After the New York Knicks laid a 102-95 egg at home against the Indiana Pacers to kick off the second round of the NBA Playoffs on Sunday, some once-overzealous Knick fans are jumping off the bandwagon.
However, behind the Knicks' loss in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated lies a litany of roadblocks that will likely befall a talented, yet not elite, roster. The Knicks are going to have to scrap to get by the Pacers for the honor of falling next round—regardless of opponent.
For the record, I never thought this Knicks team was primed for a championship. They were too old to hold up over the course of a full season, too injury-prone to be consistently counted on and too dependent on isolation scorers. All three are recipes for disaster so the team should be commended on overcoming all of these in a spectacular 54-win season.
Carmelo Anthony took his scoring ability to a different level, J.R. Smith had a career season and they got key contributions from a different guy every night. It was undoubtedly the best season for the Knicks since their last championship run in 1998.
After seven playoff games, four of which were at home, the Knicks are 4-3. Each game has been against teams far less talented than them with far lower expectations, yet despite Game 3 of the Boston series, the Knicks have been in a dogfight in every one.
Through seven games, Anthony has not shot over 50 percent once. His past four games have been particularly awful with a combined 35-for-111 shooting performance (31.5 percent) that has seen him go 2-for-22 from behind the arc. Not surprisingly, the Knicks are 1-3 in those games.
Carmelo has attempted at least 23 shots in every game after averaging 22.2 shots per game this season, which already was the second-highest of his career. The book on Carmelo, echoed by Bernard King today, has always been the same—he tries to do it all himself and he simply can't.
That's not necessarily a knock on him. LeBron didn't win until he teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. David Robinson never won until Tim Duncan came along and Duncan didn't win without major help from Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
For Kobe Bryant, there was Shaq and then Pau Gasol and Ron Artest. Magic had Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Kareem had Magic. Bird had Danny Ainge and Kevin McHale. Carmelo has Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith. The difference is obvious.
Look at every team to win an NBA championship. Which one relied on any player to take more responsibility than Anthony?
In Melo's defense, Smith has been non-existent the last four games, including one of which he was suspended. In his last three games, he's 12-for-42 (28.6 percent) from the field and has simply been a shell of himself.
Chandler has averaged five, yes, five points per game in the playoffs thus far and 7.9 rebounds per game. He has 10 more points than personal fouls committed.
His three-point, four-rebound effort in Game 1 saw him foul out and get terribly outplayed by Roy Hibbert, a trend that cannot continue should the Knicks have a chance.
Jason Kidd, signed in the offseason for his experience, has been terrible throughout the playoffs and has somehow gone five games in a row without scoring. Yes, you read that correctly. He is 0-for-10, including 0-for-5 from downtown, with 10 assists and seven turnovers in 116 minutes.
Pablo Prigioni, such a spark plug down the stretch, has scored six total points in the Knicks' three losses. In their three wins (he missed Game 1 due to injury), he has scored 24 total points to average eight points per game. While he's not expected to score in bunches, his efforts in Game 6 against the Celtics helped cover up miserable nights by Smith and Anthony.
People who solely blame Melo for the Knicks' problems are simply wrong. Basketball is a team sportand the Knicks win as a team and lose as a team.
On top of that, Anthony is banged up. As a proud veteran, he's playing through it, wearing a heavy covering on his shoulder, but he has clearly been affected by the ailment and it's affected his shooting touch.
Indiana is a terrible match-up for the Knicks. Talent-wise, the Knicks blow them off the court. Nobody on the Pacers is in the same world as Anthony and they lack the experience the Knicks possess.
However, the Pacers were the best team in the league this season against the three-pointer, allowing only 5.4 3-pointers per game on 32.7 percent shooting (also tops in the NBA). The Knicks rely on the three-pointer more than any team in the league, and with the injury to Steve Novak, they will struggle even more so against a stingy defense.
In Game 1, the Knicks were 7-for-19 behind the arc, a total that actually beat both season averages allowed by the Pacers. The fact the Knicks still couldn't win despite that is troubling.
On the boards, the Knicks were manhandled, outrebounded 44 to 30, including 11-6 on the offensive glass. Simply, the Pacers were hungrier all night. The expected addition of Amar'e Stoudemire for Game 3 should help mitigate this, but he hasn't played in two months and it's nearly impossible to know what to expect out of him.
While the Knicks were actually a better rebounding team than the Pacers over the season, their results in Game 1 were telling. The Knicks don't want to get into a brawl with Indy. All afternoon, the Pacers physically dominated the Knicks, bumping Melo every chance they had.
While the refs certainly missed a couple of potential fouls, the reality is this is playoff basketball and physical play is to be expected. The Knicks are not build for grind-it-out-victories. They're built to play tough defense and rely on their shooters to knock down shots. If they don't, they'll struggle to win without a consistent inside scoring presence.
Despite already losing home-court advantage, the series is certainly far from over. The Knicks have the best player on the court every time they suit up and the Pacers, despite being the second-best defensive team in the league this season, are below average offensively, averaging only 94.7 points per game.
They won't be able to outscore the Knicks, and if Smith and Carmelo can find their shot, they'll be in trouble.
The problem is that the Knicks will have to grind it out in this series, relying heavily on a lot of players either fresh off of injury or simply old. A potential matchup with the Bulls, who swept the Knicks this season, or the Heat—the most talented team in the NBA by leaps and bounds— does not bode well for New York after what should be a tough series.
The Bulls are built of a similar cloth as the Pacers—tough, physical defense, deep bench, no superstar, great against the three-pointer and below average offensively. They also have Tom Thibodeau, one of the best coaches in the NBA.
Even with the Bulls' injuries, they're a gritty team which has always given the Knicks fits. They ended the Knicks' 14-game winning streak at the end of the season and are riding a tidal wave of momentum.
The Knicks have given the Heat fits this season and Miami's loss on Monday night proved they're certainly beatable. Against Miami, however, the Knicks would not have home-court advantage, the best player on the court (LeBron James), the deeper bench, more experience or the healthier team.
There's simply too much for the Knicks to overcome to win four-of-seven.
The shame of this all is that I like the Knicks' chances against any team in the Western Conference, should they advance that far.
San Antonio is too old, the Warriors are too young, the Grizzlies can't score with the Knicks and the Thunder are too reliant on Kevin Durant. Unfortunately, it just so happens that the three teams left in their side of the bracket are the three worst potential match-ups in the playoffs, including those teams that were already eliminated.
The Knicks are far from dead. I fully expect them to come out with a stronger effort in Game 2, but from what I've seen so far, it's tough to say the Knicks are favorites to take home the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June.
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