In one horrible quarter in Indiana, the limitations of a Carmelo-centric Knicks formula are revealed
Through three quarters in Indiana against the Pacers on Tuesday night, the equation that has made up the basis for New York's recent success under Mike Woodson was in full effect.
Start with lots of offense from Carmelo Anthony. Add a secondary scorer—it can be Landry Fields, or Iman Shumpert, or J.R. Smith—but only one of them, for whatever reason. Tyson Chandler contributes a large helping of rebounds and the occasional putback. And when Steve Novak has even an inch of space outside, he shoots, and he rarely misses.
That's not a great offense, but it is enough, combined with a stifling defense that swarms opponents.
It added up to an 87-72 lead after three quarters, and the Knicks appeared to be on their way to tenth win in twelve games under coach Mike Woodson. Then it all fell apart, revealing for the first time exactly how vulnerable this equation makes the Knicks in a playoff series against, well, anyone.
For reasons that only Indiana coach Frank Vogel can answer, he had power forward Tyler Hansbrough cover Anthony for three quarters. Yes, the undersize Knicks had Anthony playing power forward. No, that doesn't oblige the opposing coach to respond by placing a slow defender on New York's only real scoring threat in the starting lineup, refusing to adjust or double-team him for three quarters while he torches your team.
Someone got to Vogel after the third quarter, and he switched Danny Granger, a much better defender and athletic fit to defend Anthony in particular, to start the fourth quarter. The Knicks had no real response; the offense had been conditioned simply to feed Anthony, and that reached its logical extreme when Anthony could no longer get free in prime scoring position, and the rest of the Knicks responded as if they'd never attacked the basket.
The defense, too, ran out of steam, which was bound to happen. When the Knicks had 11 healthy players fighting for ten spots in the rotation, they had the luxury of defending all night without running out of energy. But Jeremy Lin is out, Amar'e Stoudemire is out, Jared Jeffries is out. The current rotation of ten players includes Mike Bibby and Steve Novak, who will make the effort but are simply limited defensively, and Josh Harrellson, who is being asked to defend centers while Jeffries is missing.
And Baron Davis, the team's only point guard, had already played 21 creaky minutes through three quarters. The fourth quarter, therefore, alternated between an overtaxed Davis and Toney Douglas, who shows no signs of developing even rudimentary point-guard skills, no matter how often he is cited as a possible backup to Davis due to the lack of other roster options.
Over the final two minutes, the Knicks went with no point guard at all, which isn't a real problem if Carmelo Anthony is just going to bring up the ball and shoot it himself anyway. But it is a problem when the opposing defense knows it as well. Anthony still had 12 points, but the shots were not nearly as good, and no one else on the team had a good look until a Tyson Chandler pick-and-roll set up by Anthony very late in the action.
So now consider exactly what this game means in terms of a playoff series. Should this be the version of the Knicks that shows up, it won't take an opposing team long to adjust to an Anthony-only offense. Meanwhile, the Knicks rotation will quickly be worn out by the defense Woodson asks them to play, especially without time off against a superior opponent.
The next week will reveal just how well they'll hold up, with New York set to play Orlando Thursday, Chicago Saturday and Tuesday, then the Milwaukee team it is battling for the final playoff spot next Wednesday. That will be an approximation, of course—any playoff series would be more compressed, and a single opponent will have even more opportunity to adjust to what the Knicks are doing.
There are some encouraging signs that yet another version of the Knicks could be in place by playoff time: A revised timetable for Amar'e Stoudemire could have him back as early as the end of next week, Jared Jeffries should return next week as well, and the lack of surrounding damage to Jeremy Lin's surgically repaired knee has the team thinking he could be back by the end of the regular season.
In the meantime, Woodson's Knicks will continue to rely on the same equation against some of the league's best teams, and hope it adds up to enough to make it to the post-season.