And straight away, the Knicks annihilated the Portland Trail Blazers, 121-79, that evening. It was the lowest number of points given up by the Knicks since they played the Charlotte Bobcats almost two months prior.
Woodson was hired in the first place as D’Antoni’s defensive assistant. It was well-known as far back as Phoenix that a stubborn D’Antoni needed help on that side of the ball. According to the New York Post,
"D'Antoni long opposed hiring a defensive assistant when it was suggested in Phoenix, but Knicks management convinced him after the team struggled on the defensive end the past three years."
In terms of defense, incredulously, Mike D’Antoni was a worse coach than Isiah Thomas. Thomas’ teams gave up 100.3 (20th) and a pretty high 103.5 (22nd) points per game during his two-year tenure as head coach.
Mike D’Antoni? 107.8 (28th), 105.9 (28th) and 105.7 (28th) during his three full years. These are big, difference-making numbers for a team that likes to consider itself a contender.
The Knicks hired Woodson as assistant and suddenly they gave up about 11 less points a game, coming in at 94.7 (11th).
Now you can say that this grand defensive leap was due to Tyson Chandler and the horrible teams D’Antoni inherited. Only some of it was, really. The Stoudemire-Anthony team of 2010-11 didn’t play much planned defense (105.7 PPG). And last season, D’Antoni yielded 96.5 PPG to Woodson's 91.5, a serious five-point gap, with the exact same team.
The difference in styles and defensive focus between the two coaches is so stark, New York Magazine calls Woodson “The Anti D’Antoni.”
The result of this defensive shift has been wins. Woodson took over on the heels of a six-game losing streak. Since then, the Knicks have not lost two regular season games in a row. They are 23-6 under Woodson.
The Knicks have yet to give up 100 points to a team this season and held the full-staffed No. 1 offense in the Miami Heat to just 84 points.
In Woodson’s 29 games, the Knicks have given up 100 points only six times. They are 4-2 in those games. So it seems, even on the rare occasion when the game gets away from them defensively, Woodson has the team programmed to step up.
It’s obvious that the Knicks’ defensive improvement under Mike Woodson has lead to a better record and a better team all-around.
But what about the ways the Knicks’ defense has directly improved their offense?
When your team is giving up 106-108 points a game and the time of possession required to score that many points, your offense needs to score more in less time. It means less time to set up. Over time, more shots/less time usually means a lower field goal percentage.
It must also be a little exhausting for this Knicks build to have to rev the offensive engine to such heights day-in and day-out over 82 games. And they didn’t get any younger this year.
Keeping opponents to anywhere in the 88-93 point range, slowing down the game and fewer possessions for both the Knicks and their opponents all conspire to make New York’s offense more efficient.
Can The Knicks Take the No. 1 Seed in the East?
The Knicks also currently lead the league in steals per game. On the flip side, the Knicks are protecting the ball, which can be considered defensive play. They cough up the fewest turnovers right now, while causing the second most per game at near a big-time 18.5.
It would be nice to see some improvements on the boards, where the Knicks have fallen off a bit.
But they are dominating the ball and the game like they haven’t in about 20 years. The Knicks are winning like they haven’t in 20 years. And it’s not just this year. This started as soon as Woodson took over. The offense is strong. The defense is better. But it’s the two working together that is finally making the Knicks a contender for the Eastern crown.