The Knicks Fix: Shedding a Bad Rep
Monday, March 5, 2012
By Alan Hahn
Sometimes the toughest obstacle for a team to overcome is its reputation. The Knicks have been bad for years, which is well-documented. In fact, perhaps it's too well-documented.
In a perfect world, NBA referees would have to adhere to the same restrictions as a sequestered jury. You don't want them to know history or reputation or trend. You just want them to make a decision based on fact. Not what they think they saw, not what they expect to see, but what they can definitively call. Guilty or Not Guilty. Period.
Before we can even make this case, let's squelch our own momentum here by pointing out that the Knicks are fifth in the NBA in free throw attempts (942, or 25.4 per game). So clearly they get a very fair share of whistles. But this isn't about free throw attempts. If you have players who attack the basket and an offense based on pick-and-roll play, then you should get to the line at a high rate.
This is more about history and reputation. This is more about history repeating itself right on the Gah-den parquet. There was Toney Douglas hip-checked to the floor by Kevin Garnett just before Ray Allen's dagger to win Game 1 in last year's playoffs. And then there was Garnett again on Sunday afternoon...
With the Knicks up 103-100, poised for a hard-fought statement road win, Boston had a final possession and ran the same play. And this time instead of Douglas, KG obliterated Iman Shumpert with a moving blindside screen for Allen with 13.4 seconds left.
No whistle. Play on.
Shumpert, to his credit, recovered quickly to stay in the play, as the ball went to Garnett on the perimeter.
Here's where we get into an entirely new debate: A foul could -- no, should -- have been made right there. Shumpert has a hand inside on Garnett, who put the ball on the floor for a dribble.
This is where we can drive ourselves crazy with the Monday morning quarterbacking. Mike D'Antoni has been consistent with this strategy. "We don't do that," he said after the game in reference to taking the foul-on-the-floor and giving up two free throws with a three-point lead.
But the second Garnett puts the ball on the floor there, a quick foul makes sense. If he tries a bogus rip-through and flails as if he was attempting a three and a referee gives him three shots, that's on the NBA for yet another questionable whistle in a season loaded with them.
Then again, if you're D'Antoni, and you've seen the lack of respect officials give you against elite teams, perhaps it's a healthy fear of the inevitable.
OK, that allows us to get back to the original point.
So Garnett sets up Pierce on a perfectly executed exchange, which creates a switch and now Shumpert is guarding Pierce. J.R. Smith started on Pierce, but was slowed by a Garnett screen -- this time completely legal -- on the handoff.
Some might say that J.R. should have powered through the screen like a battering ram and run over Garnett. But what if Pierce let's go of the shot at the same time and nails it and the referees call the foul? That's an and-one, with a chance to take the lead.
So for all of you who bemoan the switching that the Knicks do on defense, that time it was the right decision.
The issue was that Pierce was curling right into his sweet spot to his right as Shumpert is chasing on his left. That's more than enough daylight -- and momentum into the shot -- for Pierce to square up and release the dagger.
At 4.9 seconds left, it was money. And for the umpteenth time, the Knicks couldn't handle The Truth.
Shumpert held up properly while defending the shot so to not give the officials a reason to tweet the and-one. They already nailed the rookie for a questionable technical foul for allegedly taunting after he banged one on Garnett early in the fourth quarter. This season, you just never know what the officials are going to call -- or fail to call (see: Garnett).
Afterward, Shumpert told reporters that the refs were "calling a lot of elbows," which means they whistled a lot of contact on the elbow, though they were letting a ton of body contact go without a call. In other words, this was a game in which a touch foul on the perimeter earned you a trip to the foul line, but a hack on the wrist by the rim was considered a blocked or missed shot.
Oh and that technical? Basically a quick staredown of a player who has made a career of glaring at opponents. But referee Scott Foster thought it was critical to slap the rookie with a T at that point in the game.
"I didn't know I couldn't look at him," Shumpert said. "I didn't say anything. He's the one who said something. I don't talk to the refs. I just looked at him. He's been talking the whole game. I don't say anything to anybody."
Nobody said a word, either, after Pierce nudged Carmelo Anthony on his wing jumper before the final buzzer, which missed. It was a quick shot and perhaps if Melo had pump-faked, he'd have drawn the foul as he had Pierce on his hip. But after an 11-point quarter in which he made 4 of his first 9, that game-winner wasn't to be.
Don't mistake this for an argument on how the officiating cost the Knicks a win in Boston. The fouls were almost dead even, with the Celtics drawing 24 to 23 by the Knicks. Pierce made an incredible shot and the Knicks gave the game back to Boston with a poor close to the first half and a lifeless third quarter. The fact that they were even in position to win the game speaks volumes about the potential of this team. But the fact that they lost it in overtime also says a lot about how much work still needs to be done.
And the Knicks can talk championship all they want, but they need to first string together some convincing wins from here until the end of the season and establish a new identity. This franchise has gone through so much transition over the last four years that it has allowed the identity from the past decade -- one of mediocrity -- to linger.
• Melo (25 points) and Amar'e Stoudemire (16 points and 13 rebounds) had good numbers in the box score, but it can't be overlooked how neither is at the top of their respective games right now. Anthony had his shot blocked three times and Stoudemire twice and they combined to shoot 15-for-37 from the field (40.5 percent). Amar'e blew a put-back dunk in overtime which led to a long rebound and a critical momentum swing. Though Melo had a good fourth quarter, despite the buzzer miss, and the bench was strong again, the Knicks can't believe they can go anywhere without their two stars playing at their best for the entire game. They can't contend with the Heat with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade at their peak, with Melo and Amar'e not at theirs.
• Jeremy Lin and Baron Davis like to put their stats together for a Point Guard Total, a sort of positional pride to compare after every game. This is one they'll prefer not to calculate, as they combined for 12 turnovers (six each) and 22 points (14 for Lin), 12 assists (8 for Davis) and 6 rebounds (four for Lin) against Rajon Rondo's historical triple-double of 18 points, 20 assists and 17 rebounds. And the Lin-Davis duo played 52 minutes, compared to Rondo's 48.
• Landry Fields played just 3:11 in the second half (all in the third quarter) and was wholly invisible against the Celtics yet again. There is enough competition now from Shumpert and Smith to push Fields out of the starting lineup at the shooting guard position.
• The best thing about Steve Novak is he knows exactly who he is and isn't trying to be anything more. One-dimensional player? Well it's a hell of a dimension. Novak was 4-for-7 from downtown against the Celtics and has now made 57 three pointers this season, which accounts for 80.2 percent of his total made field goals (71) on the season. He's also shooting 47.5 percent from three-point range, which third-best in the NBA behind Mike Miller (51.7) and Ray Allen (48.3).
• The Knicks remain on the road all week, as they headed to Dallas right after the game in Boston for Tuesday's game against the Mavericks. Tyson Chandler will finally get his championship ring before the game. Perhaps he can pass it around the room for some added incentive.