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.
|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
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.