Words. Mike Aufses
If you’ve been away on Spring Break drinking at the beach, you probably expected to return to see the New York Knicks reeling off victories, building their clout heading into a potentially magical playoff run, right? Unfortunately that has not been the case. With Monday night’s heartbreaking 10-point loss to the Celtics at home, the Knicks dropped to 35-35. Following the game, Ray Allen took a jab at New York’s new star-studded cast saying, “They’ve got great one-on-one players.” Was Ray-Ray insinuating that the Knicks might have been better off with their old squad?
Since Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups joined the Knickerbockers, they’ve gone a measily 7-9, losing back-to-back games against the Pacers and two against the doormats of the East in the Cavaliers and the Pistons. Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets have quietly gone 9-4 since aquiring Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov, and sit comfortably at the fifth seed in the West.
You can blame the Knicks’ lackluster performance on Coach Mike D’Antoni’s inability to make the stars gel together, or blame it on poor defense, but offensive numbers and crunch-time scoring seem to tell the story. Through their first 54 games of the season, the Knicks averaged 22.1 assists per game, but since Feb. 23 that number has dropped down to 21.4 dimes a game. Though not a huge dip, the Knicks reached a season-low 11 assists against the Pacers at home, and an equally embarrassing 13 in their home loss to the Cavs. Their only worse assist output of the season was 12 on opening night.
As evidenced by Monday night’s collapse against the reigning Eastern Conference champs, fourth quarter scoring has been a serious issue since ‘Melo and Chauncey arrived. Though Billups’ big four-point play with 7:26 remaining gave the Knicks a nine-point lead, they managed a lousy two more buckets for the game. The Knicks have relied all season on Amar’e Stoudemire’s crunch-time heroics – he ranks fourth in the league this season per 48 minutes – while ‘Melo ranks 11th, down seven spots from his mark last season.
On Monday, Paul Pierce had the stats to prove that he was still the master of the fourth quarter. When he checked back into the game at the start of the final period, he immediately went to work, filleting Shawne Williams with an inside lay-up and drawing a quick foul on Anthony. He finished up his nine straight points by taking it right to Knicks’ rookie Landry Fields, who may have thought he was making episode two of The Andy & Landry Show. Anthony went 0-for-3 in the fourth, but the rout was on. His three shots were not in rhythm, as the Knicks’ offense looked stagnant. That line might look familiar, as ‘Melo went 0-for-5 and scored only six points in the fourth quarter recently against the Pistons. No wonder he went straight to the team bus.
While no Knick fan could look you in the eye and tell you that they’d rather have kept Chandler, Gallo and Felton, right now it seems as though that group brought a heavier energy into the Garden than ‘Melo and Chauncey. If you think back to the New York’s glory years, they surrounded a great talent in Patrick Ewing with role players who could occasionally score when the game was on the line. Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell were far from Hall of Famers, but they played hard enough to take the Knicks to the Finals. For this Knick team to be successful, they will need to establish some form of identity and figure out who gets the rock when the game is on the line.
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