The Knicks Fix: Defense Lives at 21 Shump Street
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
By Alan Hahn
Mike Woodson could only see what the rest of us saw: potential. But he couldn't possibly know until the challenge was made and the demands were enforced. And now nine games into his tenure, he seems to believe he may be onto something.
Though the injuries to Amare Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin and Jared Jeffries has left this team depleted, Woodson is focusing on what he has, not what he doesn't.
"If you watch this stretch we've had, it's been our defense that has put us in this position," Woodson said after Wednesday's stunning 108-86 win over the Magic. "It's been stifling the way we've been playing defense and rebounding the ball. And that's what it's going to take.
"When you talk about possibly winning the division, going deep in to the playoffs and putting yourself in position to win a title," he continued, "you're going to have to defend and rebound."
This is what they've been up to since Woodson moved to the first chair on the bench. They've held every team to 100 points or less and have kept opponents under 90 points in seven of the nine games. Rebounding? They have out-rebounded their opponent in eight of the nine games. The one game they didn't was the only loss, at Toronto.
They had been a solid rebounding team all season, but under Woodson they've improved even more. In nine games, the Knicks are averaging 46.7 rebounds per game, which is 4.1 more per game than their season average. Opponents, as a result, are getting 4.1 less, at 37.6 per game.
The Knicks are an imperfect team, but isn't that what those of us who came after the championship era, and grew up in the 90s era, are used to? They have flaws and they have issues. But right now they have a resolve building within them, a toughness that seems to be a reflection of its coach. Sound familiar?
And it then there is the underrated center, Tyson Chandler, who, to paraphrase Royce da 5'9", should be called the Anchor Man, because he holds down the ship.
"It's contagious," Steve Novak said of Chandler's defensive intensity.
And then there's this relentlessly aggressive perimeter defender, Iman Shumpert, who is quickly making a name for himself as a lock-down the way Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis did as a rookie. Did Jameer Nelson get stranded on Shumpert Island? Or maybe 21 Shump Street?
"I loved it," Chandler said. "I told him after the game, we need that for the rest of the year. He completely changed the game."
Woodson, who rarely refers to Shumpert by name but instead just "The Rook" (and the same goes for Josh Harrellson), agreed.
"He changes the game from the defensive standpoint," Woodson said.
He chipped in some serious offense as well, with 25 points on 10 for 21 shooting, but he also grabbed seven rebounds. He and Baron Davis combined for 14 rebounds for the starting backcourt.
"We go out and try to rebound the ball every game," Shumpert said. "If not, Tyson will be all over us."
There's your accountability. There's why, with so many reasons being offered to the contrary, there's reason to believe in this team.
PEDAL TO THE METTLE
Carmelo Anthony didn't get much rest during the game. In an effort to keep his aching right groin muscle from tightening up, he went to a stationary bike by the Zamboni tunnel when he wasn't in the game.
It seemed to work well in keeping his legs loose, too, as Melo appeared to finally rediscover that long-lost shooting touch with an explosive 12-point third quarter that saw him drill back-to-back three-pointers and set off a game-winning 21-0 run.
"I think I was more just trying to anticipate the pain," he said a gritty performance of 25 points, six assists, five rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot in 26:19. "It is one of those things that hopefully goes away soon."
The pain, yes. The shot? No.
But clearly he seems more comfortable working out of the low post at the power forward spot, in Amar'e Stoudemire's place. Woodson said he can get away with playing Melo there because there are very few teams that play a true big at that position.
• Baron Davis put up one of his most efficient performances of the season, despite being limited to 25:01 by order of the medical staff, which is carefully monitoring his usage to ensure his back issue isn't compromised. Davis had 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists with just two turnovers.
• Chandler's technical foul late in the second quarter was his 10th of the season. He actually earned his 10th on March 6 in Dallas, but that one was rescinded by the NBA. Chandler is now three away from an automatic one-game suspension.
• That incredible 21-0 explosion by the Knicks in the third quarter against Orlando happened to match the fourth-longest consecutive run of points in a game in franchise history. It was the most since Nov. 15, 2003, when the Knicks went on a franchise-record 24-0 run -- also in the third quarter -- against the Indiana Pacers. (Amazingly, the Knicks happened to lose that game, 95-94, after -- who else? -- Reggie Miller, had a big fourth quarter.
• Happy Birthday to the one-and-only Walt "Clyde" Frazier, the originator of Immortal Swag. Before or after Knicks games -- or any other time -- be sure to check out his new restaurant, Clyde's Wine and Dine, on 38th Street and 10th Avenue. The menu alone is entertaining (and delicious), but the memorabilia in the place is vintage Knicks and Clyde.