Sunday, the Celtics won in overtime in Game 4, thanks to a 10-for-35 shooting day by Carmelo Anthony. Wednesday, it was J.R. Smith carrying the poor-offense reins, shooting 3-for-14 after missing his first 10 shots. Everyone has their own theories about why something is amiss with the Knicks, troubling stuff as the team tries to close out the series for a third time in front of what should be a raucous Boston crowd.
If you're the type of person who believes what the Knicks do off the court had something to do with their play on it, there's plenty of fodder for you, starting with the Knicks' stunt to wear all-black before Wednesday night's game -- Boston's funeral. Paul Flannery wrote about the stunt -- and the Celtics' reaction, featuring their apparent revival from the dead -- in detail. Knicks coach Mike Woodson spoke to the media Thursday about how he'd wished he'd stopped his squad from the sartorial diss:
Woodson on funeral talk concerning the Celtics: "I told our players to stay out of the papers and just focus on playing."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) May 2, 2013
"I'm a little upset about [the funeral talk.] Ive addressed that [with them]. We're the New Kid on the Block." Says he wouldve stopped it...— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) May 2, 2013
If hed known the players' plans to wear all black clothing.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) May 2, 2013
Tyson Chandler defended the decision, and has a title to back up his point:
Chandler on funeral black: "We did that every single time we had a close-out game in Dallas." #Knicks— Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) May 2, 2013
Other quality off-court reasons to speculate about: Jordan Crawford's words to Carmelo Anthony after the game -- lipreaders apply -- and J.R. Smith's off-night behavior.
However, if you're one of those who thinks the result of the game was determined by how the teams played between the lines, there are even more problems, as the Knicks have become addicted to one-on-one scoring:
Knicks had lowest assist rate in NBA in regular-season, but it has dropped by 10 percentage points in playoffs. System is out of balance.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) May 2, 2013
As one of the league's best offenses during the regular season, the Knicks used 15.9 isolations per game. In the playoffs, it's been 26.6.— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) May 2, 2013
Further, those 26.6 isolations per game for NYK would be the most for any playoff team since at least 2004 (as far back as Synergy goes).— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) May 2, 2013
Also, those 26.6 isolations per game? The Knicks are scoring .707 points per possession with them. Lowest of any playoff team.— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) May 2, 2013
The amount of iso the Knicks are running isn't normal or healthy. And again: It's not that New York is just handing off to Melo or J.R. Smith and falling asleep every time down. They're doing that too often, but the other problem is attempting initial action-- a basic high pick-and-roll, the double hand-off, or more unusual pick-and-rolls with Melo as the screener or screenee-- failing, then having no other option but to go iso. Play calls get busted for all kinds of reasons-- bad screens, bad spacing, just great defense-- and the Knicks need to be ready to do some other shit when that happens.
The Knicks have thrived this season on offense, setting the record for most three-pointers made in a season and finishing third in the league in offensive efficiency. It's been sparked by several players capable of running the pick-and-roll, a floor spread with three or four above-average shooters at all times and the strong play of Anthony, who led the league in scoring while also passing prettily when teams doubled.
Whether due to strong defense by the Celtics, poor decision-making by Mike Woodson and the five players he's put on the court, or some combination of the two, the Knicks offense has become broken in this series, their season-long strong play seemingly evaporated. Despite that, they're up 3-2 in the series, with a fourth game that went to overtime and a fifth that was decided by six points. They still have two opportunities to advance with a win, but there's reason for worry.