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Finally, the Knicks win in the west – Season on the sofa week 23 review

God bless the Los Angeles Clippers. They are as reliable in their incompetence as Tim Lincecum is with a fastball. Be honest, if you had lost the first four games of a Western Conference road trip and you knew that even a performance for the ages from your best player wasn’t good enough to defeat a team as lowly as the Golden State Warriors, is there another team you’d rather play than the Clippers on the last game of the trip to ensure you at least returned home with one win in your pocket?

Of course not. And, the Clippers being the Clippers, the team no longer coached by Mike “Squinty” Dunleavy duly obliged, falling to the Knicks 113-107 just hours after an earthquake shook downtown Los Angeles. David Lee led the way with 29 points and 10 boards and, for once, was ably assisted by Al Harrington who, with Tracy McGrady resting his ever-ailing sore left knee, made the most of a start with a 26 point return. In a shock reversal of his efforts against the Clippers last season where he virtually handed two Ws to the Clips by drawing a pair of ludicrous technical fouls, Harrington made the difference down the stretch, getting the better of his old running mate Baron Davis and scoring six points (four from the line) in the final 72 seconds to close out the game.

The other noteworthy aspects of this match-up came primarily from the bench. Firstly, the debut of Earl Barron, the seven-foot center signed from the D League on a 10-day deal, gave the Knicks a real boost with 10 points and six rebounds in a 17-minute stint. Sergio Rodriguez dealt out 10 dimes in 22 minutes and Toney Douglas, nonsensically supplanted in the starting line-up by Chris Duhon, shot 3 of 4 from beyond the arc. While the Clippers starters got the better of the Knicks’ first five in the game’s opening exchanges, D’Antoni’s second string, led by Douglas and Rodriguez, brought them back into the game and then into the lead. That, and the first consistent bursts of energy and defence seen on this current road trip, helped the Knicks get over the line.

So, a predictably dire road trip ended on a meaningless high. Good job the degree of difficulty in terms of opponents lessened as the five-game swing went on. Having opened the trip with a shellacking in Phoenix (see last week’s column), D’Antoni and his charges succeeded in lowering expectations to record depths for their visits to Utah and Portland. Both Knicks performances in these games fell into the “stop me if you’ve heard this one before” category.

Against the Jazz, the Knicks fell behind early, giving up 44 points on 85% (YES, EIGHTY-FIVE PER CENT!) shooting – and virtually no defence – in the opening quarter, before rallying back to parity near the end of the third. An ice-cold fourth quarter in which a malfunctioning Knicks offence managed a paltry 11 points sealed the deal in Utah’s favour. No execution down the stretch equals no victory. Yet again.

Facing the Blazers, the Knicks produced the all-too familiar 48 heartless, effortless, distracted minutes on their way to a 118-90 beatdown. As Mike D’Antoni noted, the game started badly at the opening top and “went downhill from there”. The Knicks were manhandled on the boards, out-rebounded 50 to 30. They managed just four fast break points all night. The win clinched a playoff spot for Portland. The loss had Knicks fans reaching for the sick bucket.

How badly to you have to play to lose a game in which one of your players records the NBA’s first 30-point, 20-rebound, 10-assist game in 34 years? Awfully, if the opponent in question is the Golden State Warriors. As is customary when the Knicks play the Warriors, the Oakland hoops police ensured no defence was allowed within five miles of the Oracle Arena and the scoreboard rattled around accordingly. After the Portland debacle, D’Antoni revealed he had appealed to the “competitiveness and pride” of his players. The resulting 128-117 loss suggested that only David Lee was listening.

With his jump shot firing and his pick and roll game restored thanks to the otherwise unwelcome re-introduction of Chris Duhon, Lee scored 37 points, hauled down 20 rebounds and dished out 10 assists. It was the first 30/20/10 return in an NBA game since Kareem Abdul Jabbar completed the feat in March 1976. Lee played 46 minutes, including late fourth quarter garbage time when the game was already lost but that should not diminish his effort.

The one question is does raise is way D’Antoni had Lee out there at all. Could one reading of this be that the Knicks are quietly putting Lee in the shop window for use in a sign and trade this summer? Unlike with Nate, Jordan Hill and, more recently T-Mac, the coach appears to appreciate Lee’s play and, if Donnie Walsh’s plan for next season doesn’t include the former Florida Gator, wants him to land in a good spot.

So how was Lee’s historic effort neutralised? A total absence of defensive effort led to Anthony Morrow and Reggie Williams tormenting the Knicks with 35 and 23 points respectively. On the other side of the ball, a lack of interior toughness saw Ronny Turiaf transform into the second coming of Dwight Howard, making five rejections in a 15-minute block party. The Warriors also forced 22 turnovers while giving up only 10. Their victory moved coach Don Nelson within one game of equalling Lenny Wilkens record total of 1,332 NBA wins.

As if such things needed confirmation, the Knicks one and four Western conference swing reeked of the resignation that comes from a team eliminated from the playoff picture with players who know the team will be blown up in the summer. Everyone know the big picture with the Knicks but, as I’ve said at various points this season, knowing things will eventually get better does not provide in the aftermatch of dispirited performances and bad defeats. The only bright spot this season haas been the play of David Lee. The irony is that it seems no matter how hard he continues to play, his future as a Knick looks as bleak as those of the teammates who consistently failed to match the standards he sets.

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This is a low: Knicks season on the sofa week 19 review

Due to broadband failure at Sports Bloke Towers (thanks a million, British Telecom), the first three Knicks games this week were rendered unwatchable to my tired gaze. I’m still trying to work out whether this was a blessing or a bind.

As it turned out, the games against Cleveland, Detroit and Toronto followed a predictable pattern. The Cavs handed out a regulation shellacking to Mike D’Antoni’s men, the woeful Pistons surrendered limply in a high-scoring 24-point beatdown and the Raptors, after three even quarters, relied on superior execution down the stretch to beat New York even though Chris Bosh was unavailable.

In all three games, the Knicks conceded over 100 points. In all three games they played next to no defence. In all three games, David Lee, despite his consistent offensive output, was abused defensively by bigger and stronger players. With the season now over for the Knicks, D’Antoni took the opportunity to take a longer look at some of his new acquisitions, inserting Bill Walker into the starting line-up and switching the inconsistent Tracy McGrady to the point guard slot. Sergio Rodriguez got extended minutes running the point backing up McGrady.

While these moves arguably made the Knicks more fluid in attack, they bought about absolutely no change on the defensive end. Opposition guards continued to drive the lane with impunity while the likes of Jonas Jerebko and Antawn Jamison recorded double figure rebounding games as they outmuscled the paper-thin, over-matched Knicks interior.

Regardless of how hard it is to watch this struggling Knicks team at present, we all know the reasons for their travails. With this season consigned to the garbage bin, the roster, recently gutted in preparation for the Summer of Lebron (or more likely the Summer of Joe Johnson and Chris Bosh), is imbalanced and undersized. Losing 11 of the last 13 games and conceding an average of 112 points in the process is woeful – but it ultimately doesn’t matter if Donnie Walsh fulfils his promise of big name signings in the off-season. The patience of the majority of Knicks fans, severely tested over the past decade, means these recent performances are (at best) tolerated for now.

But then the Knicks found themselves on the receiving end of a 20-point blowout at home to a local rival who had previously won just six of their 61 games.

Last night’s defeat to the lowly New Jersey Nets was simply unacceptable. The boos that rang out through Madison Square Garden from the second quarter onwards were absolutely justified as the Knicks wasted an excellent opening spell, blewing a 16-point lead and were then outscored by 30 points over the game’s final three quarters. McGrady managed a meagre two points in 23 minutes of play. Rodriguez, for all his perpetual motion and fluid passing, was roundly abused by the speed of Devin Harris and Courtney Lee for most of the game. Brook Lopez and Terence Williams dominated David Lee on the boards.

Predictably, the Knicks couldn’t defend the paint. Neither could they defend the three-point line. The Nets, averaging a paltry 4 made three per game, made 14 of 24 shots from downtown. For a time, it seemed like Courtney Lee, Harris and Kenyon Dooling couldn’t miss. In contrast, the Knicks hit none (I repeat, NONE) of their 18 attempts from beyond the arc ensuring they were not only blown out by the league’s worst team, but also managed to set a truly embarrassing record in the process.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Knicks’ 18 missed 3-pointers sets an NBA record for most attempts without a make. How many times do the Knicks have to go the extra mile to become a league-wide punchline? Off the top of my head, fans have had to endure the heaviest regular season defeat in a nationally televised game (scoring 58 points against Boston on TNT) and having the league’s highest payroll only to finish a season with 24 wins alone. Then there’s all the individual embarrassments: Kobe turning MSG into his own personal playground while torching the Knicks for 61 points; the team recording less blocks combined than Dwight Howard managed on his own over the course of a season; Nate shooting into his own basket; the brawl against Denver. And I haven’t even mentioned Marbury, Eddy Curry or Isiah yet!

D’Antoni reflected on the Nets loss, the Knicks 41st of the season, as follows: “We gotta do a better job, we got to somehow get these guys together and play well and get the year over with and then go on to other things. It’s tough for everybody right now. Obviously, we don’t have the answer now, but we’ll keep looking for it.” These sentiments have become the Cliff Claven-lookalike’s mantra since the early days of the season. But when are we going to see them put into practice on the court?

The Knicks show flashes of coherence that they never sustain. This isn’t a new problem. Save for a consistent stretch in December, it has plagued them throughout the year. They don’t raise their game for the elite teams. They don’t play down to the few lesser opponents they face. They seem to collectively bring the effort when they feel like it. And for a team whose roster has changed and devolved through the season, the coach must take some of the blame.

D’Antoni’s stubbornness is becoming the stuff of legend in New York but it’s his logic that leaves me baffled. He was hellbent on Chris Duhon becoming his NY version of Steve Nash despite the obvious gulf in class between the two. He preached his seven second or less philosophy despite knowing he didn’t have the quality of players to execute it. He let down rookies Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas by eventually giving them minutes and then returning them to the bench before the got a proper run in the rotation.

Most crucially, his constant line-up changes suggest (at best) a coach grasping for answers or (at worst) a coach without a clue. D’Antoni’s reputation is one of being a players’ coach but his two years in New York suggest he can only handle players of a certain quality. He has no answers when stuck with a roster of limited ability.

At least D’Antoni (like the rest of us) only has to suffer for 20 more games. Walsh’s trades have opened the door, albeit at great risk, to a brighter future. The pain of recent losses will eventually subside. Even the debacle against the Nets will fade from memory given time. The onus remains on Walsh to deliver the players that can implement D’Antoni’s plan. I was apoplectic in the aftermath of last night’s game. Twelve hours later, I look at the bigger picture and remain hopeful for next season. But when things do improve, it will be tough to convince me that D’Antoni deserves any credit. When things get better, it will be down to Walsh’s patient franchise fixing and the players he is able to acquire.

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Indefensible defence: Knicks season on the sofa week 18 review

Pull on your crash helmets and brace yourself for pain. New York’s new day will still come this summer but, on the evidence of the Knicks’ four games this week, the remainder of this NBA season is going to be hard to watch.

Gutted by Donnie Walsh’s trades to bring about free agent nirvana this summer, Mike D’Antoni’s new-look roster seems incapable of competing with even the most mediocre NBA teams for a full 48 minutes. With no Jared Jeffries marshalling their already below-average interior defence, the Knicks have become easier to score on than a female contestant in the Jersey Shore.

None of this is unexpected or unique to the Knicks. Salary dumping in preparation for the summer has been de rigour for many NBA teams over the past couple of seasons. Walsh has stuck steadfastly to his oft-stated plan of getting under the salary cap. In the main, Knicks fans have accepted mediocrity in the present in exchange for the promise of future greatness. The play of Tracy McGrady was supposed to sustain Knicks fans through to the summer and, as T-Mac bought the Garden to life in last weekend’s OT loss to the Zombie Sonics, it looked like the remainder of the season, while 99% certain to yield no playoff spot, would be riddled with memorable McGrady moments.

The sad truth was revealed two nights later as McGrady limped up and down the court in a truly horrible home loss to Milwaukee. His rebuilt knee isn’t strong enough to stand up to the rigours of the NBA schedule. His minutes, much like his future contributions, look like being severely limited. Without McGrady, the Knicks aren’t capable of beating many teams. They eked out a road win in Washington against the only NBA team whose roster has been gutted even more viciously than their own. And there’s no glory in beating a team by shooting a meagre 25% in overtime. Overall, the 118-116 turnover-riddled game was awful to watch. But it did end an eight-game losing streak, the Knicks worst run of the season.

The laboured win over the Wizards was the sole bright spot of a truly miserable week for the Knicks where their lack of size was cruelly and repeatedly exposed. In a home loss to Milwaukee, Bucks center Andrew Bogut eased his way to a 24-point, 20-rebound game shooting 80% from the field. On the defensive end, the seven-foot Aussie had five rejections. On Legends night, the 40th anniversary celebration of the 1970 world championship team, the present day Knicks could only 67 points in 48 minutes and lost comfortably by 16 points in a performance that disgraced the legacies of Frazier, Monroe, Debuscherre and Co.

With Jared Jeffries and Jordan Hill gone, the Knicks didn’t have anyone capable of even hoping to stop Bogut. That’s fair enough. What’s unacceptable is the stagnant offensive performance. The additions of Sergio Rodriguez and McGrady had D’Antoni murmuring about playing at pace. But this was more stunned-and-glum than run-and-gun. And with Chris Duhon benched for the entire game, the pick and rolls so key to David Lee’s scoring were absent. Lee managed his customary double double (12 and 13) but only took 12 shots in the game.

If Andrew Bogut feasted on the New York’s undersize interior, former Knick Zach Randolph gorged himself when the Memphis Grizzlies came to the Garden. Randolph took everything he wanted in a 31-point, 25-rebound effort that gave the Grizz a 120-109 win. Z-Bo’s partner-in-crime Marc Gasol got his share too with 25 points, 13 boards and eight assists. Both big men were given the freedom of the paint as they scored at will and grabbed second, and sometimes even third, chance points.

The contrast in how the teams got their points was marked. While the Grizzlies big men scored on easy bucket after easy bucket, the Knicks clung to their coattails thanks only to the three-point shooting of Al Harrington and Eddie House. The Knicks actually led by a point with five minutes left but Randolph sparked an 11-0 to seal the deal. Buoyed by his match-winning contribution, Randolph later joked with reporters about returning to New York in 2011 and praised his former teammate Lee, hilariously dubbing him “the white me”. He’ll never score an easier 30 points.

In between being dominated by Messrs Bogut and Randolph, the Knicks travelled to Boston for a reunion with the recently-traded Nate Robinson. Former Celtic Eddie House got a standing ovation from the Celtics fans, as did Robinson when he made his first ever entrance as a Boston player. Neither guard had any real impact on the game and it was left to Ray Allen, now free from the hassle of trade speculation, to claim victory for his team. Mr Shuttlesworth poured in a team-high 24 points but it was a defensive play that swung things Boston’s way. With the Celtics leading by three in the final minute, Wilson Chandler cut to the hoop as the home defence rotated slowly. Allen, who averages 0.3 blocks a game, soared across the lane and made the rejection. The Celtics ultimately prevailed 110-106 with the Knicks wasting a stellar 28-point, 15-rebound effort from Lee.

At 20-38, the Knicks are sinking further into the basement of the Eastern Conference and the threat of them having to give up a high lottery draft pick to the Utah Jazz looms large. The promise of better days come the summer remains in tact but every loss makes that salvation seem a long, long way away. In the mean-time, perhaps the Knicks could branch out as a shelter for battered children because, unlike violent parents, they don’t look likely to beat anyone any time soon.

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