One of the oddest things about the New York Knicks’ double-overtime victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday was that it also featured both coaches using double rotation strategies: getting everyone a shot initially, only to end up with a short leash. By the end of the first quarter, Detroit coach John Kuester had already gone ten players deep. For the Knicks, Mike D’Antoni went nine-deep in the first half, which might not seem like he went too deep into his bench, until you see who he played.
Two of our regulars, Toney Douglas and Ronny Turiaf, were out with minor injuries. As a result, rather than tightening his rotation even more as expected, D’Antoni instead played a whole bunch o’ players who’d been buried in mothballs. After our six-game losing streak, D’Antoni smartly realized he had to just stick with the players who were effective. We then went 5-1 heading into Detroit. During that stretch, Anthony Randolph and Roger Mason Jr. remained wonderfully glued to the bench. Sunday, Mikey let ‘em out of the doghouse for a run around the yard. Not only had Mason not played in the last six games, but even before that he had been heading toward the bench, only playing in three out of our twelve prior November games. As if that wasn’t enough, near the end of the third quarter, D’Antoni stretched his rotation to a full ten players by bringing out, for the first time all season, Shawne Williams.
Yet then, after Amar’e Stoudemire and Landry Fields with under nine minutes remaining, the same five guys (them plus Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler) played the rest of the way, until the end of regulation and then through the entirety of both overtimes. So for instance, before that point, Bill Walker had played 12 minutes to Chandler’s 20, but because D’Antoni decided to return to his tight rotation, Chandler ended up totaling 39.
Detroit ended up using 11 players, and a few minutes after we permanently put in Amar’e and Fields, Detroit tightened their rotation down to just six players (initially Kuester was going with Tracy McGrady who’d been playing well, before realizing he needed better perimeter shooters so he replaced TMac with Ben Gordon for the rest of the way).
One might think, well, duh, when the game’s on the line, of course you stick with just your best players. But that isn’t necessarily always the case in the NBA where towards the end of tight games coaches frequently resort to a bit of a chess match, subbing offensive and defensive players, or drivers versus outside shooters, depending on the moment-to-moment needs. Like it would’ve been probably more conventional if say when the Pistons were down by nine in the second overtime, they subbed the offensively-challenged (yet defensively-exceptional) Ben Wallace for big man Charlie Villanueva’s three-point shooting. So to have both teams initially seem to sub willy-nilly at the beginning, only to completely clamp down, well, it was a surprising Tale Of Two Substitution Patterns (hmm, Dickens was right: A Tale Of Two Cities is much snappier sounding).
By the way, I say this not as a critique of the coaches, but more just I found it peculiar. In fact, I was happy to see that D’Antoni was willing to give Ant-Rand another shot and even to toss out Shawne to see how he’d perform in an actual game. Randolph actually played with much more intensity and focus than he had earlier in the year, so the benching has done him a little good. Then again, he was still forcing the action on the offensive side, so he clearly needs a bunch more work. I just feel like at this point there’s no way he should be the one putting up a 20-foot jump shot unless the clock’s almost down to zero.
Mason, on the other hand, was 100% pure awfulness as usual. And since it’s not like he’s some young dude who’s brimming with potential to be a factor, I feel no need for him to ever get off the bench. Shawne also played with good energy too, getting a nice offensive rebound and put-back. I might actually like for him to get a few more minutes to see if he can produce. Meanwhile, Timofey Mozgov still tends to have two or three truly awful plays for every one good one he does, and clearly we need much more depth at the center spot with Turiaf’s knee issues persisting. If only we’d re-signed my man-crush, Earl Barron…