Game 6 Comes Down To Melo’s Mentality

NEW YORK – More important than the color of the clothes the New York Knicks wore to Game 5 was the color of their shot chart. It was very red.

For the second straight game, the Knicks couldn’t buy a bucket. They’ve played well defensively in their first-round series against the Boston Celtics, but their offense has come to a screeching halt.

The Knicks ranked third in the league offensively in the regular season, scoring 108.6 points per 100 possessions. And when they were playing well, both in early in the season and late, their success was all about the points they were scoring.

Knicks efficiency

Timeframe W L OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Oct. 30 – Dec. 16 18 5 111.1 2 102.3 16 +8.8 3
Dec. 17 – March 17 20 21 104.6 11 103.8 15 +0.8 11
March 18 – April 17 16 2 114.6 1 104.4 17 +10.2 3

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Whether they were winning or losing, the Knicks’ defense was rather mediocre all season. So it’s nice that they’ve held the Celtics to the lowest postseason efficiency among the 14 teams that didn’t get swept. But Boston is a bad offensive team, and against most opponents, the Knicks need to score a lot of points to win. So it’s not nice that only the Lakers – who were missing the fourth leading scorer in NBA history – regressed more offensively from the regular season to the playoffs.

Most regressed offenses (OffRtg), regular season to playoffs

Team Reg. Season Rank Playoffs Rank Diff.
L.A. Lakers 105.6 8 90.6 16 -15.0
New York 108.6 3 96.3 13 -12.3
Milwaukee 100.9 21 91.5 15 -9.4
Boston 101.1 20 91.7 14 -9.4
Denver 107.6 5 102.4 9 -5.2

Not only has the Knicks’ offensive regression made this series a lot more interesting than it was five days ago, but it’s also a bad sign regarding their ability to get past the Indiana Pacers – the league’s best defensive team – should they meet them in the next round.

So, as they head back to Boston for Game 6 on Friday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Knicks have some problems to fix. The issues are painfully obvious, and they start and end with a lack of ball movement.

The Knicks ranked dead last in assist rate in the regular season, assisting on just 52.7 percent of their field goals. That number is down to just 43.6 percent in the postseason. While isolation basketball was a big part of the Knicks’ offense most of the year, it has completely taken over in these last two games, in which the Knicks have assisted on just 23 assists of their 63 field goals (37 percent).

Knicks possessions mostly start off with the right intentions and they will run the first few actions of their offense, most of the time. But the Celtics’ defense is designed to take away those primary options. And far too often, New York’s possessions devolve into isolations once Carmelo Anthony or J.R. Smith get the ball.

Now, both Anthony and Smith are great one-on-one players, but they’re better players when they’re shooting off the pass or creating for others. The problem is that they’re stopping the ball, allowing the Celtics’ defense to load up, and turning their teammates into bystanders. With as much time as the ball has been in their hands in this series, Anthony (six) and Smith (six) have combined for just 12 assists.

The Knicks’ best offense has come from Raymond Felton in the pick-and-roll. But there just hasn’t been enough of those possessions. Now, sometimes a Felton pick-and-roll gets snuffed out, and the Celtics’ defense certainly deserves a lot of credit for how poorly the Knicks have played offensively. But it’s clear that Anthony and Smith are trying to do too much by themselves.

Smith obviously deserves scrutiny for his intentional elbow to Jason Terry‘s head that got him suspended for Game 4, and for how poorly he shot in Game 5. But Game 6 (and then maybe Game 7) is all about Melo.

This entire season has pretty much been a referendum on Anthony’s game and career. He has famously made it out of the first round only once and had a putrid 17-37 postseason record prior to these playoffs.

Things went so well in the regular season. Anthony led the league in scoring and, more important, led the Knicks to their best record in 18 years. With some veterans around him to show him the way, he learned to trust his teammates, make quicker decisions in the Knicks’ offense, and avoid being the ball-stopper that he was previously.

But things have changed in the playoffs, especially over the last couple of games. Anthony has seemingly regressed back to his old self, playing a style that’s not going to get it done against the best defenses in this league. He’s the second-leading scorer in these playoffs, but has been anything but efficient, shooting 39 percent from the field and 8-for-28 from 3-point range, where he has missed his last 15 attempts. As tempting as it is to go one-on-one with Brandon Bass 25 times a game and as impressive as those fadeaway, contested 20-footers look when they go in, the rate of success on those plays just isn’t good enough.

The Knicks are the better team here. But they’ve put themselves in a bad spot and will feel even more pressure if they can’t finish the series off on Friday. The path back to the win column begins with a change in Anthony’s mentality. These Celtics aren’t quite the Celtics of old, but you still don’t beat them by yourself.

13 Comments

  1. Denholm says:

    Celtics were undermanned and outgunned, and shot terribly from the field in game 6 but still managed to bring it to within 8 points, say what you will about my C’s, they are undeniable champions in their own right.

  2. @ basketball gal-I hear you on that-def agree with everything you said. Celts are going to return in beast mode & be unstoppable next year. I say keep Doc, Pierce & KG, they still have a lot of bball in them & have what it takes to win!
    CELTICS-HORAAH-UBUNTU!!!

  3. Simba says:

    I’m a huge Melo fan, have been since his last season at Oak Hill Academy, so I’m probably biased but I just can’t understand why people like to point out his lack of postseason success as if he was underachieving. Melo has never missed the playoffs since he came into the league. That’s a testament to how good a player he is because Denver’s record the year before he got drafted was 17-65 so he turned that franchise around immediately. As for his lack of postseason success these writers like to make it seem like Melo’s teams were highly favoured in all of his postseason series. Outside of this season and the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Melo’s teams were always the lower seeded teams. I don’t count the 2006 season when they got the 3 seed because they still didn’t have homecourt advantage. Not only were Melo’s teams underdogs in all his series he was mostly coming up against the Spurs and Lakers who combined to represent the West 6 out of Melo’s seasons with Denver. The only time Melo’s team underachieved was in 2010 when they lost to the Jazz in the 1st round and that could be attributed to not having George Karl due to cancer. Melo has a lot to prove but stop making it seem like all of those times he lost, they were his series to lose.

    • bigwes95 says:

      but never getting past the first round except once? it’s cool to make the playoffs, but what’s the point if you’re never getting anywhere? people like LeBron, KD, CP3, Nash, Wade, Kidd, etc get to the second round repeatedly after their first 3 or 4 seasons, but not Carmelo. it doesn’t matter if they’re lower seed or not, he should have done better in the regular season if they were as good as you say. they were good, but saying they were a lower seed is like saying the team with the best record will win every season, which hasn’t happened for a while, so no argument there. yes, with George karl gone, you can say that was the reason they lost, i’ll give you that one. some of the series were his to lose, he doesn’t step up in the playoffs except in scoring, but we all know scoring doesn’t win games in the playoffs. people who can keep the same scoring output but do better in the playoffs is because of defense and their team play, not their ability to score.

      • Simba says:

        I love when people bring up Chris Paul because he’s viewed as this great player but after this postseaon Melo has officially won more playoff series than him. So maybe it’s time to start pressuring CP3. As for KD and Wade, they both played the majority of their early years with other players that were top 5 at their position in the league. Nash played on teams with Dirk and Michael Finley in Dallas as well as with Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson, all of them in their prime or at least still capable of performing. LeBron is the only one on that list that didn’t have superstar help for most of his career in Cleveland and his success came primarily from dominating the much weaker Eastern Conference. It’s ridiculous to try to compare those teams to the teams Melo had in Denver. Good enough to make it to the playoffs, yes. Good enough to compete against teams that have Duncan, Parker and Ginobili and teams that have Kobe, Pau Gasol and healthy Lamar Odom, don’t be ridiculous.

      • bigwes95 says:

        @Simba, how about you mention that CP3 has also been in the league for 2 less years and has gotten past the first round 2 times, same as Melo, but in less years. and KD didn’t make the playoffs his first 2 years, but has gotten past the first round every time except once, why hasn’t Melo in ten years compared to Durant’s 6?

      • bigwes95 says:

        and Wade has also won more series even while missing the playoffs at least once, maybe twice? and look at Wade’s numbers in the playoffs, the have always increased except for 1 year and this year, over half of Melo’s career in the playoffs his numbers, including scoring, goes down compared to Wade’s, even though Wade has some of the best players in the league, like shaq when he was good, LBJ, Bosh etc. even with better players, why do his numbers go up but Anthony’s go down? answer that then.

      • bigwes95 says:

        well, my whole comment won’t stay on and I had a lot more to say, but it won’t paste, stupid computer! just remember, you’re lucky it won’t post because I had a lot of stuff to show you.

  4. basketball gal says:

    it should also be noted that the celtics had a really good chance of winning game one, until they choked in the last 4 minutes of the games and gave up more turnovers than i’ve ever seen in such a short span. I got the sense they were really tired and playing sloppy on account of it, but they had a really good shot at winning up until that point. Games 2 and 3 were different, then the celtics got some of the groove back in game 4 and most of it back in game 5.

    They deserve lots of credit considering they’ve got no ray this season and now no rondo. only 2 of the big four are playing and it’s not the same, of course, but they’re definitely making an admirable showing.

    I love how for, like, the last 4 years or more people have been talking a bout how old the celtics are, yet last year they took miami to game 7 for the ECFs and game them WAY more of a fight than OKC ever did in the championship round.

  5. Law064 says:

    Let’s Go C’s with no Rondo they managed to get back into this series. They will not win this series just my Opinion but gotta love the fight they’re putting up. KG 16-18 great game from the vet. Go Celtic’s

    • Suri says:

      Well written article. It does take a lot to keep winning at this level and win it all. For some teams willing all is the only thing that matters. Knicks don’t have it but they made a lot of progress from last year. Hopefully Woodson makes them a better team next year. Knicks are paying $20M to Amare and not getting much out of that. They should still be able to beat Boston today and should beat Pacers even though it might go to 7 games. After that, we all know what’s bound to happen, Knicks fans hope they win more than 1 game with Miami. Or, pray that somebody from Miami gets hurt bad.

  6. Yup says:

    My predictions for Game 6:
    - Melo chokes away from home
    - JR Smith redeems himself but not enough to win
    - Chandler whines about every call the refs make against him as usual
    - Felton and Martin act like the punks they are and try to start something with KG and Crawford