The Sixers had lost seven of their last eight games coming into Wednesday, and their organizational philosophy seems based on the idea of losing as many games as possible. Yet the loss was no fluke—Philadelphia led for most of the game. Their offense—ranked 29th in the NBA in offensive efficiency—carved up the Knicks early and often. They now trail New York by just one game in the standings.
So if these Knicks are not demonstrably better than a Sixers team that is all but trying to lose, what does it say about the Knicks themselves—their effort, their preparation, their desire?
Head coach Mike Woodson has been on the hot seat for the majority of the season, but has always managed to hover above the fray, oddly unaffected and secure in his position. But as games like these continue to pile up, his grasp on the team looks more tenuous by the hour. The Knicks are likely playing for Woodson's job, and they don't look overly concerned with saving their coach.
New York played the same lethargic, switch-every-screen brand of defense they usually do, giving up the usual amount of open threes, layups and dunks. Yes, they did block 12 shots, but they also allowed 50 points in the paint. The Sixers also shot 9-for-14 from beyond the arc, most of those shots coming with no Knick defender within five feet of the shooter.
In all fairness, not every Knick played listless basketball on Wednesday. Carmelo Anthony continued to be Mr. Everything for New York, scoring 28 points and dishing seven assists. Iman Shumpert had his first decent game since the Knicks' Texas road trip in January, scoring 19 points and grabbing eight rebounds. And Andrea Bargnani scored 20 points of his own in his friskiest performance in some time...perhaps too frisky, as he got a little too ambitious on a dunk attempt, leading to the best musical compilation of the season, courtesy of SB Nation:
But Bargnani continued to struggle at what he was brought to New York to do—namely, space the floor. He shot 1-for-5 from beyond the arc, dropping his three-point shooting to a ghastly 27.8 percent. Per Basketball-Reference, his three-point percentage is in the bottom 10 among qualified shooters, and teams are learning to lay off him when he gets the ball behind the arc.
Worse, the 7-footer provided little help on the boards, grabbing only four rebounds. Woodson went back to his "big" lineup—featuring Bargnani at power forward—after bringing him off the bench for Monday's loss to the Brooklyn Nets. As usual, the lineup did virtually nothing big lineups are supposed to do. The Sixers, who came into Wednesday ranked 18th in offensive rebounding percentage and 25th in defensive rebound percentage, destroyed the Knicks on the glass, with a 54-39 rebounding advantage.
Despite New York's big lineup, it was Shumpert, the shooting guard, who led the team in offensive rebounds, grabbing more boards (three) than Chandler and Bargnani combined (two).
Lies, Damned Lies and Defensive Statistics
Woodson's talent as a coach can be questioned, but not his skill at the art of propaganda. Coming into Wednesday, the hottest story at MSG was center Tyson Chandler's assertion that the Knicks were making a mistake using Woodson's switch-every-screen defensive schemes. Bleacher Report's own Dan Favale delved more deeply into the controversy—and Woodson's culpability—on Wednesday afternoon.
Well Woodson wasn't going to take that lying down. He came into Wednesday's pregame press conference armed with some statistics from Monday's 103-80 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, per the Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring.
Woodson: "Switching didn't hurt us [Monday]. We switched 37 times, they scored eight times."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) January 22, 2014
Where are those numbers coming from? Woodson didn't elaborate. What do they mean? That, too, is unclear.
Let's say that the Nets scored only eight times on New York's switches. The curious thing about basketball is that players are often credited with more than one point for each "score." Sometimes, those "scores" are worth as much as three points! And considering the fact that Brooklyn hit 14 threes on Monday, chances are high that some of those scores were of the three-point variety.
But Woodson wasn't finished. He also credited his schemes with New York's strong defensive performance last season, per Herring:
Woodson called last year's defense "solid," and said that switching then didn't hurt them. Said they're allowing 99 PPG this season.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) January 22, 2014
Now, the Knicks did, in fact, give up 95.7 opponent points per game—seventh in the league. And their 2013-14 mark of 99.1 opponent's points per game is ranked 10th. These defensive numbers might have been deemed impressive...in the '80s. But in the year 2014, even casual NBA fans know about pace-adjusted defensive efficiency. New York was the fourth-slowest team in the league last season, so their defensive efficiency number ballooned to a thoroughly mediocre 18th. This year's Knicks squad came into Wednesday ranked an abysmal 27th in defensive efficiency.
So is Mike Woodson merely a product of bygone thinking on defensive statistics, or is there something else afoot? Per Herring:
Woodson often talked with us about how the Knicks ranked 3rd in NBA in offense last year, even tho they only ranked 11th in PPG that season.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) January 22, 2014
Indeed, the 2012-13 Knicks ranked third in pace-adjusted offensive efficiency, but only 11th in points scored per game. So the head coach of the New York Knicks will quote advanced numbers or outdated numbers, depending on what will help cover his failings.
For what it's worth, Woodson's players have picked up their coach's habit of quoting potentially phony data. J.R. Smith held court after the game with this whopper, per the Associated Press' Kenny Ducey and Hardwood Paroxysm's Jared Dubin:
No they weren't. 30th. RT @KennyDucey: JR: "We're one of the worst teams in fast break points. Last year we were one of the best 10 teams."— Jared Dubin (@JADubin5) January 23, 2014
In the end, these New York Knicks are what Mike Woodson has made them—a team that doesn't fight through screens, doesn't stay with their man on D, doesn't take accountability. If they play poorly enough to cost Woodson his job, then he has nobody to blame but himself.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.