The Knicks, who had been down by as much as 16 points in the fourth quarter, clawed their way back to a tie, only to run out of time in the end against the Denver Nuggets. For once, the offense didn’t grind to a halt. However, much like in the game against Golden State, Amar’e Stoudemire had key misses from the free-throw line that likely cost us the game.
Over the last five years, Stat’s free throw percentage has been superb for a big man, ranging from 77.1% to 83.5%. This year he’s shooting 72%, the worst he’s done since his second year in the league. Last night he didn’t just shoot poorly for himself at the line, he shot poorly for like Shaq or Dwight Howard, going just 3-of-8 or 37.5%. In a game decided by two points, that’s pretty huge. When you miss free throws, particularly if you tend to miss them more toward the end of games, it’s clearly a mental issue. Stat called out the team after the last game, saying they lacked a winning mentality, but one could easily make a case that he’s been the most responsible for not closing out games.
Though Stoudemire ended up with 24 points on a nice 10-for-19 shooting, he had only 6 rebounds and needs to dramatically improve his shot selection. He tends to get the ball a little past the free throw line and then likes to try to drive to the side of his defender, getting some contact and putting up an awkward shot. It only occasionally results in foul shots, but it always results in tougher attempts than had he just shot the open jumper when he caught it. In fact, there were many times where he caught it in that area, with his man playing several feet off of him, and Stoudemire didn’t even look to shoot, instead passing it off to someone else. For him to be truly dangerous, he needs to get his defenders to respect that outside shot. That will force them to close out on him and make it easier for him to drive past them. Right now they play a step off of him, making his drives tough even when no help defenders come over to clog the lane.
On the other side of the coin, in the world of and-that-guy-is-who?, the game featured two wonderful performances from unheralded rookies. The Nuggets’ undrafted rookie, small forward Gary Forbes, notched 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, going 3-for-3 from distance, and adding an impressive 9 rebounds. Not to be outdone, our own Landry Fields, who many people thought shouldn’t have been drafted, rang in an even more impressive 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting, plus an insane 17 rebounds. By contrast, our three centers (Timofey Mozgov, Ronny Turiaf and Anthony Randolph) only combined for a paltry 5 boards.
Point guard Raymond Felton also had a good all-around game, with 19 points, 8 rebounds, 11 assists, and only 1 turnover. Actually, we were pretty darn good in keeping our turns down, only having 11 of ‘em. Stoudemire too had a good game in that regard, only losing the ball twice. One thing that seemed to help him get some easier buckets is that often after getting a defensive rebound with his man right on his back, Stat handed off the ball to Felton and then just sprinted down the court. Felton would then pass the ball ahead to Amar’e who, yes, ugh, would take a few dribbles, but at these points at least there was usually just one defender, and that guy was backpeddling.
-Mozgov and Randolph were useless. Actually, often they were worse than useless, frequently doing dumb things that hurt the team. On one play, a Nugget was fouled, and because of continuation, took another step and just lobbed up the ball to ensure he got free-throws. Randolph came over, trying to be like Kevin Garnett, and swatted the ball away. However, since it was continuation and not, as KG does, a block on a shot taken after a dead ball, it was goal-tending, giving the Nugs two free points.
-Toney Douglas’ shot still wouldn’t fall, and since he doesn’t really know how to pass like a real point guard, it limits his usefulness. Luckily, coach Mike D’Antoni seems to have realized this and thus limited Toney to just 16 minutes.
-Too many threes. Heading into the fourth, the Knicks had already attempted 22 threes, only hitting five of ‘em. In the fourth, they finally started to hit ‘em, going an excellent 4-for-9, but 31 threes on just 29% shooting is ridiculous.
-Speaking of threes, we’ve seemed to have trouble hitting them and thus keeping the opposing team honest. Toney, Landry, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Anthony Mason have all been unable to consistently hit from range. I’ve hoped that Kelenna Azubuike might eventually return and provide that steady threat, however maybe we already have our guy. Last season, in his 27 games with us, Bill Walker shot an insane percentage from deep. Last night he went 2-for-3 from downtown, so I was surprised that D’Antoni didn’t reinsert him when we needed a three at the end. Walker hasn’t been as unconscious as he was in his limited run the previous year, but he’s still shooting a very impressive 36.8% (for comparison sake, since three pointers obviously get you more points than two pointers, shooting 33% from deep is the same as shooting a very impressive 50% from two-point land). Maybe it’s time for D’Antoni to start giving him more than 14.3 minutes a night? I dunno. We clearly need to switch something up and get a boost from somewhere.
-Lastly, although we won the battle of the boards last night, clearly we need help at the center position. It is thus with heavy heart (and still much confusion) that I write that last year’s surprising end-of-the-year flier, Earl Barron, has finally signed on with an NBA team — the Phoenix Suns. I assume he’s getting the minimum and it’s just a one-year deal, so I still have no idea why we didn’t bring him back. Is it really better to instead use that roster spot on keeping Shawne Williams glued to the bench?