Much has been made by media and fans alike of the struggles of the New York Knicks' two biggest stars in the NBA playoffs. After playing some fantastic basketball to lead the Knicks to a 3-0 series advantage over the Celtics in the first round, scoring champion Carmelo Anthony and Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith have struggled mightily in the last five games.
After shooting a solid .46 percent from the floor and averaging 32 points in the Knicks' first three playoff games, Anthony has really struggled with his shot, shooting under 32 percent from the field on an average of 27.5 shots per game from Game 4 in Boston through Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers. In Game 2 he rebounded, hitting 13-of-26 shots for 32 points in the Knicks' 105-79 win.
Funny, because that was also the first time the Knicks broke 100-plus points in a playoff game since the Patrick Ewing-less Knicks defeated the Reggie Miller-led Pacers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference playoffs in 1999, the year the eighth-seeded Knicks made their famous run to the Finals.
J.R. Smith is probably more to blame for the Knicks' offensive struggles in the last few games than Anthony is. His elbow on Jason Terry in Game 3 in Boston got him suspended for the next game, which gave the Celtics some life. Since then, he's played awful, shooting a putrid 26 percent from the field and averaging just 13 points in his last four postseason games.
In order for the Knicks to get to the promised land, Melo and J.R. will need to shoot better. What many people are ignoring is the fact that Anthony has been dealing with a shoulder injury which he sustained about three weeks ago against these same Indiana Pacers.
What has been keeping the Knicks afloat against Indiana and out of a 2-0 series hole is their supporting cast—Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton, Kenyon Martin and Pablo Prigioni. They have all stepped up their game this postseason.
Felton has arguably been the Knicks MVP so far in the playoffs, averaging 16.9 points and 4.8 assists while shooting a strong 47 percent, including 36 percent from downtown. The biggest reason for his success has been his decision to drive more to the basket rather than settling for less jumpers—though he's still been able to knock down the three-pointer. This has allowed him to penetrate and open lanes for his teammates.
Shumpert has been coming into his own in these playoffs. After returning in January from an ACL injury in last year's playoffs, he struggled to reassert his athleticism. In these playoffs, he seems to have gotten back to form, averaging 10.0 points and 6.4 assists while shooting almost 47 percent from the field. He's also knocked down 12-of-26 three-pointers after shooting just over 40 percent from downtown in the regular season.
Shumpert's defense has been absolutely stellar, as he completely shut down Paul Pierce in the first round (37 percent shooting). From Game 4 on, he's been even better: 13.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals, while shooting 51 percent overall from the field and nearly 44.5 from three-point range.
Martin has proved to be a very invaluable back up big man since coming to New York around the trade deadline. He's played plenty of minutes in place of Tyson Chandler, providing great defense, shot-blocking, rebounding, as well as putting in some points, with three 10-plus point games. If the Knicks are going to have a chance against Indiana, Chicago or Miami, Martin is going to continue to be a key member of their rotation and his toughness can help give the Knicks some cojones.
Lastly, Prigioni has been an X-factor for the Knickerbockers. Given a much larger role from Game 3 of the Boston series on, he's been superb, averaging 6.5 points, 2.8 assists while being more aggressive in shooting (47.6 percent from downtown). He was a key player in the Knicks' big Game 2 vs. the Pacers, 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting, four rebounds and four assists. Since the end of the regular season, coach Mike Woodson has unleashed him, and he's become another consistent key player for New York.
The Knicks are not going to win the championship or even this series vs. Indiana if Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith continue to struggle, even with Amar'e Stoudemire set to return for Game 3 on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. However, if they manage to return to form (and Anthony did in Game 2), the Knicks can beat just about anyone left in the playoffs, even Miami, because they have a very strong supporting cast on the bench and are ready to welcome Stoudemire back into the fold.
Consistency is key for the Knicks' streaky shooters, but they have too much depth to be taken lightly or be beaten easily, as we saw on Tuesday.