The New York Knicks stepped up and finally closed a game out with a 109-103 road victory over the Indiana Pacers. Can they keep this up?
The New York Knicks brought their talents to Indiana on Jan. 24 looking to secure a desperately needed 20th victory of the season.
At the end of the first quarter, the Knicks were down 34-22. The starters came out flat on the road—again—lacking defensive intensity and committing countless turnovers.
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Luckily, the second unit came in and went on a tear, putting up 40 points in the second quarter. With a halftime lead of 62-58, the Knicks were in prime position to steal a game on the road.
At the end of the third quarter, the Knicks had a 86-75 lead heading into the fourth quarter. If you watch the Knicks on a daily basis, this scenario sounds all too familiar.
Fast forward to the final minute of the game and the Knicks’ lead evaporated. This time, Carmelo Anthony’s four points in the final minute of the game gave the Knicks a needed victory.
Somehow, the Pacers managed to out-Knicks the Knicks down the stretch.
Knicks nation breathed a sigh of relief when Pacers center Myles Turner turned the ball over with the chance to tie the game at 105.
Given the recent failures down the stretch, this was a gutsy win by Anthony and the Knicks. To do it on the road against a seventh seed team and take a 2-1 regular season series lead is even better.
A win is a win and the Knicks will take them however they come at this juncture of the season. However, some aspects of the Knicks win last night cannot be ignored.
Much attention is placed on Joakim Noah and the $72 million dollar contract Phil Jackson gave him in the offseason to become the starting center. Thus far, that contract is proving to be a disaster.
On the other hand, let’s shift the attention to the other offseason additions Jackson made. Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Justin Holiday, Ron Baker, Courtney Lee, Marshall Plumlee, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, and Willy Hernangomez.
It should also be noted that Jackson drafted Kristaps Porzingis and opted to keep Kyle O’Quinn and Lance Thomas on the roster. As of now, Jackson has also chosen to keep their draft picks in the upcoming draft.
Some days, especially on days when the Knicks lose in the final seconds of the game, it feels like the walls are closing in. It feels like this Knicks team is doomed and the future is bleak.
That statement may have been true for the last decade. However, with the current players on the roster, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth.
If Porzingis continues to develop at this rapid pace and stays relatively injury free, he will go down as the best Knicks draft pick since they drafted Patrick Ewing first overall in the 1985 draft.
That alone is reason for optimism.
Jackson also took a chance on Hernangomez. If you’ve watched the Knicks recently, you’ve seen the flashes of brilliance. Even Reggie Miller couldn’t stop begging the Knicks to “give this kid more minutes” on a game-to-game basis.
Some are dubbing him the next “Marc Gasol” because of his skill and nationality. I’m not prepared to go that far yet, but the ceiling for Hernangomez is incredibly high.
Head coach Jeff Hornacek couldn’t help but reward Hernangomez with more minutes.
The second unit has been a bright spot all season. Last night, Jennings had a +/- of +8, Hernangomez a +/- of +12, O’Quinn a +/- of +11, and Holiday a +/- of +14.
The proof is in the pudding. The bench plays with more intensity on the defensive end and moves the ball more effectively on the offensive end. The starters should take notice.
Let’s refocus our attention back to Noah. Not only is his contract four years in length, but Hornacek continues to start him at center. This is diminishing the minutes that could be given to both Hernangomez and O’Quinn.
Noah has already reached the zenith of his career and his best days are likely behind him. Unfortunately, Hornacek probably feels obligated to give his $72 million dollar man minutes, which comes at the expense of developing O’Quinn and Hernangomez.
That’s a lose-lose situation.
To add insult to injury, it’s unlikely that any team would trade for Noah and his hefty contract. This will likely force the Knicks to keep Noah off the bench, or eat a portion of his contract in a trade.
This isn’t an attack on Noah, either.
He plays with energy and effort, and clearly he’s upset about his lack of production. However, the game becomes a four on five when he’s on the offensive end of the floor since he isn’t a threat to score.
If by some chance he does get the ball near the basket, opposing teams will likely foul and live with the results. Given his 41.7 percent free-throw percentage this season, those results are likely optimal.
Hornacek’s main priority is to put the Knicks in the best position to win games. This season, the Knicks are 5-0 without Noah in the lineup.
At some point, hopefully soon, Hornacek will realize that both Hernangomez and O’Quinn should be dominating the minutes at center.
Despite their win in Indiana, the execution down the stretch is still bad.
The Knicks almost blew another double-digit lead last night because, in crunch time, the ball stops moving and isolation basketball takes over.
How did the Knicks build their lead and score 40 points in the second quarter? Intensity and commitment on the defensive end, as well as playing fast and moving the ball on offense.
How did the Knicks blow their lead in the fourth quarter? Lack of intensity and commitment on the defensive end, as well as playing slow and settling for isolation basketball on offense.
Yes, Anthony hit two huge shots down the stretch that led to a victory, but how many times have we seen this narrative go in the opposing team’s favor?
Everyone is well aware of how elite Anthony is on offense. However, one-on-one basketball is advantageous for the defense because it allows them to set up and bring help when necessary.
For some reason, the Knicks get away from the pick and roll with Rose and Porzingis when the game is on the line. Rose is an elite rim attacker, and Porzingis can score from virtually anywhere on the court.
This puts the pressure on the defense to go over or under the pick, switch on the screen, or decide if they should bring additional help. This can lead to a Rose drive to the basket, a jump shot, or a pass to Porzingis or another open teammate.
If Turner would have scored instead of turning the ball over, the game would have been tied at 105 and we’d be singing a very different tune today.
Anthony should be applauded for his clutch shots against Indiana and the Knicks should be applauded for finally closing out a game against a playoff-caliber team.
At the same time, Hornacek has to stay committed to running the pick and roll late in games.
After all, what’s the point of signing Rose in the offseason if you aren’t going to let him make point guard decisions with the game on the line?