Loss to Rockets Exposes Knicks
Jeremy Lin’s return exposes holes in the Knicks’ defensive scheme.
by Yaron Weitzman | @YaronWeitzman
Jeremy Lin made his glorious and long-awaited return to Madison Square Garden Monday night, except that it turned out not to be that glorious and not to be that anticipated. At least not when using the Linsanity scale.
The ovation that Lin got from his former worshippers during pre-game introductions would be the loudest and most enthusiastic one he would receive all evening. A couple of hours later, as his Rockets were wrapping up a 109-96 undressing of the Knicks, the former New York hero was serenaded by a sound that, last year, no Big Apple basketball fan would have ever dreamed of directing at their Lord and Savior.
Winning, as it turns out, really can cure everything, Linsanity included. An 18-5 start to a season (which is what the Knicks were before losing Monday night) can turn Raymond Felton from foolish acquisition into a crafty, rejuvenated veteran and floor general perfectly suited to direct the Knicks’ offense. It can make Carmelo Anthony the good guy and Jeremy Lin the one who, as Mike Woodson made sure to point out before Monday’s game, chose to leave.
“We wanted Jeremy back,” Woodson said. “I made that publicly [known] back in the summer when we were going through the recruitment process. But things changed from a business standpoint and Jeremy decided to take the Houston deal, and he has every right to do that.”
That a member of the Knicks’ brain trust (a phrase that was once an oxymoron) could say such a statement and receive no backlash is something that, just a few months ago, would have been inconceivable. How dare Mr. JD & the Straight Shot and his merry men blame The Prodigal Son? That it can happen shows just how far the team and franchise have come in such a short amount of time. No longer is a temporary gimmick needed to placate the angry, deprived child that is a Knicks fan. This season’s Knicks team has been doing that by playing smart, efficient, fun and, most important, winning basketball.
Doing so was always going to be the only way the Knicks were ever going to make their fans forgive them for not spending $25 million on someone they so dearly loved. So when Lin’s return Monday night was met with a generally subdued fan reaction—a word never before used to describe anything about Jeremy Lin in New York City—it was a testament to the near perfect basketball those fans had seen from the Knicks through the first 23 games of the season.
The problem, however, is that Monday night, while running in circles and around and past the New York defense, and handing the Knicks their first home loss of the season, Lin and his teammates made something else very obvious.
The Knicks still have a ways to go.
“We were off our principles from the beginning of the game throughout,” Tyson Chandler said in front of his locker after the game. “We were a step slow and we didn’t accomplish what coach Woody put together for us.
“Our principles are to have two guys back at all times when we take a shot. To have a guy in the middle, you know, to stop penetration. And, as you see, we didn’t accomplish neither. So, when you’re not accomplishing what you set out to do defensively, you’re going to have holes and all that. It’s a trickle effect.”
The issue is that these sort of defensive lapses are nothing new. As easy as it is to attribute the Knicks’ surprising hot start to the defensive-minded Mike Woodson doing the things that Mike D’Antoni—as the common, although incorrect belief goes—couldn’t by teaching the Knicks how to get stops, in reality it’s the Knicks’ flowing offense that has been carrying the team. New York is currently second in the NBA in offensive efficiency, first in turnover rate and third in three-point shooting percentage. On the other hand, they’re 17th in the League in points surrendered per 100 possessions.
“I attribute that a little bit because we haven’t had a chance to practice and all of our things we’re doing, we’re doing from tape and film sessions and walking through things,” Woodson said Monday before watching his defense surrender 109 points to a team starting Omer Asik and Chandler Parsons. “Maybe if we can get some healthy bodies back out on the practice floor we can start drilling some more defensively and get our rotations down.”
Waiting on health, though is something for teams full of young whippersnappers, not ones featuring a collection of ‘90s All-Stars and players coming off of major knee surgeries. For the Knicks, health is going to be an issue all season.
If they truly want to make their fans to completely forget about Jeremy Lin, they have to make sure defense isn’t one as well. If they don’t, Linsanity will live on forever, no matter what color uniform Lin wears.