By John Schmeelk
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Everyone could see the issues in the first three games against Indiana.
First and foremost, the Knicks couldn’t score. On top of that, they couldn’t rebound.
So how did Mike Woodson decide to solve New York’s problems in Game 4?
He benched Pablo Prigioni, the player with the single best per-minute plus-minus of anyone on the roster. Instead, in all his brilliance, Woodson played Jason Kidd for 16 minutes, even though he hasn’t scored a point since the Clinton administration.
Prigioni moves the ball and can actually hit an open three — two things they need desperately. Yet, somehow, Woodson sat him for basically the entire game and then refused to explain himself in the post-game press conference. It was a great show of arrogance for a man who has been embarrassed in this series by Pacers coach Frank Vogel. We all deserve an explanation for this asinine move, especially Knicks fans.
How else did Woodson try to get the offense going? He decided to start two completely inept offensive players, Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler. Woodson said time and time again the team needed to get going from beyond the arc. So clearly the way to do that would be to start two guys who can’t hit a shot more than five feet away from the basket. Throw in Amar’e Stoudemire, and the Knicks gave 70 minutes to a trio of players who can’t help the three-point game. Unless you are, in fact, Bizarro, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The Knicks won games this season by spreading the floor, hitting the three and playing small ball. In a game they needed, in a second-round playoff series, Woodson abandoned those principles and played big. Chris Copeland only found minutes when the Knicks fell far behind. Steve Novak was glued to the bench. Prigioni only played 3 minutes. Shumpert? Sixteen.
So who besides Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith are going to hit threes exactly? Ray Felton? Kidd? How can you get the three-point game going if you refuse to play the guys that shoot it well?
Throw in the fact that Smith hasn’t been able to throw a stone in the ocean for two weeks, and the team never even had a chance. In many ways, their coach took it away from them.
At least the Knicks improved their rebounding with the big guys in the game, right?
Wrong again. They actually had a lower rebounding percentage with Chandler and Martin on the floor. Of course, if Woodson actually looked at the facts he would have seen that throughout the entire season, the Knicks have actually rebounded the ball better with Martin on the bench. Those are simple numbers you can find on NBA.com, yet somehow New York’s head coach decided to start Martin. Great coaching.
Woodson’s lineup decisions in Game 4 actually worked against what he said the team needed to improve after Game 3. Kidd is slowly approaching “Zombie Mike Bibby” status. Woodson played Martin with Chandler to help with rebounding, even though the numbers say that’s a horrible idea. He preaches three-point shooting, but benches the team’s shooters. It’s madness, and when combined with his terrible play-calling against Boston, could be considered a fire-able offense. (An excellent regular season will save him that fate, and rightfully so.)
But let’s not spare the Knicks’ players from this little bloodbath. Anthony has averaged 26 points per game, but is shooting only 41 percent from the field. The Knicks need him to step up when the chips are down and his teammates aren’t playing well. He hasn’t done it. Though he’s not the problem, he also hasn’t lifted the team up with extraordinary play.
Smith has flopped again and again, and rightfully took the blame for the Knicks being down 3-1 in this series. If he wasn’t shooting 28 percent from the field, the Knicks’ offensive woes wouldn’t look nearly as bad. Smith also isn’t rebounding the ball the same way. His shooting woes are affecting the rest of his game.
The coach panicked last night, changing the way the Knicks play. The team paid for it. The players have proven they aren’t physically or mentally tough enough to play with the Pacers.
It’s not impossible to bounce back from three games down, especially when two are at home, but Woodson and his players need to make changes — the RIGHT changes — to make that happen.
They have a day to prepare, and better take advantage of it.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and New York sports.
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