Thursday, December 16, 2010

Knicks offense flies high against Boston; Interior defense their undoing

Wednesday's epic regular season match-up between the Knicks and Celtics has all left us with a Thursday morning hangover. Boston's 118-116 victory over the up and coming Knicks featured all the NBA action one could ask for including two game "winners" - one, by Paul Pierce in the closing moments of the game and of course Amar'e's discounted three as time expired.

But all the action aside, there are few things that we learned about the Knicks on Wednesday, one of them a major concern as the season progresses.

The Upside: The Knicks can play with the best of them

The Knicks showed last night that they can beat the Celtics. Yes, even though we all said a loss would not be a moral victory. It strangely is. It's a step forward since coming into this season making the playoffs was New York's only goal. Now the Knicks are thinking they can be an elite team in the East this season. The reason they can run with Boston is simply because of their high powered offense.

New York was able to score on the NBA's stingiest defense and score on them often. The Knicks jumped off to hot start and didn't stop the whole night. They ended up with 116 points - 24 more than the Celtics season average for points against. Amar'e dropped 39, the most a player has scored on the Celtics this season. The 116 points is also the most points the Celtics have given up all season.

With Chandler at the PF (naturally a SF/SG), he is able to stretch F/C defenders to guard him along the perimeter. We saw this last night.

He keeps them honest with spot up threes and lately Chandler has been hitting them consistently. What does this do? Well besides having the ability to drive past slower defenders, it forces big men to defend 15-20 feet beyond the basket. This clears up the middle for Amar'e who can now feast on one-on-one match ups from 10-12 feet out.  Even Garnett, one of the best defenders in the NBA had a tough time guarding STAT one-on-one.

This is a good sign for the Knicks that even against a stingy like Boston they were still able to score 116 points - over 7 points above their season average. The upside is going small and having four players they are able to score on an elite defense.

Equally as impressive about the Knicks offense last night was that Felton and Stoudemire were still able to run the pick and roll to a success especially in the 2nd half, when you expect the Celtic defense to lock down.

The Downside: The interior defense will be their undoing

Chandler who at the PF helps create the scoring versatility at one end of the court, also leads to the Knicks undoing at the other end. Chandler is mostly always over sized in a power forward match up. Bigs catch the ball down low and are able to shoot over him. The result is that the Knicks are forced to double down to help Chandler. The counter-result, the player in the post kicks the ball out to a wide-open perimeter player.

This is what we saw last night, especially in the 4th quarter. The Celtics made it a point to exploit the Garnett-Chandler mismatch. They pounded the ball inside to Garnett who would muscle his way to the block for an easy hoop. When the Knicks did double down, Garnett would kick it out to an open perimeter player  - Allen, Pierce or Robinson.

With the Knicks clinging to a small lead in the 4th quarter, they were not only unable to make a big stop, but Boston was able to score on many easy layups - most of the uncontested.

Now the obvious question is, why not stick Amar'e on Garnett? Although Amar'e can match Garnett in strength and quickness, STAT is prone to playing defense with his hands rather than his feet. He often hacks and gets into foul trouble. So they let Amar'e take a weaker scorer at the expense of defense. In Wednesday's case he took Glen Davis.

Boston's strategy from the beginning of the game was to exploit this mismatch. The Knicks did a good job early on to poke balls and deny the entry pass into the post. However, when it really mattered, Garnett dominated Chandler down-low. The Knicks made very few key stops in the 4th quarter and despite Paul Pierce's team high 32 points, it was the Knicks inability to contain KG that lost them the game.

Now obviously, it's only one game, but what is concerning is that it's a sign of things to come. With a stretch of games coming up for the Knicks over the next month and a half, they will face many of the NBA's elite big men.

From now until February, they will face the Lakers twice, the Heat twice, the Spurs twice, the Thunder twice - and this is just a small sample. Just imagine the nightmarish match-up when the Knicks play the Lakers. Will Chandler have to guard Gasol or Bynum?

If the Knicks continue the strategy of having Chandler guard a bigger player, the Knicks will continue to have difficulty to make stops like they did against Boston. Scoring is great, but it will eventually come at the expense of defense.

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