Knicks’ Huge Turnaround Ends Cleveland Curse
Jon Wagner (@JonathanJWagner)
Until Monday night, the New York Knicks had puzzlingly failed to win in Cleveland whether or not LeBron James had remained a Cleveland Cavalier.
So, naturally, it took a head-scratching kind of game and New York’s second-biggest comeback (in the two decades comeback stats have been kept) for the Knicks (36-21) to finally end a 10-game losing streak in Cleveland that dated back to 2006.
Of course, every win down the stretch of the regular season is a big one for New York as the Knicks try to dethrone the Boston Celtics’ five-year run as Atlantic Division winners while competing in a hotly contested battle for the two seed in the Eastern Conference.
However, the Knicks’ unlikely rally to a 102-97 victory, from a 22-point deficit (only surpassed in the past 20 years by their 26-point comeback win at Milwaukee almost nine years to the day, on March 14, 2004) just as curiously left Knick fans with even more questions than answers. Such as:
1) First and foremost, how serious is Carmelo Anthony’s knee injury, which he (very fittingly for the strange way in which New York beat Cleveland) injured by seemingly tripping over the painted mid-court line early in the second quarter? Okay, so he actually tangled his feet, as Anthony described, “We had a fast break and Jason Kidd threw the ball ahead [to me] and I tried to catch it and turn.” The Knicks’ best player didn’t return, and early reports are that the incident won’t appear to cost Anthony or (by extension) his team New York’s season. However, that was inconclusive after the game –making his status and even bigger question. Anthony had an MRI on his sore right knee in recent days, but it came back clear.
2) Why couldn’t New York show the same sense of urgency against the lowly James-less Cavaliers (20-40) in the first half that they showed in the second half, especially defensively? Center Marreese Speights made his first seven shots from the floor in his initial start for Cleveland since being traded from Memphis last month and the Cavaliers shot a ridiculously blazing 81.5 percent (22 of 27) from the field while taking a 52-30 lead after 17 minutes. Now, contrast that with the 19 points Cleveland scored in the next 17 minutes and the 32.6 percent (15 of 46) that the Cavaliers hot to finish the game. It was no coincidence that the Knicks severely stepped up their defensive intensity while they strongly and repeatedly attacked the rim at the other end of the floor, to come all the way back for a win that shouldn’t have been as difficult as it was for New York. Although Mike Woodson’s defensive-first philosophy is a sharp departure from the beliefs of Mike (No D)’Antoni, what Woodson is preaching, simply hasn’t been transferring to what the Knicks have been practicing defensively on a consistent enough basis. When Cleveland was making nearly everything in sight early on, Woodson said, “I was about ready to leave the arena. We just couldn’t get any stops. It was awful.” That can’t happen to an Atlantic Division winner or a two seed. Yet, that’s the same team that was told by its head coach that the Miami Heat’s 18 layups against New York the day before was unacceptable – a mere hours before Cleveland went 12-for-17 in the paint during the first half alone. Even though the Knicks ended up winning, that still indicates a big problem with Woodson’s team getting the message.
3) Can certain parts of the Knicks’ bench keep contributing the way they need to? No one will expect the 70 points that the New York’s bench produced on Monday night, but other than Amar’e Stoudemire carrying the Knicks through the second half with a brilliant, season-high 22 points on 10 of 15 shooting from the field, in a season-high 32 minutes, and J.R. Smith adding 18 points on his usual inconsistent (6 of 17) shooting, will players like Jason Kidd (12 points, 3 of 5 from three one day after going 4 of 5 from three against Miami) and Steve Novak (a key 15 points on 4 of 7 from downtown) continue to give the Knicks solid contributions even after Anthony returns?
4) What does Woodson do with Stoudemire down the stretch of close games with a healthy Anthony? Against Miami on Sunday, Woodson benched a very efficient Stoudemire (after he played just 21 minutes with only one personal foul) for the final 7:56 of a close game, citing concerns over Miami’s ability to go smaller, thereby making Stoudemire even more than a defensive liability than he can often be. However, against Cleveland, Stoudemire produced at each end of the floor to lead the Knicks to victory. Stoudemire needs to ultimately be on the floor in such instances, and when Anthony is back, Woodson has to be willing to force other teams to go bigger and adjust to a Stoudemire-inclusive Knicks lineup rather than benching one of New York’s top offensive threats with the game on the line.
The answers to the above and more may reveal themselves in the coming weeks, but right now, the Knicks are in the midst of a stretch of three games in four days, and four games in six days. So, above all else, and whoever is the on the floor at times (given a couple of the question above), New York simply needs to play with the same type of urgency it did in the second half in Cleveland, and avoid revisiting what it did in the first half, while all of the rest sorts itself out.