10:36 am Dec. 10, 2012
It was misleading, it turns out, when the New York Knicks crushed the Miami Heat by 20 points on the road without Carmelo Anthony.
It's not that they didn't fully deserve the no-doubt victory, and it's not that the Knicks are a bad team without their star.
But the offense was built around Anthony, and is obviously quite dependent on him to be effective. The only other Knicks player who consistently creates his own offense is Amar'e Stoudemire, who is not expected back for another few weeks.
A pair of games Saturday and Sunday, a 93-85 loss to the Chicago Bulls without Anthony, and then a 112-106 win over the Denver Nuggets, drove home this reality.
Without Anthony on Saturday, the Knicks shot 32 percent from the field, their worst mark all season. The league's most frequent three-point shooting team, averaging nearly 30 per game, took 23, and made just eight, down from the 12 they average. Without a defense giving Anthony outsized attention, the team's three-point shooters simply didn't have the same open looks they normally do.
That particularly limited Jason Kidd and Steve Novak, whose offense is primarily spot-up shooting. But it also had a big effect on Raymond Felton, who had been dramatically outpacing his career shooting numbers from three-point range because he'd been getting so many open shots.
Instead, Felton was well-covered, and his forays toward the basket were tame. He regressed into an off-balance jumpshooter, and took a lot of bad shots. Thirty went up from Felton in the Chicago game; Kobe Bryant has one game all season with more shot attempts than that, and only two players have taken more shots in a game all season. But that total is less an indictment of Felton, and more about a Knicks team that was essentially out of useful options without Anthony on the floor.
More Felton misfires also meant fewer Felton lob passes to Tyson Chandler, who finished an uncharacteristic 4-for-8 from the field.
On Sunday night, it wasn't as if the Knicks' shots were magically falling, either, not like in Miami. But normal returned. The team shot 43 percent overall, and 40 percent from three-point range, roughly where they've been all season.
They did this despite a delayed flight out of Chicago that got them back to New York around 6 a.m., or right around J.R. Smith's bedtime, with back-to-back games weighing on their legs.
Anthony himself struggled to find his season-long shooting touch, still battling that injured fingers with its five shot-altering stitches. Through three quarters, he was 5-for-17, and the Nuggets extended their lead to a game-high eight points early in the fourth quarter.
But then Anthony took over. He scored 11 points of 5-for-7 shooting to help bring the offense to life. That only happened, though, after Steve Novak hit a pair of threes to cut the Nuggets' lead to two.
Novak doesn't get those open looks without Anthony on the floor to create the space for them. The Miami game was a false read; it required Raymond Felton to be scoring at an efficiency his career suggests he cannot on his own. Unless Felton is out of his mind, Anthony is what will allow for such space, along with the subsequent lob from Jason Kidd to Tyson Chandler that tied the game at 88.
The mix on display in the fourth quarter between an Anthony-centric offense and a defense that completely shut down the Nuggets, despite logging its eighth quarter in 24 hours, is how the Knicks have gotten to 15-5, best record in the Eastern Conference.
Adding Stoudemire will help diversify that offense, just as the return of Iman Shumpert will help the perimeter defense contend with fast, penetrating guards.
In the meantime, the Knicks are a collection of complementary talent around Carmelo Anthony, who is having his finest season to date. That, so far, is plenty.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
The Yankees are making an aggressive push to retain Ichiro Suzuki.
The Cleveland Indians, a Yankee rival for Kevin Youkilis, signed Mark Reynolds instead, giving the Yankees a clearer path to Youkilis.
Another ugly loss, this one at home to the Milwaukee Bucks, 93-85.
Those playoff hopes are still alive after a 17-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.