It should not be possible to play as stupid a basketball game as the New York Knicks played Wednesday night and emerge victorious. But facing a last-place team like the Milwaukee Bucks, without the services of O.J. Mayo and Larry Sanders, gives an opponent quite a bit of leeway to play brain-dead basketball without consequence.
And the Knicks used every bit of that leeway to beat Milwaukee, 107-101, in double overtime, despite repeatedly shooting themselves in the proverbial foot with dumb lineups, far too much J.R. Smith and perhaps the single dumbest shot in basketball history, courtesy of Andrea Bargnani.
The Bargnani shot, which helped the Bucks rally from two points down with 11 seconds left in the first overtime, will surely be the hot topic after the game. And it was dumb, man. But seriously, was any of this game out of the ordinary for the 2013-14 New York Knicks?
Did the Knicks play any differently in Wednesday's win than they did Monday's loss to the Washington Wizards, a game they lost in the final seconds thanks to a blown two-for-one opportunity, a complete defensive breakdown and a complete lack of understanding about the timeout situation? The Knicks continue to set the bar lower and lower and then limbo under that bar with ease.
A win is a win, as the cliche goes, but how much should really be expected of a team that struggles so to beat the dregs of the NBA?
J.R. Smith: Poster Boy for the 2013-14 Knicks
No other Knick better symbolizes this total assault on basketball intelligence better than shooting guard J.R. Smith.
On any given night, Smith is more than happy to put the "shooting" in "shooting guard," but Wednesday's game might have been his masterpiece. He scored 19 points on 17 three-point attempts...not field-goal attempts (there were 23 of those), but 17 shots from behind the arc.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, not only is that a Knicks franchise record, it is only the third time in NBA history a player has scored fewer than 20 points on 17 or more three-point attempts. (h/t @netw3rk)
After the game, Smith took to Twitter, where he often gives a glimpse into his inner thoughts.
Lol 17 threes tho! Had to say damn my self!— JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) December 19, 2013
But trust me give me that chance again I'll shoot it again!— JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) December 19, 2013
Sure, Smith is oblivious. He is incorrigible. He is who he is and won't change. The responsibility then falls to the coaching staff to rein in Smith when he's missing shots at an unacceptable clip, particularly in the fourth quarter.
Instead, Knicks coach Mike Woodson has given Smith the longest leash of any Knick not named "Carmelo Anthony." Woodson usually turns a blind eye to Smith's on-court antics, while berating other players, usually role players and rookies.
He actually benched Smith for the fourth quarter of a Friday, December 14 game against the Atlanta Hawks, opting instead for rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. It's no secret among Knicks fans that Hardaway has been the team's best shooting guard this season, and he proved it against the Hawks, helping New York pull away for a 111-106 win.
Since that time, however, Woodson has seemingly purged that hard-earned lesson from his brain. Hardaway played just three minutes in the fourth on Wednesday and didn't play in either overtime. Instead, Smith got the nod for the final 18 minutes. He did hit a few big threes but missed several more as the Knicks barely held on for the win.
The Big Lineup
Even with starting center Tyson Chandler returning, the Knicks were woefully thin in the frontcourt on Wednesday night. Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudemire were both inactive, leaving Chandler and Andrea Bargnani as the only two "bigs" in the rotation.
Mike Woodson wisely moved Bargnani to the bench, to spread out those minutes but warned the Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring before the game that he would try to play Chandler and Bargnani together.
Woodson says he plans to play a Melo, Bargnani, Chandler frontcourt at some point tonight to force a small Bucks team to match up size-wise.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 18, 2013
Given the way the Knicks have struggled with those two players on the court together, it was a horrible idea.
In 41 mins, 90 pts per 100 plays on O; 119 on D. MT @Tramac2442: You have stats on when those Melo, Bargnani & Tyson are on court together?— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 18, 2013
Wednesday's lineups played out much in the same way they have all year. The Knicks built a lead with their smaller lineups—this time playing Bargnani at center with Metta World Peace, Hardaway and Toure' Murry—and then they blew the lead by playing Bargnani at the 4 with Chandler at the 5.
It happened at the end of the first half and at the end of the second half. The Knicks were lucky that both John Henson and Khris Middelton missed open looks at the buzzer, or they would have lost the game in regulation.
Woodson has shown time and again that he is more interested in size then quality. He is obsessed with "matching the size" of the last-place Bucks—who are missing their starting center, no less—and it nearly cost them another game.
Life at the Bottom
Can the Knicks take anything positive away from this win? Doubtful. If they could, they would have done it a long time ago. All this win means is that Mike Woodson will keep his job for another game or two, Woodson will keep plugging in J.R. Smith and Smith will continue to shoot, consequences be damned.
Let's face it, Knicks' fans, low-IQ basketball performances like this have become par for the course this season. Only the opponents change. The Knicks caught a break Wednesday in that the opponent was a 5-19 Milwaukee team, and they still nearly managed to blow the game.
This kind of immature, unfocused basketball has dropped New York into the very bowels of the NBA, and they don't look ready to climb out anytime soon.