Rinse and repeat… the Knicks yet again showed a lack of defensive awareness and late-game execution last night and suffered their second disappointing loss to the Toronto Raptors in consecutive weeks. The losses before were infuriating, but at least fans could hold on to the fact the squad was still firmly #2 in the Eastern Conference. Well, now these embarrassing defeats are sliding New York further down the ranks and now at the third seed.
PLAYING DEFENSE WHEN THEY WANT TO: How erratic was the defense? The Knicks gave up 32 points in the opening quarter as the Raptors shot a crazy 58%. Then the Knicks clamped down in the second and hold Toronto to just 16 points on 6/22 shooting. They follow that up with a wretched third quarter where they give up 31 points, which ended up being too much for the Knicks to overcome in the fourth despite outscoring the Raptors 28-21.
Several extremely lazy defensive plays stood out during the game. In the first quarter, Melo let a Raptor guard come down the lane for layup while putting a half-hearted push on him, resulting in a foul and a three-point play. In the second, Steve Novak failed to rotate when the Raptors swung the ball around the perimeter and gave up an open three. JR Smith foolish gambled on a steal in the third and got burned for a trey, and Amar’e Stoudemire lost track of his man on an inbounds play and got dunked on.
The constant defensive switching continues to be the death of this team. It is completely inexcusable that this hasn’t been corrected as the recurrent mismatches down the stretch gives teams, no matter how mediorce, great chances at winning. The guards (all of them) have to fight harder to get over simple screens. And when they can’t, our big men (Stat, Tyson), need to briefly trap and scramble back to their man as opposed to trying to D up a guard on the perimeter. Rudy Gay made a mockery of Stat on the perimeter because of the constant switching and Chandler got duped into a bad foul on Demar Derozan near the three-point line. Until this is fixed, the Knicks defense will remain broken.
THE TURNING POINT: As inconsistent as the defense was, the Knicks got several emphatic stops late in the fourth that gave them chances to win. Jason Kidd had a huge block on Lowry that led to Felton pushing the ball up the court with the Raptors defense in disarray and the game tied at 95. He passed to a wide open Kidd at the top of the key. But Kidd, despite hitting two treys earlier in the game, passed the ball right back. Felton fired it to him again as Kidd still had a good look until he bungled the pass. The Knicks would come up empty on that trip and Rudy Gay wouldn’t hesitate on the other end — he nailed a jumper to put the Raps up 95-93. The Knicks would tie it once more, but there momentum was effectively gone.
Remember the Jason Kidd that hit this three-point dagger on the Nets earlier this season? That man is long gone.
PLAY SMARTER, NOT HARDER: The hard effort and play was there for most of the fourth — Melo dropped 30 points and Chandler had an impressive 5 blocks. It was the end-game mental lapses that killed any chance of a win. With this cast of veterans, the decision-making has got to get better. Chandler should not have been guarding Lowry on the perimeter late (again the result of defensive switching), which lead to a floater that gave the Raptors the lead for good with less than 30 seconds left.
WOODY’S HYPOCRISY: You know what’s sad? When the Knicks were still flying high in December, Woodson had no problem experimenting with different starting lineups. Sometimes Ronnie Brewer would get the call and other times it’d be Chris Copeland or even James White. So why when the team is playing its worst basketball of the season do you stick with a lineup that’s been failing for weeks? It makes zero sense.
Onto another important Atlantic division game on Sunday when the Knicks face the Sixers.