The Knicks had been struggling for some time on defense and needed a team to come in to reinvigorate them on that end and wouldn’t you know it, the schedule read: San Antonio Spurs! Yep, the Knicks not only beat the Spurs, sweeping the season series for the first time in nearly a decade, the Knicks dominated the Spurs on their home court. Al Iannazzone of Newsday wrote that this was one of the more impressive showings by the Knicks this season beating what Mike Woodson calls “the best team in the NBA.” Nate Taylor of the New York Times writes that after watching footage from games just six weeks ago when they had the best defense and offense, they were able to put on a vintage 2012 performance for the second game of 2013. Mike Vaccaro of the Post thinks that there are stretches within the game that make you think about what can be for the Knicks. Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News writes that maybe Spurs coach Greg Popovich should have sent his stars home, maybe the reserves would have put up a better effort against these Knicks in their fourth game in five night stretch.
A few things about this Knick game were encouraging, first and foremost being the defense. Certain coaches bring an identity and can typecast their team. Mike D’Antoni certainly has a reputation of being an offensive genius while ignoring defensive principles, while Mike Woodson is known for emphasizing defense. I don’t doubt that both preach the other side of the ball that they are supposed to be not so well versed in, but sometimes you just get that reputation and its hard to shake it unless there’s a dramatic shift in their team’s play in that other side of the ball. But the Knicks forged a defensive intensity that you just hadn’t seen from them. My theories, in order, were 1. Jason Kidd, 2. Tyson Chandler, 3. Mike Woodson. These three guys have won and know that the only way to win games in May and June is on the defensive side of the ball. Kidd in particular has impressed me because he faces quicker guards on a regular basis, but his intelligence and quick hands are great equalizers and allow him to keep up with even the quickest of guards.
Chandler has always played defense and last year was like the lone wolf howling at the moon and the Garden faithful enjoyed watching him play. This season he has more help and certainly stands to gain more once Iman Shumpert returns. This season, the Knicks just seem to know how to rotate better and know how to play with each other better because they have so many leaders on this team. Whether its Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace (one Defensive player of the Year and the other, a member of the no-name Pistons squad in 04 that won the title), or Kurt Thomas on the bench, there’s so much veteran guidance and leadership and call me crazy, but maybe this was Grunwald’s plan all along: to have as many veteran voices on the bench to plead with Carmelo to play more defense and play more efficiently on offense.
This win also speaks to the play of Pablo Prigioni. Last year’s clear weakness was point guard play. No doubt it contributed to the hype that Linsanity got and maybe inflated his value, but this year, the trio of Kidd, Felton and Prigioni have been such a better unit that its hard to remember the last time the Knicks got this kind of production from the position. Prigioni, since preseason, has been doing that sneaky steal atleast twice a game and he again got a key steal and fed Carmelo for an easy two. Every member of that team is confident with Prigioni in there and now with Felton out for four to six weeks, you don’t feel as uncertain. Yes, I understand the concern people have with playing 35 and 40 year old point guards major minutes in games in January, but the hand has been dealt. Its interesting that the Knicks have been experimenting with Shumpert at the point. Perhaps getting youthful legs in there will be helpful, but having him as a primary ball handler is all good and well, but he has to be an instinctive point guard, otherwise he’s just another Toney Douglass: the full five second too late point guard who just never had the feel of a point guard. Are the Knicks going to pay for playing these guys major minutes like this? I’m sure. But the fact is this is what they have to do and the Knicks just have to make do.
BTW, does anyone object to the whole JR Smith as our third most important player? After Carmelo and Tyson, JR’s contributions off the bench- and its becoming nightly, are a reminder of how much of a luxury it is to have a guy that can create his own offense and can also spot up and score. You can sit Carmelo for stretches when JR is going the way he is. Does he have a ton of irrational confidence? Sometimes. But to play this game and to be good you have to.
Carmelo scored 23 but the most encouraging sign of his maturity came in two ways. He was actively looking to pass out of double teams and rarely made a bad decision when he did and even if the relationship between he and Amare may be a forced partnership, its easy to see how comfortable and assured he is that he is the franchise cornerstone and he makes the Knicks go. He tried desperately to get Amare involved in the offense in one series in the fourth, while the Knicks were building up their lead, passing it inside to Amare, who continued to do the fifteen pump fakes before putting up the shot that usually gets blocked (which is an indicator that he’s getting old and has lost most of the athleticism that made him a star), getting the rebound and then throwing it right back to Amare. That comes from a confidence within that this is in fact his team and there’s no real threat there and I’m glad. The only way for this to work is for Amare to understand his role on this team and that he’s going to be a third or fourth option depending on the set. I do like that second team of offense that comes in behind the starting five when the Knicks bring in Novak, Prigioni, JR and Amar’e into the game. Then you add in the stretch five of Rasheed and you certainly have the makings of a deep ten man rotation that could be formidable, depending on health, come May and June.
And then there’s Rex Ryan. The Daily News this morning published a picture of tanning Rex on a beach in the Bahamas sporting a tattoo of a woman (presumably his wife) sporting a Mark Sanchez jersey and….nothing else on his right arm. This article in the Daily News is sure to make the rounds in the talk show universe today and adds another level of weirdness to this whole Jet soap opera. Gary Meyers of the Daily News talks out all the problems that can arise from having a specific player’s name tatooed on the arm. Mark Cannizzaro of the Post lists several enticing candidates for the Jets GM job and lists Tom Gamble the Director of Player Personnel of the San Francisco 49ers as the guy the Jets and Korn/Ferry should target to lead the Jets. Finally the Pro Football Writers of America are ok with the fact that the Jets will only meet with the media on January 8th as opposed to the usual schedule of 7 days after the season ends.
This morning’s commute was extra hilarious because of this story and usually when silly things like this happen, it makes radio and sports personalities very happy because it gives them a chance to be silly and boy do Boomer and Carton love doing silly. Look, there’s nothing left to say about this except that the Jets look to be targeted by the media and they give them every reason to be targets. In what universe could Rex think getting a tattoo of his wife ONLY wearing a Mark Sanchez jersey was a good idea? There’s not a good enough explanation that you can have and one that I hope that we will hear come that very anticipated January 8th press conference. For those wondering, I think if you were to rank what the Jets brain trust should be questioned about, it goes:
1. Why Mike Tannenbaum was fired and not Rex?
2. What were they thinking about with Tim Tebow and why, in their minds, were they not successful with him?
3. How confident are you that Mark Sanchez can be fixed?
4. Rex are you brain dead? Why would you get a tattoo of your wife in a Sanchez jersey?
Those should be the first four questions out of the media’s mouth come January 8th. How its anything else is beyond me. Anyway, I hope Korn/Ferry is a PR firm as well because the Jets could use some good advice.
Meanwhile, not so far off Crazy Island, the Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was apparently walking around like a crazy man as he described in this interview with Mike Francesa. Antrelle Rolle apologized for the Giant letdown of a stretch run this season.
Its always fun to see Tom Coughlin red in the face, screaming from the sideline but I totally understand his pain and frustration when having to answer questions about a team he has seen time and time again come through in big games, not be able to even offer a whimper when it truly mattered. Like any Giant fan, I expected a win against the Ravens and I expected it to be competitive against the Falcons who I don’t think scare anyone in the NFC. The Giants should have never been in this position and who knows if this collapse by the Giants means that Washington was just meant to win this year or if this is a seismic power shift in the NFC East and that the Redskins are coming of age so quickly under the guidance of the young padawan, RGIII. Regardless, these are the kind of final weeks that make a team look deep into its soul. Certainly there is the talent to win atleast 10 games a year but the up and down show of effort leaves you wondering sometimes about whether the players are either understanding the situation they are in or even motivated to play a football game late in December. Its crazy to think that this team, this unit wouldn’t know how to handle themselves in those situations but it happened. Which makes Tom Coughlin crazy. Which makes Jerry Reese crazy. Which should make every Giant hoping to return back to a championship core very very scared.
Finally, what to watch for tonight: Bulls at Heat on ESPN at 8, Nets at Wizards on YES at 8 (just kidding).
Later today, I’m posting my AFC/NFC Wild Card weekend Previews
For your viewing pleasure…