The New York Knicks' season has been defined by streaks, and their 118-111 overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls on April 11—which ended New York's 13-gamer—illustrated why their hot-and-cold tendencies could be a real hindrance to their title hopes.
After sprinting out to a 30-23 lead in the first quarter five made three-pointers in their first eight attempts, the Knicks fell back to earth, hitting just five of their final 22.
Things didn't fall apart right away, though, as New York nursed its lead into the third quarter before its shooters caught a case of frostbite. The Bulls (and Nate Robinson in particular) continued to play well as the lead shrank. For their part, the Knicks kept right on gunning from long range in an effort to make up for their lack of size, but the shots stopped falling after halftime.
And when the dust settled, the Knicks had fallen, too.
The loss was something of a microcosm of New York's season. After starting out 18-5, the Knicks played sub-.500 ball over their next 41 games. Following that mediocre stretch, Carmelo Anthony caught fire and his club won 13 in a row.
Oddly, the Knicks' hot and cold bursts have come largely from the same source: their historic penchant for the long ball:
#Knicks break the record for most 3-pointers in a season in NBA history (842). J.R. Smith to thank for that.— Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) April 12, 2013
From a purely analytical perspective, there's a good argument for shooting a lot of threes. It's a shot that teams are taking with increasing frequency as advanced stats continue to show that a heavy dose of triples can turn a decent offense into a great one.
But the old-school thinking that says jump-shooting teams are too prone to cold spells seems to be pretty applicable to what happened to New York against the Bulls. And in a broader sense, it explains why the team has been so unpredictable this year.
To be fair, the Knicks essentially played an entire game without a proven NBA big man. Chris Copeland, a 29-year-old rookie, started at the 5, but he's hardly a legitimate interior presence. And for the bulk of the contest, Anthony manned the proverbial middle, surrounded by four other guards.
Some of the blame for the Knicks' loss rests on their bad injury luck and a failure to adequately replace the absentee trio of Tyson Chandler, Rasheed Wallace and Kenyon Martin.
But that only explains this game. New York's more concerning inconsistency is borne of a stylistic choice that makes them vulnerable to long stretches of missed shots. If Chandler were healthy, the Knicks could pepper in a few pick-and-rolls between him and Raymond Felton. Those would represent a better source of points in the paint and more free-throw opportunities.
And for an example of the value that comes from a more aggressive and penetrating style, look no further than J.R. Smith. The Knicks' sixth man has played extremely well during the team's latest run, and the key reason for that success has been his decision to attack the basket:
J.R. Smith averaged 1.5 free-throw attempts per game in the 2nd half of last season. He's averaging 5.2 FTA since the All-Star game this yr— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) April 12, 2013
The Knicks are who they are, though, and the long-distance heaves aren't going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, if New York continues to play without conventional power forwards and centers, it might start to rely on an even greater number of triples.
With the playoffs on the horizon, the Knicks' prospects don't look particularly good.
It might sound crazy to say that about a team that just finished a 13-game winning streak behind six straight games of at least 35 points from the NBA's leading scorer. But considering how gimmicky New York's offense has become, and taking into account how thin the team is up front, it's almost impossible to imagine it knocking off some of the more balanced, deeper opponents the Knicks are likely to see in the postseason.
Getting past the Boston Celtics in the first round wasn't going to be easy under any circumstances. But if the Knicks can't hit their threes for a couple of games, an upset is a real possibility.
And as for New York's chances at a title? Well, let's just say it'll be a cold day in hell before a team as one-dimensional and prone to chilly streaks as the Knicks even sniffs the Larry O'Brien trophy.