Thoughts From Game 1

Instead of doing normal recaps of the games, I’m going to do something different. Due to the length in-between games, I’m going to have ample time to review each game and I’ll write about things I did/didn’t like about each game.

JR Dunk

The Knicks took out Boston 85-78 in game 1 at Madison Square Garden. It was a defensive grinder and in the end the Knicks ball security and offensive rebounding were the difference. New York finished a +6 in offensive rebounds (scoring 12 second chance points) and won the turnover battle 20 to 13. In what finished as a 7 point game, those 13 extra possessions ended up playing a huge role in the Knicks victory.

Let’s start with the Knicks defense, which was subpar in the first half. For whatever reason, they were super lazy with their rotations, allowing Boston to shoot a bunch of open corner threes. The Celtics were unable to capitalize because they can’t shoot, but the Knicks still have to clean this up.

Avery Bradley, running point for Boston by default, was a thorn in the side of both the Knicks and the Celtics. I’ll explain. Exposing a bad habit that’s been a problem all year for New York, Bradley took advantage of ball watching, bad double teams, and lazy/non-existent help defense to score on a series of cuts in the first half.

If you notice Carmelo Anthony on those plays, his help defense was pretty pitiful. Though Bradley shouldn’t have those kind of open looks to the lane, a simple close off rotation from Anthony into the lane would have negated some of those baskets. His effort was much better in the second half, as was the team’s. Bradley’s cuts weren’t an issue for New York after halftime. Regardless, look for Boston to try and manufacture some baskets throughout the series with cutters. I would.

On the flip side, Bradley’s incompetence running the offense really killed Boston. He struggled delivering the ball into the high/low post and missed a few open jump shots. While he’s a great defensive player, he really should not be handling the ball and running an offense. Given the alternatives are Jason Terry (more on him in a bit) and Jordan Crawford (lol), the Celtics don’t have much of a choice. Again, as an off-ball player he was good in cutting to the rim and stuff, but he struggled mightily to get Boston into their sets and had 6 turnovers in the game.

The Knicks should let Jason Terry shoot or try to make plays whenever they can. He was 0-5 shooting, 0-4 from downtown, in 20 minutes played. At this point of his career, he’s no longer an NBA level rotation player. I almost fell out of my chair laughing in the first quarter when he tried to drive the ball on Kenyon Martin and his shot was sent back the other way.

In the second half, the Knicks definitely plugged up the defensive leaks they had in the first half. They were more wary of back screens and cuts and put more effort into rotations. Because they weren’t allowing open shooters or cutters, New York forced Boston to actually beat them rather than beating themselves, and obviously the Celtics couldn’t do that.

The fourth quarter was a miserable offensive one for the Celtics. The Knicks defense was very solid, now allowing much penetration at all into the paint. Boston’s offense was relegated to a bunch of meaningless ball movement outside the arc that often resulted in a Pierce isolation or a turnover. Jason Kidd made some huge defensive plays, though upon review they weren’t all that difficult plays to make. Like this for example:

One of the few times Boston did try to go into the paint, a back door cut by Green, Kidd did make a fantastic play to strip him. My point is that the Knicks did play solid defense, but the Celtics were not at all helping themselves offensively. They were stagnant, careless and they missed makable shots. Correction, Jason Terry was missing makable shots. I took the liberty of cutting them up for you:

All in all, the Knicks defense got the job done. If they play for the entire series like they did in the second half, they might sweep the Celtics. Boston’s offense is not very good and if the Knicks don’t beat themselves they should hold the Celtics to 75-85 points each game. If they continue to spring leaks and allow the Celtics to get some easy buckets and offensive rhythm, then it’s a different story.

Offensively, this was not a good game for the Knicks. They rarely were able to get an effective pick and roll set going and much like Boston there was way too much isolation and a ton of bad shots taken. A whooping 33% of the Knicks offense ended in an isolation, according to Synergy, which is unacceptable. Those isolations weren’t ending in much offensive success, as the Knicks scored just 0.72 PPP in those situations. They weren’t getting good isolations either, where Melo was getting the ball on the elbow or in the low block. Many possessions started with Carmelo bringing the ball up the floor and finished with him taking a shot without having passed, or with Boston pushing him out to the perimeter and forcing more difficult shots. As a result, he had a poor game in the 2nd and 3rd quarters and finished 13-29 shooting. For more on the good/bad isolations, I direct you to our friends over at Hoopchalk, where Jacob Frankel wrote about this.

On both ends of the floor, Tyson Chandler was rendered close to useless. He clearly wasn’t moving as well as usual and it was obvious. Offensively, this really hurt the Knicks pick and roll game. He wasn’t able to move around actively setting picks and then rolling hard to the rim, and a bunch of possessions looked like this:

Kenyon Martin supplanted Chandler to end the game and I think that was the right decision. He was more active in setting picks, which at least got the ball flowing a bit more than usual. He also was better (existent) rebounding the ball, which got the Knicks a few extra fourth quarter possessions.

With Chandler hampered and the Knicks not moving the ball, Boston was doing a ton of switching which really kept the Knicks out at bay on the perimeter. When the Knick ball handlers were able to get solid picks creating space, they were actually pretty good. Per Synergy, Knick ball handlers shot 8-12 for the game, which is obviously very good. Moving forward, they need to focus on getting into more of their pick and roll game because it really sets everything else up offensively. The Knicks are most dangerous when they’re hitting spot up threes, not when they’re isolating every possession.

Despite all their stagnation, the Knicks scored 49 points in the first half, thanks to two good stretches of offense. Anthony started off the game 4-4 and the Knicks had a period in the second quarter where Kidd hit back-to-back threes and then two possessions later Shumpert hit a three. Apart from that, it was tough to watch.

The Knicks only scored 36 points in the second half, which worked out in their favor because they held Boston to 25. They were passing the ball better, but the increased ball movement wasn’t really leading to many good looks. The two teams were equally as inept offensively till the last 7 minutes or so in the game. Boston started turning the ball over, JR Smith got the cool and-1 on a scoop shot and Anthony hit his last four shots. Of Anthony’s last four shots, one was in pick and roll where he shot a three, one was in transition, and two were in isolation. The difference here was that the three half court shots were not shots where he stood around with the ball playing one-on-one. He got the three off early in the shot clock and got the ball on the isolations later in the shot clock.

Overall, this was a throwback grind it out sort of game. I wasn’t around for the 90′s Knicks, but I imagine this is probably similar to what those games were like. Both teams were solid defensively and inept offensively, but in the end the Knicks are simply a better team and so they prevailed in game 1. I expected this game to go as it did, with the Knicks eventually pulling away in a tight defensive game. They have tons of room for improvement offensively and if they can sure up the holes defensively, I can’t see Boston beating them.

Follow Taylor on Twitter @tarmosino