Move over Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It's Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith.
The New York Knicks had their way with the NBA down the stretch. They enter the playoffs coming off a dominant 16-2 run filled with rebounds, steals, three-pointers, a remarkably robust defense minus Tyson Chandler and a Carmelo Anthony-J.R. Smith offensive onslaught.
In the last 15 games, Anthony and Smith combined for more than 50 points 12 times, including these six totals: 61 (Boston Celtics), 62 (Cleveland Cavaliers), 64 (Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls), 69 (Charlotte Hornets) and 71 (Milwaukee Bucks).
Overall, the Knicks averaged 105 points per game, five points above their season average. They held opponents to just 95 PPG, a bit better than with Chandler himself.
How ironic that the Knicks—and Anthony, in particular—would especially flex their defensive muscle of late.
In the last two games against their Round 1 opponents, New York held Boston to under 90 points and stole the ball 19 times. In the final month, the Knicks also held the Heat, Bucks, Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers to 90 points or less.
In the six wins against these Eastern Conference playoff teams, the Knicks held opponents to an average of 85 points a game. That’s 10 points less than their season average.
During this same 15-game set, Anthony led all rebounders from either team six times—not the usual procedure, but a clear indication of team play.
Rebounds have been a problem all year. With most of the Knicks’ big men (Amar’e Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, Kenyon Martin and Chandler) out for various stretches, New York finished 25th in the league.
It will be enough to beat the Celtics, but that number must improve to take down the Pacers who are the best in the league.
Indications show the Knicks are there. They averaged the same number of rebounds per game without Chandler, with Anthony and Martin stepping up their board games.
And now, per Frank Isola of the New York Daily News,
"Tyson Chandler says he feels as good as he's felt all season. He's a go for Game 1."— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) April 18, 2013
In sum, the Knicks are holding their most important opponents to the fewest points, crashing the boards and gaining turnovers. They had 11 steals in their last game against Indiana. Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and Smith each average a steal or more a game. Opponents have no idea where it’s going to come from.
In other words, the Knicks' defense is on.
We’ve already covered the Anthony-Smith factor.
Let’s talk about three-pointers. The Knicks haven’t necessarily lived and died by them lately as they had earlier in the season. But the Knicks are a lethal three-point team, and, in fact, have made the most in the NBA.
Sheridan Hoops’ Moke Hamilton draws the connection between the Knicks’ three-point prowess and their W-L record:
"They win games when they hit them, and lose games when they do not. In their 54 wins, as a team, the Knicks have connected on 40 percent of their looks from behind the arc. In their 28 losses? Just 33 percent."
The Knicks also are efficient, ranking third in offensive efficiency (as opposed to 11th in PPG). This had nba.com comparing them to the 2010-11 champion Dallas Mavericks, making even a championship sound possible:
"Led by a sweet shooting forward (Anthony/Nowitzki 50.3/54 percent FG) and key contributions from Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler, the New York Knicks / Dallas Mavericks outscored their opponents by 5.3 points per 100 possessions during the regular season."
The Knicks’ key offensive and defensive statistics entering the postseason are balanced, and these are the statistics that have made the difference in the team’s recent dominance.
They have helped New York evolve into a new team—one that no longer looks for an Anthony-Big Man connection, but one that lets Melo play an isolation game supported by two point guards and another mobile high scorer (Smith).
If Anthony and Smith continue to combine for 50-70 points every game and the Knicks keep going with three-point barrages, New York can break 100 points most nights. In seven games, this would beat the Celtics (96.5 PPG), trump the Pacers (94.7 PPG) and compete with the Heat (102.9 PPG).
The defense, led by Chandler, Martin and Shumpert, has become a team effort and is peaking in opponents’ points, opponents’ field goal percentage, rebounds and steals.
The timing could not be more perfect for the Knicks. Now they must execute.
All stats used in this article are accurate as of the end of the 2012-13 regular season.