Believe it or not, there was a lot for Knicks fans to like in Thursday night's heartbreaking 82-81 loss to the Chicago Bulls. The Knicks showed plenty of heart in coming back from a double-digit deficit against a tough team in a hostile environment on the back end of a back-to-back.
Individually, Tyson Chandler finally looks like the bearded man-beast Knicks fans came to love in 2011-12, terrorizing the Chicago offense and ripping down 19 rebounds. Rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. looked talented and composed playing with the regulars down the stretch.
Collectively, the much-maligned Knicks D allowed 83 points or less in both their first two games for the first time in the shot-clock era.
Still, it's one thing to miss shots down the stretch, but it's another thing to miss shots based on a faulty process.
In the last four minutes of the game, the Knicks took seven shots (all missed): five by Carmelo Anthony and two by Raymond Felton. Of those two Felton shots, one was an open three coming off an offensive rebound and one was an ill-advised floater in the lane. All five shots from Melo were contested mid- to long-range jump shots.
Now, it's well known that the Bulls have owned the Knicks during the Melo era. The numbers are disturbing:
One of the reasons for that success is that Chicago has the rare defender who can trouble Anthony in forward Luol Deng. Deng has the length and tenacity to contest most every jumper, and Anthony (22 PTS, 8-of-24 FG, 6 REB, 6 AST, 2 BLK, 4 TO) visibly struggled against Deng down the stretch.
After watching Melo toss up brick after brick at the end of this game, a phrase came to the minds of Knicks fans everywhere: "hero ball." This is not the first time the Knicks have ruined a tight game by repeatedly giving the ball to Melo for clock-draining, well-defended isolation plays ending in forced mid-range jumpers.
And the results have not been encouraging recently, as the Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring chronicled during last year's playoffs:
But the Knicks have failed this season when relying late on Anthony, who has gone 1-for-10 on last-minute shots that would have either tied or won a game...
...Anthony's lone clutch basket this season—a game-winning layup against Atlanta—came on the one shot he took from inside the paint. His nine other clutch attempts, all misses, came from outside the paint.
Over the past three seasons, Anthony has fared worst in the clutch (36%) when shooting from mid-range. That is a considerable drop-off from the 50% he has hit on layup attempts, or even the 44.4% he has shot from three-point range, where he presumably has more space to shoot.
To be fair to the Knicks, not all of Melo's end-of-game shots came strictly on isolation plays. The Knicks also ran a few pick-and-rolls with Felton and Chandler. Unfortunately, the Bulls have one of the league's best pick-and-roll defenses, and Felton kicked the ball out to Melo for a contested jumper.
The fault here lies not only with Anthony, or coach Mike Woodson, but with Felton as well. Even with J.R. Smith suspended, the Knicks have a couple of good, fearless shooters in Hardaway and Iman Shumpert. Perhaps the time has come for the Knicks to use Melo more as a decoy and give some of the kids a shot to play the hero.