Fixing Crunch-Time Woes Is First Step to Turning Around NY Knicks

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Fixing Crunch-Time Woes Is First Step to Turning Around NY Knicks
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The New York Knicks have mishandled a lot of close games this season. Playing against the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday night, they managed to win one.

The Knicks have won two in a row, and three of their four games so far in January. It’s a start. This one didn’t come cleanly, though. The Knicks held a 73-58 lead after three quarters before falling apart. The Pistons cut the lead to one point with less than a minute to go.

Fortunately, the Knicks hung on for the win, 89-85.

Marc Berman for the New York Post, describes the last few seconds of the game:

Anthony tipped the rebound up to Kenyon Martin, who batted it back to Melo. Anthony raced out to the perimeter to kill some clock and was fouled. He made both free throws with 2.9 seconds left for a four-point lead to seal it. It was a smart play by Anthony, taking extra seconds off the clock, and unusual for the Knicks, who have been accused of bad clock management this season.

Tuesday night’s game shouldn’t have gotten away from the Knicks. Especially not after a 13-point third quarter from Anthony, including 3-of-3 from behind the arc. Still, a win is a win.

Per Berman, Knicks head coach Mike Woodson found a glimmer of hope in a game that almost got away:

Sometimes it becomes contagious, you win a few close games and you remember how to win them."

That’s all well and good, but New York hasn’t had nearly enough victories this season. Inconsistent play and the inability to handle either big leads or close games have commingled with injuries, shifting lineups, Anthony’s upcoming free agency and a growing buzz about Woodson’s job security.

Lately, however, the situation seems to be stabilizing. Last Thursday, the Knicks beat the San Antonio Spurs by four points in a game that was close from start to finish. The fact that the Knicks won their first game of 2014 on the road was a positive sign.

New York faltered the next night, giving up a an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter and losing to the Houston Rockets, 102-100. The Knicks finished out their Texas road trip by beating convincingly the Dallas Mavericks, 92-80.

Afterwards, Tim Cato for Mavs Moneyball relayed some unprompted support from Rick Carlisle for opposing coach Woodson:

If I could make one statement about Mike Woodson, I just marvel at the job he's doing with this team right now, given the circumstances, given all the ridiculous rumors about his job security and all the nonsense that's being stirred up in that media cesspool in New York City.

Media cesspool is a strong statement, but Carlisle has never been one to mince words. Still, public criticism doesn’t occur in a vacuum. From Melo’s discontent to Andrea Bargnani’s defensive lapses to some of the most ill-advised shots you never want to see by J.R. Smith, the buck stops with a head coach. Regardless of the press or front-office stress, it’s Woodson’s job to make things right. That’s just how it is.

The strengths and weaknesses of an NBA head coach are often revealed in game management: knowing how to get the most out of tired players on a back-to-back and making substitutions on the fly when someone goes down hurt or simply starts making boneheaded plays.

And perhaps more than anything, it’s those crunch moments—coming back in the closing seconds of a game or hanging on to the narrowest of leads. These moments can define both a coach and a player. Fixing crunch-time woes is an important step for any team.

Another challenge lies ahead with the Miami Heat coming to to town on Thursday. For now, however, the Knicks will take another crucial crunch-time win.

It's one more first step.

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