The New York Knicks trudged into the Motor City still stinging from Saturday's 20-point loss at home to the Atlanta Hawks. Just like the Detroit Pistons, the Knicks entered the game with a 3-6 record hoping to shake off a slow start to the season. After an uninspired offensive showing, the Knicks found themselves 92-86 losers and looked to be in disarray for most of the night.
On the ninth anniversary of the "Malice at the Palace" something bad was bound to happen, and New York was on the receiving end of those negative vibes.
The Knicks' three-pointers were not falling (6-of-24), and their two highest-paid players, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, each earned technical fouls. Anthony led all scorers with 25 points, but he struggled to find his shot for most of the night with Josh Smith hounding him.
The Pistons had looked clueless on defense this season, but the Knicks have not been much better. Through nine games, Detroit had the league's least efficient defense, while New York ranks 27th (points per 100 possessions per NBA.com). Yet the Knicks shot just 42.5 percent in the first half and were lucky to reach halftime knotted at 43 with the Pistons shooting 52.8 percent.
New York wasn't as lucky in the second half. Detroit got off to a good start in the third quarter and rolled into the fourth. Behind strong play from Rodney Stuckey off the bench, the Pistons stretched their lead to 15 points with under 10 minutes remaining. The Knicks trimmed it to a five-point game, but that's as close as they would get.
Raymond Felton and Metta World Peace missed the game with hip and knee injuries respectively, and while it's hard to estimate their value in the rotation, the Knicks never got into rhythm against a decidedly mediocre opponent. The ball movement was rarely admirable, resulting in 16 team assists on 33 field goals, and New York settled for far too many jump shots against the worst defense in the NBA.
Worse still, the middling Pistons offense shot 50 percent.
The Knicks fell to 3-7 with the loss, so let's get out the red marker and hand out grades for the entire rotation.
Key Player Grades
Carmelo Anthony, Small Forward
Melo returned to the 3 with Kenyon Martin and Andrea Bargnani both getting a start up front. Perhaps he should go back to starting at the 4. Anthony's shot deserted him, and he was 5-of-15 from the field through three quarters. He was also visibly upset on numerous occasions that he did not receive foul calls, and Josh Smith beat him up all evening to keep him off step.
As usual, Anthony finished with a creditable stat line that somewhat masked his subpar play. Melo had 25 points, seven rebounds (four offensive) and two steals. But he also committed seven turnovers and failed to involve his teammates in the offense. In a show that we've all seen before, the Knicks offense stagnated down the stretch, and its comeback lacked the quality to erase a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Amar'e Stoudemire, Power Forward
Stoudemire had a couple of energetic dunks on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter. He made a meal out of Luigi Datome, and dunking over the Italian clearly agreed with him. He came right back down for an uncontested slam off a pretty pass from Pablo Prigioni. For good measure, he threw down another dunk in the third quarter.
It left many fans imagining those bygone days when Stoudemire was a premier player instead of a rickety albatross on the payroll. Now, fans are more than happy with the six points and five boards he provided in 15 minutes. If Stoudemire can contribute that kind of energy off the bench, the Knicks' scoring could see a much-needed boost.
However, Stoudemire still has no clue what he's doing on defense, as was glaringly evident on one play in the third quarter. He has never been a strong defender, but that play stands out as being particularly lazy and negligent.
Stoudemire also lost his composure at an inopportune time, though he did not assault any fire extinguishers. After blowing a layup in the fourth quarter, he expressed his displeasure at the lack of a foul call and received a technical foul. The Knicks trailed by 10 at the stage and did not need his outburst, which set them back further.
J.R. Smith, Shooting Guard
J.R. Smith came into the game set to face Brandon Jennings following their spat on Twitter last week, which involved his younger brother, Chris Smith, who was recently assigned to the Knicks' D-League affiliate.
However, as soon as Smith entered the game midway through the first quarter, Jennings went running off to the locker room. Evidently, the Piston was suffering from some type of stomach bug, but he was able to return later in the game to possibly spread contagions to the Knicks.
Smith ended up with 18 points on 7-of-15 from the field, but he shot just 2-of-9 from three-point range. He knifed to the hoop on several occasions and should have done that more often. Instead, he contributed to the lack of ball movement for New York by hoisting up jump shots whenever he saw fit. He tallied two assists, a steal and three turnovers as well.
Andrea Bargnani, Center
Bargnani got off to a hot start in the first quarter, and he did all his damage inside. He bricked three jump shots from the perimeter but feasted on four field goals at the rim. As the game turned to the second half, however, Bargnani disappeared. He attempted just three shots in the second half and finished with 13 points, six boards, two dimes and a block.
The Knicks stopped moving the ball down the stretch and shot poorly against Detroit's leaky D.
Bargs was a credit to the offense, and for a period, Kenyon Martin bolstered the defense and helped hide Bargnani. But that would not last. While it can't be blamed entirely on Bargnani, he certainly did not do anything of note to slow down the Pistons frontcourt. Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe poured in the points with efficiency and finished with a combined 29 points on 12-of-15 from the field plus 22 rebounds.
This is one of the big problems with starting the one-dimensional Bargnani.
Iman Shumpert, Small Forward
The young Shumpert had a decent game throughout, but he really provided a brief spark in the fourth quarter that helped spur the team. He drained a three-pointer to cut the deficit to eight points with five minutes left. At that stage of the game, Shump was clearly the most energetic player on the court, and he did his best to increase the tempo as the offense was stagnating.
Unfortunately, it was in vain. Shumpert had 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting plus an assist and a steal, but his teammates could not match his high motor of pesky defense.
Kenyon Martin, Power Forward
Starting power forward Kenyon Martin did not have much of an impact on offense with five points, and he fumbled a couple of scoring opportunities as well. However, K-Mart brought his trademark physicality in the middle and provided the only resistance to Detroit's frontcourt. He snagged six boards and two steals, along with a blocked shot.
With 29 minutes logged in this game, it will be interesting to see what his status is for Wednesday's game.
Beno Udrih, Point Guard
Udrih got the surprise start over Pablo Prigioni as Raymond Felton nursed his sore hip in street clothes. Udrih also became the only Knicks starter not to score. He did dish four assists in his 18 minutes, but he also coughed up two turnovers in limited duty.
He failed to make an impression on the NBA's least efficient defense and did not bring much to the table. He had played only 38 minutes prior to Wednesday and did not look entirely comfortable with the scheme on either end of the floor. I envision very few starts in the near future for Udrih.
Rest of Bench
Beno Udrih briefly usurped Pablo Prigioni at the point, but 3-6 teams tend to juggle their rotations a little bit. It was the fifth different starting lineup that Mike Woodson has used in only 10 games.
Prigioni was clearly the superior point guard and turned in a strong all-around performance.
He notched eight points, five dimes, five rebounds, two steals and a block. If the Knicks had five Prigionis, they might actually have won this game. He assisted on both of Stoudemire's slam dunks in the second quarter and came off the bench to out-produce Udrih. He logged five more minutes than the starter as well and is the clear top dog until Felton returns.
Tim Hardaway Jr. saw 10 minutes and missed all three of his shot attempts. He did snag a steal and a rebound, but at the moment, he is basically just a shooter at the back end of the rotation. Expect his production and his minutes to be erratic.
The Knicks fall to 3-7, and only the Milwaukee Bucks have a worse record in the East. They are now tied with the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards, as all three teams have failed spectacularly to live up to expectations.
It only gets worse for the Knickerbockers, as they will host the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. Cover your eyes. The Pistons are also back in action on Wednesday and get a tough test on the road at the Atlanta Hawks.