This New York Knicks team, man...
No other team in the league is quite so cruel to its fans. They rip out your soul, then hand it back to you just so they can rip it out again. They must sit together on the team bus and dream up creative new ways to lose.
Was Friday night's 102-100 loss at Houston the most heartbreaking defeat of the season? Sure, the Knicks have lost in all sorts of embarrassing, soul-crushing ways, but this one might just take the cake.
After a season of pathetic and uninspiring play, New York seemed to find that old winning formula in the last two games of its Texas road trip.
First, the Knicks beat the Spurs in San Antonio on Thursday, and then they were set to pull off another upset of a Western Conference power, the Houston Rockets, on Friday night. The game was tied at 100, and thanks to a strong offensive rebound from Tyson Chandler, they had the ball with the shot clock turned off and a chance to win the game.
And then, J.R. Smith.
The play is so stupid, it deserves its own point-by-point breakdown.
- Believe it or not, this was the second time a Knick pulled the "shoot immediately instead of running down the shot clock, thereby giving the opposition a chance to tie/win" move. Andrea Bargnani invented the move with this boneheaded shot in overtime of a December 18 game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Among the players to get on Bargnani's case for shooting in that situation? You guessed it: J.R. Smith.
- In both instances, Tyson Chandler made a crucial play to control the rebound, kick it out to his teammate, only to watch in horror as that teammate chucked the shot back his way. The next time Chandler pulls down a big offensive rebound at the end of a close game, he might just hold the ball and curl into the fetal position in shock. Call it "post-traumatic Knicks syndrome."
- The foul by Beno Udrih won't get as much publicity, but it was pretty much equally dumb. Aaron Brooks couldn't have been farther from the basket and the Rockets were in the penalty. Still, if Smith doesn't take that dumb shot, Udrih doesn't make that dumb foul—it's all relative.
Why did J.R. Smith shoot? He explained his reasoning after the game, and it was even more ridiculous than previously imagined.
Per Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:
J.R. Smith says he thought the Knicks were down 2 when he took the ill advised three. "That's bad basketball IQ on me," he said.— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) January 4, 2014
Remember, this is the same J.R. Smith who hinted that the team had betrayed his family earlier in the week when they released his brother, Chris, per Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News.
Naturally, the New York faithful took to the Internet to voice their displeasure with Smith.
This team would write "YOUR NAME" on its SAT form.— netw3rk (@netw3rk) January 4, 2014
The legendary Angry Knicks Fan even recorded a postgame reaction.
But enough about J.R. Smith. The Knicks are actually playing some decent basketball at the moment, so let's accentuate the positive and discuss what they've been doing better.
The first and most crucial silver lining for the Knicks is the continued reemergence of Iman Shumpert. The third-year swingman scored a career-high 27 points on Thursday in San Antonio. If he had faltered in Houston, that performance would have looked like a fluke.
It was no fluke. Shumpert backed up that game with a 26-point night in Houston. One more game like this, and Shumpert will match his point total from the entire month of December.
This was the first time in the 2013-14 season Carmelo Anthony (25 points) played an entire game and didn't at least share the title of New York's leading scorer. Melo played a fantastic game, gritting through an ankle injury in 38 tough minutes. He has played 77 total minutes in the last two games after missing three games with that ankle problem. Here's hoping coach Mike Woodson doesn't run him into the ground.
Melo needs a perimeter scorer to make defenses pay for bringing double-teams his way. Last regular season, that player was J.R. Smith. But he has struggled mightily with his shot (34.7 FG%, 34.1 3PT%) and has generally been a liability on offense. Both Melo and the Knicks need Iman Shumpert to step up and fill that void, as he did in last season's playoffs.
The other silver lining for the Knicks was the play of rookie point guard Toure' Murry...at least in the first half. Murry sparked the Knicks in the second quarter with four assists, including this beauty.
In the second half, Murry fell victim to Mike Woodson's strange substitution patterns. He played Beno Udrih through most of the third quarter, then brought an ice-cold Murry off the pine for all of three minutes, spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth. Murry, who had played sterling ball when matched up against Jeremy Lin, struggled against the speedy Aaron Brooks.
Still, he has left quite an impression on Knicks writers during his past few games. Per Hardwood Paroxysm's Jared Dubin:
Murry looks like another end-of-bench find by Glen Grunwald, by the way. Add that to Lin, Novak, Copeland, and Pablo.— Jared Dubin (@JADubin5) January 4, 2014
The Knicks have a chance to build off these performances from their young perimeter players. Even if they don't make the playoffs—and they're a long shot, at best—they would be better served to develop these players for the future.
As long as players like Murry and Shumpert are playing better than the veterans in front of them, there's absolutely no reason they shouldn't play a greater role in the Knicks' rotation. It's a win-win scenario.