Knicks Don’t Get It Done Against Steeper Competition

Published on: 27th November, 2010

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D'antoni head in hands
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New York – The questions will begin to be asked again about these New York Knickerbockers after today’s thrashing at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden in a game that wasn’t as close as the score, 99-90, would indicate. In front of a home crowd that welcomed and anticipated a team coming off the road with a five-game winning streak, and thoughts of ushering in a new era in what has been a dreary, if not deadly decade for Knicks fans, the Knicks came home and laid a big egg.

All the good feelings about winning their last five games against the likes of Golden State, Sacramento, the Clippers, and Charlotte (twice, in back-to-back games) dissipated like the Knicks perimeter defense, today as they were unable to sustain their recent formula for winning basketball against a team that is clearly above the level of those the Knicks have beaten during their winning streak. Today’s loss was the New Yorkers second wire-to–wire defeat of the season. That’s right, they never held a lead.

“Give them credit,” said Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni. “They are long and athletic. When we came out, we had no pop. We didn’t push the tempo, we got way behind and we paid for it.”

A few things are becoming abundantly clear about this team:

1. As an old football coach around this town said a long time ago, you are what your record says you are. Right now, at 8-9, that seems about right for the Knicks. Maybe a little better than a .500 team if players stay healthy.

2. Ronny Turiaf is much more important to this team than anyone, and that includes the Knicks coaching staff, thought he would be when he was first acquired. Turiaf was limited to playing just 10 minutes today, as his sprained knee is too painful for him to contribute fully. Turiaf sets the tone defensively for this team with his physical play and hustle while his decision-making on the offensive side of the court, particularly when he has the ball at the top of the key, is outstanding for a big man.

3. Mike D’Antoni may or may not coach defense, as Amar’e Stoudamire intimated the other day when he told reporters he was never taught the art of defending in his years as a Phoenix Sun, when his coach there was none other than Mike D’Antoni. But one other thing D’Antoni does not do particularly well is in his use of timeouts to stem the other teams’ momentum. Today, the Knicks ended the first half trailing by 18 points, and looking like they had digested too much of the Thanksgiving triptofan in their turkeys. Throughout the third quarter, Atlanta maintained a double-digit lead, hovering between 11 and 14 points ahead. The Knicks finally started to scrape back into it. With 10:38 to go in the game, two Wilson Chandler free throws got them to within four points, 75-71. The home crowd was into it, the players were into it as the building sensed these new Knicks were capable of coming back against even good teams like the Hawks.

Perhaps the Knicks were exhausted from their long, uphill battle to close the lead but over the next minute and 26 seconds, the Hawks scored three easy baskets in a row on consecutive possessions. A Jamal Crawford (21 points) uncontested three-point shot and two Al Horford buckets broke the game open again, pushing the Hawks’ lead back to 11.

Red Holzman, who won a couple of championships in this building for this franchise, would have called a time-out, probably after the Horford’s first basket, for no other reason than to slow the momentum, talk a little defense, and give his team a blow after they had spent themselves getting it down to four. D’Antoni waited for the second Horford score in a row, putting the Knicks down again by double-digits, before calling that time-out.

And then, from 7:33 to go on the clock to 5:54, the Hawks went on another 9-2 run, blasting the game wide open to 91-77. It must have been disheartening for Knicks players to have scrapped back only to see their hard work go for naught. In a league of offensive runs, sometimes, a coach has the ability with those time-outs to control the flow of the game, physically and psychologically.

After the game, D’Antoni blamed a lot of things for the poor performance, including Thanksgiving.

“It was like our first ten games,” he said. “Probably because we weren’t mentally engaged as we should have been. Looking back, guys took off for Thanksgiving, we were feeling good about ourselves and we weren’t quite ready for a 1 o’clock game.”

The Knicks flew out right after this game to go to Detroit for another afternoon game tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if their mental preparedness is any different, three days removed from the Thanksgiving excuses.

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