Posted by Royce Young
There has been a lot of attention on the struggling New York defense. There has been a lot of attention on the sinking Boston offense. And wouldn't you know it, the two teams played each other Monday night.
And for 24 minutes, depending on perspective, the Knicks' defense was solid. Or the the Celtic offense was still sputtering. At halftime, New York led 51-37 as Boston was completely out of sync. It was all jumpers, stale movement and the Knicks did a nice job of funneling the ball back to Rajon Rondo late in the shot clock.
But here's the thing about winning, especially against good teams: You have to do that same thing for the next 24 minutes. Instead, the Celtics outscored the Knicks 59-35 in the second half, holding Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony scoreless in the fourth quarter. Boston went on a strong 13-0 run keyed by Paul Pierce to flip a nine-point deficit into a 10-point lead by the final buzzer. The Knicks looked clueless, while the Celtics looked focused.
A lot of the issue was the defense for the Knicks which was terrible in the second half, but that's understood. The defense isn't good and has never pretended to be so. If you can get halves like New York did for the first 24 minutes, you're thrilled. Then you just have to expect to score enough in the second half to win. That wasn't the case. The halfcourt execution was downright terrible for the Knicks. Confusion is the best word I can think of to describe it. Everything was around the perimeter without any real movement toward the basket. It was almost as confusing to watch as it actually was on the floor.
Consider this: In the fourth quarter, Boston had 33 points on 21 possessions; the Knicks had 17 on 21. That honestly says it all. One team got the necessary stops and coverted. The other didn't. Guess who won.
The Celtics needed this game though and that wasn't helping matters for New York. Boston had been sliding, especially offensively. And nothing helps an offense get back on track than 48 minutes at Madison Square Garden. For those first 24, things looked bad for the Celtics. The Knicks were working and the Celtics were sputtering. Then it all reversed course the last half of the game.
Again, defense is the buzzword for the Knicks but accept it, it's not good. It won't be good this season. With Amar'e and Melo on the floor, this team isn't going to be able to lock down. Ronny Turiaf provided some nice energy in the first half on the defensive end, but the real issue is on the other end. The Knicks just can't try and beat people with defense. That's insane. Reality is, they choked on the offensive end. Melo and Ama're scoreless in the final 12 minutes? That's a bad gameplan.
The effort was there, the energy was there. I don't think the Knicks lacked in those areas. (Though maybe the Celtics had a bit more, especially the last eight minutes.) Where they lacked was in their offensive execution. There was no spacing, no ball movement, no real understanding or purpose of what they wanted to accomplish.
The loss Monday puts the Knicks at 7-9 since the Melo trade. Are the Knicks better today than they were in February? I think so. I'm not sure though. They miss players like Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler who could space the floor. They miss Raymond Felton and the ability to go pick-and-roll late in games with Amar'e. And they miss that extra energy those guys played with. Before, it was all about working together. Now, it's like the Knicks are all pointing at one another waiting for someone to do something.
This Knick team isn't going anywhere this year and nobody should pretend it is. The roster has only played about a month together and there's a clear lack of chemistry there. They have 13 games left to try and at least become a dangerous threat heading into the postseason though, which I think they can be. Having two players the caliber of Melo and Amar'e makes you dangerous. And while better defense is a must to get to the Celtic level of contention, late-game execution has to come first before they can even think about getting there.