KNICKS KEEP IT INTERESTING AS THEY FALL TO 0-3
Overcome Another Double Digit Deficit Only To Lose In OT by 14
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I know we're 0-3. I understand that. I understand that two of them were overtime games. There was just some really good stuff. We're going to accentuate the positive." -- Mike D'Antoni
“It doesn’t mean nothing because we lost. I don’t care how much I score or what I do, I just want to win with this team.” -- Danilo Gallinari
For a little over three quarters, against the 76ers, the Knicks turned Halloween into Hollow-ween as they once again came up empty in the effort department and at one point found themselves down by 23 points. In what has become typical fashion, the Knicks turned a frighteningly bad performance into a scary-decent effort as they erased the double digit deficit to drag the Sixers into overtime, only to lose by 14. The game appeared to be an offensive breakout game for a few Knicks: Danilo Gallinari, who scored 30, Al Harrington, as a sixth man, who contributed 42 points, and Larry Hughes, who looked better than himself and much better than Chris Duhon has looked since last year. But, unless you are just looking for a sliver of silver lining in a torrential reign of terrible basketball, you know that it was all gold belonging to fools. (read more)
On one hand, you've gotta feel for Mike D'Antoni. He must be going batty. Clearly, Charles Barkley hit it right on the head when he criticized the Knicks for believing (or pretending) that a collection of expiring contracts would bring sufficient effort for 48 minutes to win regularly. Once again D'Antoni juggled the rotation in search of the right combination to avoid falling behind early in the contest. Inserting Danilo Gallinari into the starting line-up to replace Al Harrington did absolutely nothing to help the team's energy level and sense of urgency. They went down by 17 points as they gave up 70 points in the first half.
On the other hand, D'Antoni's coaching is the main reason the Knicks are so inconsistent and look so unprepared to compete at the start of games.
D'Antoni's most urgent problem is leadership. Fans wish to blame the players but it begins with him. No matter what the players say, he seems to have lost his team. An inconsistency in his rotation, the same malady we saw with Isiah Thomas, Lenny Wilkens and Larry Brown, does not breed confidence nor trust. Publicly criticizing his captain also does not promote trust, confidence and team unity.
Curiously, D'Antoni, in his sly way, criticized his captain Chris Duhon for publicly criticizing his teammates regarding their pre-game demeanor. He publicly made it clear that Duhon should not have gone public. Odd that he would criticize his captain publicly for going public, especially since the press and fans were happy to see some form of leadership from the players. But Mike will throw his players under the bus with only a little hesitation.
Clearly from the reaction of his teammates, not all of them agreed with Duhon's assessment. As Jeffries indicated not all professional ballers prepare for the game the same way. D'Antoni must create an environment for team leaders to lead, not undermine them.
D'Antoni's other problem is his insistence of relying on the three point shot. Not only is it generally a bad strategy, it does not work with this collection of talent. His insistence on winning from the arc led to him prematurely placing Gallinari into the starting unit. Gallo's first two tre-shots made D'Antoni look like a genius momentarily until the sixers started to crowd him and he disappeared offensively for a long stretch and was a defensive demerit as the Sixers lead reached 16 before Gallo went to the bench.
D'Antoni knows and refuses to address the reality that his most energetic unit, which will go to the hoop, needs to start the game. Gallinari, right now, is not the answer. Nate Robinson ups the tempo and is the best fit in the starting unit to soften up the interior with Chandler, Duhon, Lee and Harrington or Jeffries. Certainly there was a defensive concern, but the Sixers started the game by sending Brand to the post to abuse Jeffries and Lee. A running game would have taken advantage of Brand on the other end.
If D'Antoni paid attention to and respected the videotape, he would also see that the Knicks get in the game by driving the ball into the paint to score, not simply to kick out. Nor is it sufficient to fast break to the three point line to hoist up a shot. The inside game opens up the perimeter and gives the shooters more space to shoot. In fact, most of the scores, save for a Gallo tre, leading to the fourth quarter tie were the result of drives to the basket by Duhon, Harrington, Hughes and Gallo. Drive, drive, drive. That directive comes form the coach and would be a season changer.
D'Antoni made a bold, but desperate move, to bring in Hughes to substitute for Duhon who played 54 minutes the night before. Needless to say, it made no sense to play Duhon that much, against Charlotte, with a game the next night and Toney Douglas on the bench. Hughes seemingly was on his way out of the rotation, but he was put back in, in favor of rookie Toney Douglas for defensive reasons. Hughes performed well and may have earned some regular time in the rotation, but it must all be seen in the context that he was perhaps the most rested professional on the floor since both teams played the previous night.
Hughes was on the floor as the Knicks made the comeback. He was very active. This presents D'Antoni the problem of either having to further undermine Duhon by sitting him -- which is inevitable -- and/or reneging on his commitment to youth by pushing Toney Douglas out of the rotation. Can Duhon lead better form the bench than Malik Rose or Qrich? Will Toney Douglas gain confidence from bench warming?
Leadership begins at the top and D'Antoni's got issues.
Duhon refuses to run the D'Antoni offense the D'Antoni way. He continues to give away possessions with poor plays. But herein lies the rub. For the two minuutes of the game when he feels a sense of urgency and he plays to drive to the basket for the score, the guy is tough to stop. His drive to tie the game at 122 so that it could go into overtime was timeless efficiency. But, that is not his normal mode of operation. He is normally a dud at the 1 spot (7pts, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 turnovers in 33 minutes against the 76ers. Yuch!). His revolving door defense proves to be just as bad against the elite guards and he gets no help in the paint. Hughes does play better defense.
Oh brother, the second coming. No doubt that this youngin' can shoot. He scored 30 points and it is absolutely wonderful seeing those shots swish through the net. But, it's got to be seen in context. So often fans criticize Lee, despite his double-double numbers because they are gathered in the inflationary D'Antoni offense, but fans don't want to discount Gallinari's efforts by the same calculus. In truth, the best thing about the game regarding Danilo was not the 30 points on 9-22 shooting (ouch!!) but his aggression on his drives to the basket. This ability is what he needs to develop to insure enough room to get off his shot and to allow his team to take advantage of the penalty rule in the end game. Otherwise, Danilo with a (a plus-minus of-20) is just another liability on defense and he does little more than Lee to defend the paint. One block, 3 assists, and three rebounds in 42 minutes when the opposition scores 141 points is nothing to brag about. He is not a starter, YET.
He will need a thick skin to be effective at home. Shooters will tell you that shooting is confidence and repetition. MSG fans don't have confidence in his shot (forget his recent past) and they will not tolerate him getting reps with Gallinari on the floor. When Jeffries was introduced in the starting lineup there was a smattering of boos and very few cheers compared with the cheers of David Lee and Danilo Galinari. Those boos persisted when he took and missed his first shot. He could not find his bearings and clearly lost confidence immediately as the fans defended his shot better than the 76ers who dared him to shoot. Additionally, Elton Brand abused him early and often.
He acted like a professional the entire way. He scored a team high 42 points and added six rebounds, two assists and three turnovers. Relegated to the bench, he did not allow it to impact his offensive production. Most significantly he became very aggressive to the hole which will solidify him as one of the two best offensive threats on the Knicks. Nate is the other one because they can create their own shots and are very difficult to defend. Without Harrington for most of the overtime and Nate for all of it, the Knicks were dead -- not even the best shooter D'Antoni ever saw could save them.
His play was a pleasant surprise: 18 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals in 39 minutes. He also had a team high 4 turnovers but he shot 7 for 11 in a strong effort to burn up his brick masonry work order. The most significant aspect of his game was that he was able to play defense AND move the ball quickly up the court with nice outlet passes. He showed that perhaps he can run the offense better than Duhon. Hughes said he had a little difficulty catching on regarding the offense, but he seems to have a good understanding of it now. Still, his one game resurgence presents D'Antoni with some decision-making dilemma's.
A very well balanced team that can run and shoot mid-range very accurately. They've been a thorn in our side for at least the last three years. They are so much more than Iggy, Brand, Dalembert and Lou Williams on point. They played very well for the most part of the back-to-back. They are early into learning Jordan's offense and promise only to get better. I wish we could say the same about our team.