The Knicks' fourth-quarter pandemonium against the Chicago Bulls showed that there are cracks in New York City.
Before loyal Knicks fans jump down my throat and call me a "hater," let's talk facts.
Not only have I declared the Knicks are a legitimate NBA championship contender, I also pegged them as my No. 2 seed in July (via B/R). I even stated that they would make a deep playoff run, also in July (via B/R).
I stand by those predictions and acknowledge the following without bias.
In their most physical game of the season, the New York Knicks were dominated in every sense of the word. Even as the scoreboard reflected a four-point loss, this game wasn't close until the game was all but over.
Only the lack of discipline made this game interesting.
And now Mike Woodson tossed. Got a nice ovation, about the only thing Knicks fans have cheered all night.— Brian Mahoney (@briancmahoney) December 22, 2012
Head coach Mike Woodson joined Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony as the Knicks who were ejected. J.R. Smith fouled out with 7:09 remaining in the fourth quarter.
It was a rare lack of discipline.
This is not to say that the Knicks are no longer elite, as they remain the top threat to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference. What it means, however, is that there are takeaways from this game that will matter come the postseason.
Temper your anger, and let's get this started.
Flustered by Postseason Defense?
You can say whatever you'd like about the referees, but that doesn't change one very important fact: Whatever the referees allowed the Chicago Bulls to do on defense, they took advantage of it each and every time down.
That is postseason basketball at its finest.
Any veteran or head coach will tell you the same thing. The referees tend to favor the more aggressive team. In this case, that was Chicago. By a wide margin.
The Knicks were pummeled by the Bulls' physical and aggressive defense. Chicago let J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony shoot when they pleased as they shifted their focus to the consistent role players.
For example, Steve Novak and Tyson Chandler combined for four field goal attempts in 65 minutes.
The Bulls' physical approach led to Chandler's eventual ejection and frustration from the entire Knicks roster. One can cite the referees all they'd like, the Bulls played the type of defense that the Knicks will see in the playoffs.
Considering New York hasn't made it out of the first round since 2000, it's time it prepared for more of the same.
No Pick-and-Roll, No Offense
Raymond Felton did not record an assist until the 4:39 mark of the fourth quarter.
Not a single assist.
That all went down as Chicago cut off the pick-and-roll. In turn, the Knicks had no answer offensively.
With Amar'e Stoudemire returning from injury, and with sharpshooters all around, it is unlikely that a team could do this four times in a seven-game series. The fact of the matter is that the Bulls proved it can be done. They collapsed their defense on the interior and closed off the pick-and-roll.
Worst of all, they're not the only team capable of doing this.
What the Bulls are, however, is the team that exposed the weakness of the Knicks offense when the screen-and-roll is eliminated.
Scoring 61 points through three quarters proves that, as does the fact that 23 of their 45 points in the fourth quarter came during garbage time.
Changes need to be made, and not just on the injury front.
Can They Handle the Target?
This disappointment marks the Knicks' second loss in three games. It is the second time this month that they have done absolutely nothing on offense against the Chicago Bulls.
The first time around, the Bulls held them to 85 points.
As college football pundits will tell you, it's much easier for the unexpected to rise up and steal the top seed than it is to hold onto it. This is why one must question whether or not the Knicks are losing their grip on the first seed in the Eastern Conference.
We must at least acknowledge that they're slipping.
Six of the Knicks' past eight wins have been by single digits. Prior to this stretch, only one of their first 11 wins was by such a margin.
This signals what the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics can assure you: When a team is on top, every opponent wants to be the one to bring them down.
So far, the Knicks have had mixed results. With all of this being said, the Knicks will receive aid when Amar'e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert, Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby return from injury. In turn, each of these issues could be cured.
Until that happens, however, we've witnessed cracks in the previously impenetrable armor of the New York Knickerbockers.