On the bright side, New York did end an ugly losing skid versus Chicago:
Knicks snap a 6-game losing streak vs the Bulls. That was their 2nd-longest vs the Bulls in series history.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 12, 2013
But facts are facts: The Knicks eked out a win against a Bulls team that simply could not put the ball in the basket.
Mike Dunleavy led the way for Chicago, going 7-of-24 from the field and 3-of-11 from three for 20 points. Three others Bulls—Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson—chipped in with 12 each.
Embattled Knicks head coach Mike Woodson may have needed to win this game to save his job. While he got the win, he demonstrated that he was not on the same page as his star, Carmelo Anthony, particularly when it came to what offense to run down the stretch.
Per the Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring:
Woodson, on the late-game shots: "I'll take a shot from Melo all day long [in that situation]." Says some of those iso plays were designed.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 12, 2013
Melo, on the late-game isolations: "Guys are kinda waiting around for me to do something. ... We've gotta get away from that. And we will."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 12, 2013
Carmelo finished with a game-high 30 points, adding 10 rebounds, four assists, one block and three steals, but the rest of the starting lineup combined for 17 points.
The Iso-Melo Everyone Saw Coming
Before the game, Hardwood Paroxysm's Jared Dubin broke down Anthony's lack of success against Tom Thibodeau-coached teams:
Melo shoots ~4% worse than career AVG vs Thibs teams. Not surprising. Thibs-style D is geared to stop wing Isos. http://t.co/vzs7Pudt3S— Jared Dubin (@JADubin5) December 12, 2013
The Knicks often just try to force the wing Iso vs these strong side overload teams. Do it all the time vs BOS, CHI, IND, etc. Not too smart— Jared Dubin (@JADubin5) December 12, 2013
To his credit, Melo had done an excellent job of avoiding isolation plays that Thibodeau's defense prides itself on stopping. Like in wins against the Nets and Magic, he was unselfish and patient offensively. As such, the Knicks benefited from his efficient, team-oriented play.
Anthony stayed that way, until the fourth.
As players tightened up and the lead slipped away, Woodson did what he needed to do. He had already brought back a hobbled Kenyon Martin, who played 35 minutes with a sore ankle. He leaned heavily on Amar'e Stoudemire, who played 30 minutes in his first back-to-back of the season.
But mostly, he went to Melo.
Melo wing Iso on 7 of the last 9 possessions, FYI. 4 points on those plays. And here comes 8 of 10.— Jared Dubin (@JADubin5) December 12, 2013
I've never seen a team so studiously dedicated to repeatedly running the exact play the other team wants them to run.— Jared Dubin (@JADubin5) December 12, 2013
And the Knicks offense devolved into Anthony on the wing with four guys watching. When he passed, he wasn't setting up his teammates; he did so with seconds left on the clock and no other option.
Woodson wants Anthony taking shots late, but not every shot, for an entire quarter, against a defense geared up to stop him.
It was Stoudemire who hit the game-winning jumper, putting the Knicks ahead 76-74 after New York had blown four straight possessions (two turnovers and two missed jumpers) by trying to force the ball to Melo.
Whaddya know? Knicks reverse the ball away from Melo's side of the floor and get a basket!— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 12, 2013
At times, the Knicks play like a gang of drunken street mimes, converging unexpectedly on an outdoor cafe. But when they pass the ball and everyone remains engaged on offense and defense, they can be a dangerous team.
Every time J.R. Smith launches a three, an angel gets incinerated in four-alarm fire. #ChristmasCheer— Jamie O'Grady (@JamieOGrady_) December 12, 2013
After a very strong start, things looked like the former in the second half.
New York had already lost starting wing Iman Shumpert to a knee bruise after he collided with longtime Knicks tormentor Mike Dunleavy. Still, the team had a 20-point lead.
But the momentum shifted when Stoudemire, who played admirably, failed to pick up a ball in the backcourt. Dunleavy went in for an easy layup, and the Knicks fell apart soon after. New York turned the ball over five times in two minutes as the Bulls went on a 10-0 run to get back into the game.
Can the Knicks Build off This Win?
To be sure, there were positives. Most importantly, the Knicks held on for a much-needed win.
New York should feel good about Stoudemire, who had 14 points, nine rebounds, one assist, one block and two steals on 7-of-11 shooting. Kenyon Martin shook the long-suffering MSG crowd out of its slumber in the first half with his efforts defensively. And rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. continues to look like a keeper.
But now Shumpert is injured, and the coach and star don't seem to be on the same page. Until this team finds leadership, it will be hard pressed to make noise in the wide-open Eastern Conference.