Raise your hand if you thought that the first round series between the third seeded Celtics against the sixth seeded Knicks would have been a defensive battle with the Knicks holding their own. Raise your hand if you thought that the Knicks would be looking to slow the pace of the game down to a half-court set.
Turns out that Mike D'Antoni can coach.
The New York Knicks had no business going toe-to-toe with the Boston Celtics in the second half of last night's 96-93 loss. They were playing without the services of All-Star Amar'e Stoudamire and point guard Chauncey Billups. The crunch time lineup featured just one player, Carmelo Anthony, who would crack the starting rotation for any of the other teams in the playoffs.
Yet, here the Knicks were with 13 seconds left to play with a chance to win the game. A well designed play to get the ball into the paint. If the Knicks executed, they win the game. Unfortunately, Kevin Garnett stood as the last line of defense and was able to make the steal to secure the win.
Mike D'Antoni is playing to the strengths of his team. The trade to acquire Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups required significant adjustment in how the Knicks run their offense. Post trade, the Knicks simply could not execute the seven seconds or less offense. Billups, the driver of the Knicks car, is not suited for that type of offensive set.
The Knicks have transformed into more of a traditional half court team, but some of the tenets of the D'Antoni offensive philosophy have remained. The offense is still heavily dependent on taking open three-point shots, while minimizing the number of long two point field goals (between 18 and 22 feet).
Without Billups and Stoudamire for the second half of Game Two, the Knicks effectively employed the weave as their basic offensive set. Anthony was the de facto point guard and responded with one of the finest games of his career. The undersized Knicks rotation crashed the boards with abandon and out-rebounded the Celtics by 17 in total and by a whopping 11 on the offensive glass. That is coaching.
The 2010 Playoffs are a referendum on Mike D'Antoni. Is he the right man to lead this team into the future? For two games, it appears that he is the right man for this particular Knicks team.