn. He’s third in the league and probably rising in minutes per game with over 40.
– A signal play late in the game with that massive oop that Richardson got up for. I’d say his back is feeling a lot better.
– Drew Gooden’s pirate tentacle beard: salute this man. This is a man who makes millions of dollars a year at a job with no dress code, and he’s seemingly the only guy in the entire league to really imagine the possibilities of that situation. Imagine what could happen if he stopped shaving his head. Also he had a fantastic game with 22 points and 16 boards, and might have been the overall man of the match.
– I felt very sorry for Wilson Chandler tonight, who had an absolute nightmare. 7 boards, 4 dimes and 2 steals isn’t bad, but 5 turnovers and 2-13 from the field was the bulk of his story. There was one sequence late in the game where on two consecutive plays he first caught a pass stepping out for a turnover, then next time down launched a terrible 3 pointer which actually hit halfway up the backboard it was so off target. He seemed very nervous out there possibly from playing in front of friends and family (Duhon seemed a bit so as well returning to Chicago for the first time), but whatever the reason it was just a bad, bad night. He’ll have a relatively soft touch against Bobby Simmons and/or Jarvis Hayes tomorrow in New Jersey albeit in 2 games in 2 nights with a plane flight between, so I expect him to bounce back strong in that one. To his credit his energy level and effort never dropped even when things were bad.
– Ok, Jared Jefferies can play center. I buy it. He seems to have bulked up a bit this year without losing all that much quickness (impressive given his broken leg), and the team needs him a lot more subbing for the bigs than it needs him as just another 3/4 swing on the roster.
Knick of the Game: Chris Duhon. 45 MP, 15 points (6-13), 14 assists, 9 rebounds, 4 TOs. He seemed to be pressing a bit at the end and forced some wild shots off of drives, but overall he was clearly the most effective Knick out there.
Man of the Match: Gooden tied with his own beard.
Up later today will be a preview of tonight’s big Nets/Knicks game. These are always my favorite games of the year, and the ones I feel strangest watching given that I’m really an equal fan of both teams, and have been for so long.