Knicks Embarrassed At Home By Cavs

Published on: 5th March, 2011

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New York – In team sports, it’s easy to blame a team’s failings on the coach rather than on multiple players. It may not always be true or even, fair to point fingers at the person charged with pushing all the buttons, creating the offensive and defensive alignments, and making sure all those multiples of players are emotionally prepared to play the games. But, it is easy.

To be perfectly honest, it isn’t the coach’s fault that a pitcher threw a home run ball to lose a game or a quarterback turned the ball over by throwing into coverage. It’s just perfectly convenient for fans and media to scream epithets like “Fire Isiah” or “Joe Must Go.”

But, after watching these new New York Knicks, the team of two superstars and a good supporting cast go down in flames for the third time this season and the second time in a week to the terrible Cleveland Cavaliers in front of an initially revved-up then crushed home crowd at Madison Square Garden, the arrow of blame must be pointed directly at Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni for the 119-115 defeat to the 12-49 Cavs.

Losing one game is no great sin but when post-game phrases come out of the players mouths tonight like “we were lacking energy and intensity”  and “our energy level just dropped,” you begin to think the players’ heads aren’t quite in the game as they should be.

That, my friends, is a coaching issue.

When highly paid veteran players cannot summon up the energy to beat the worst team in the league, a team that has had its way with you whether the star player’s name was LeBron or whether his name is Baron, it indicates something is amiss. The man who has his foot on the gas pedal of this team isn’t applying the pressure to move this engine forward.

“Every time we got up big, they came up with some energy plays and once they got their momentum going, they got hot,” said Amar’e Stoudemire. “We are still not sure about a couple of plays how to execute defensively but we can’t let teams have more energy than we have.”

Stoudemire may have scored 41 points tonight, hitting 16 of his 32 shots but even he would tell you that he doesn’t always guard his man on the defensive end of the court. When your star player isn’t getting down and dirty to stop the other team from scoring, that tends to have a trickle-down affect on everyone.

That, too is a coaching issue. D’Antoni should be sending a message to his team that no one is averse from sitting on the pine if he doesn’t play hard on both ends of the floor. By benching Stoudemire at some point in this season for his “olay” style of defense, he’d be telling Knicks fans and Stoudemire’s teammates that wins are not going to always come by outscoring bad teams. When a good team needs stops, they get them. In that respect, the Knicks, under D’Antoni are no different than the Phoenix Suns were, under D’Antoni.

Then, D’Antoni made a tactical move with the Knicks lineup with 5:54 to go in the game that turned out to be a major reason for tonight’s loss. He subbed Jared Jeffries for Landry Fields and Toney Douglas for Shelden Williams, leaving the Knicks with a lineup of four bigs (Jeffries, Stoudemire, Anthony, and Shawne Williams) to go along with one guard, Douglas. At the time, the Knicks still held a six-point lead, a lead that had been 12 just a few minutes earlier.

From that point forward, the lead and the game disintegrated. The taller, slower Knicks lineup was unable to stick to the much smaller and quicker Cavs, who were gaining confidence with every possession.

After Stoudemire’s 17-foot jumper made it 106-99, Davis hit a three to close it to four, 106-102. Douglas missed a jumper and J.J. Hickson, who plays like a dominant center against the center-less Knicks, scored on a layup off of a nice feed from a penetrating Anthony Parker to cut it to two, 106-104.

Anthony scored on an alley-oop then Hickson hit two free throws to tie it, again. Stoudemire answered with a 3 for the Knicks. But after a free throw by Ramon Sessions, Anthony was called for a charging foul after he broke free of Anthony Parker’s attempt to hold him, and the last-place Cavaliers beat the Knicks for the third time this season.

Instead of James leading the Cavs to a win over the Knicks, it was the Baron, Mr. Davis from California, who took over the role of Knicks-beater. Wearing jersey number 85 (he grew up on 85th street in Los Angeles) Davis did what he’s been doing to NewYork since he entered the league.

Davis scored 18 points in this, his Cavaliers debut.

“It’s always great to win at The Garden. The Garden is special, especially playing against a team right now that’s getting a lot of coverage and they were prepared to beat us bad and we didn’t let that happen,” Davis said. “This victory is very sweet because it’s a sense of a miniature rivalry brewing here.”

Tonight’s win was only the Cavs fourth win on the road this season, improving their record to 4-26 on the road, not that much worse than the 8-23 record they have at their home arena.

It appeared the skid would end Friday as the Knicks built a series of double-digit leads. But Davis, who hadn’t played since the trade because of a sore left knee, made an immediate impact as the NBA’s worst team snapped a 26-game road losing streak.

J.J. Hickson scored 23 and Luke Harangody also had 18, but the spark came from Davis in his first game since his trade from the Los Angeles Clippers last week. He scored 12 points in the final 6-plus minutes after the Knicks had built a 12-point lead, including a 3-pointer that gave Cleveland a 116-112 lead with 10.6 seconds left.

When James wore the wine and gold, Cleveland would beat the Knicks with talent. Even though he’s gone now, the Knicks still haven’t been able to solve the Cavaliers. Cleveland was on a 10-game losing streak when it beat New York in overtime in December.

The Cavaliers then simply outworked the Knicks in the second meeting, racking up a 62-42 rebounding advantage in their 115-109 victory last Friday. This time, they snapped a two-game losing streak and showed they could be dangerous the rest of the way with Davis on the perimeter and Hickson attacking the backboards.

“It’s a tough loss. I really don’t want to say it’s embarrassing, but it is a tough loss … knowing how important it is to take care of home court,” said Anthony, who had to ask the name of Cleveland’s Samardo Samuels, who took the crucial charge from him. “To lose to them guys tonight, it’s a tough one to fathom.”

D’Antoni most assuredly recognizes the defensive weaknesses of his team. He’s been heard telling friends after games that his players “just can’t guard anyone,” especially down the stretch when they need stops.

The bigger question for D’Antoni will be, what will he do to make sure his best players  set the tone for his team on both sides of the court instead of just on the offensive end?

The clock is ticking on the season and the excitement of the Anthony trade will wear off soon enough if these types of bad losses continue to mount. With the playoffs approaching, D’Antoni will have to figure it out in a  relatively short time, that’s for sure.

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