Knicks vs. Celtics: Isolation Basketball Proves to Be New York's Achilles' Heel
The New York Knicks entered the 2013 NBA Playoffs with mountains of expectations, as they finished as the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Through three games against the Boston Celtics, the Knicks secured a 3-0 lead and never saw the outcome come into question.
During their 97-90 overtime loss in Game 4, however, isolation basketball proved to be New York's Achilles' heel.
The Knicks trailed throughout Game 4, falling behind by as many as 20 points during the third quarter. Led by Raymond Felton's sharpshooting and extraordinary ball movement, however, the Knicks tied it all up and forced overtime.
The key to that was a change of strategy.
For the game, the Knicks managed to tally just 10 assists. As a result, they shot 34.4 percent from the field as a team and 23.3 percent from beyond the arc.
A telling tale for the Knicks' most significant weakness.
Fortunately for the Knicks, it's quite rare that their team struggles to move the ball and shoot at a high rate. They shot less than 40.0 percent in just 10 games during the regular season, going 2-8 in that time.
It was the 14th game in which the Knicks have dished out less than 15 assists—they're 3-11 when that transpires.
With this being known, it can be derived that the Knicks have avoided isolation basketball throughout the 2012-13 NBA regular season. When they fall into such a pattern of offensive execution, however, the Knicks fall apart.
It's move the ball or fall well short of expectations.
The Carmelo Factor
The primary reason for the New York Knicks' inability to move the ball was scoring champion Carmelo Anthony's isolation tendencies. While Anthony's 36 points looked pretty, appearances were deceiving.
Anthony was stifled throughout the duration of this game, as Brandon Bass used physicality to knock him off of his game. When Bass was off of the floor, Jeff Green and Paul Pierce employed that same strategy, and it worked to perfection.
'Melo finished 10-of-35 from the field and 0-for-7 from beyond the arc with seven turnovers.
Knicks outscored the Celtics 14-3 after Carmelo Anthony went to the bench with 4 fouls— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 28, 2013
Need we say more?
Anthony has benefited tremendously from the addition of point guards such as Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni. With those facilitators controlling the pace of the game, Anthony has been given the ball in position to score.
In Game 4, 'Melo scrapped that strategy and took it all upon himself—the Knicks suffered because of the lack of chemistry.
J.R. Smith and The Future
Entering Game 4, no storyline generated as much hype or attention as the suspension of Sixth Man of the Year and Knicks shooting guard, J.R. Smith. Smith, the Knicks' second-leading scorer, was banned for one game after throwing an elbow at Celtics shooting guard Jason Terry.
Smith's absence was felt throughout the first half.
Carmelo Anthony had attempted at least 30 shots in just four games prior to this, with the Knicks going 2-2 in that time. Both of those losses came against a fellow postseason team in the Chicago Bulls.
The victories came against the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors—lesser competition.
With Smith back in the lineup, it's rather unlikely that 'Melo will throw up at least 30 field-goal attempts in any game from here on out. The Knicks trust Smith to provide the secondary individual scoring spark behind Anthony, thus creating a lesser need for isolation basketball.
Without Smith, however, Anthony appears to have developed a predetermined mentality in which he sights isolation dominance as the only way to win a game.
Why the PGs Were Signed
The New York Knicks may not have an individual point guard who classifies as elite, but they have three top-tier facilitators. Raymond Felton has mastered the pick-and-roll, Jason Kidd is one of the greatest distributors in NBA history, and Pablo Prigioni has played on big stages before.
With that being said, the only way for those three to move the ball is to have it in their hands.
Not every basket needs to be assisted, as Anthony is more than capable of working out of Isolation sets on the occasional possession. With that being said, the Knicks' greatest strength is not their superstar scorer.
It's their balanced three-point attack.
The Knicks set the NBA record in 2012-13 for three-point field goals made in one season. Eight active players averaged at least 1.0 three-point field goals made per game, with 'Melo leading the way at 2.3 per contest.
With that being said, Anthony was fifth on the team in three-point field-goal percentage—hence the need to move the ball.
Steve Novak is a marksman, Jason Kidd is third all-time in three-point field goals, and the likes of Chris Copeland, Pablo Prigioni and Iman Shumpert have developed into reliable options. Even if that only leads to two attempts per game, those are valuable shots.
Most importantly, they're shots that draw the defense off of Anthony.
If 'Melo wants to dominate as his talent permits, he must embrace his teammates as he has all season. Although the Knicks expect him to shoot at a high volume, isolation-style basketball is not the way to win games in the postseason.
Anthony and the Knicks learned that the hard way in Game 4.
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