NEW YORK -- Simply put, Jeremy Lin changed the tune of the Knicks' offense.
The Knicks were just 8-15 prior to Feb. 4, when Linsanity broke out, but since then (entering Saturday) they've increased their offensive efficiency by nearly five points per 100 possessions, winning 18 of 29 games. Not only that, the Knicks have outscored their opponents by 144 points, with the cat quick Lin on the court (compared to the halfcourt-oriented Baron Davis, who's a step slower).
That offensive tempo slowed down when Lin missed three straight games with a sore left knee, as the Knicks only averaged 95.7 points per game. And that continued Saturday night against the Cavaliers, after news broke pregame that Lin would be out approximately six weeks with a small chronic meniscal tear in his left knee.
The Knicks knocked off the Cavaliers 91-75, setting a season mark for the lowest points allowed in a game. Afterwards, Tyson Chandler said that without Lin pushing the pace and creating easier scoring opportunities for others, the team will need to place a greater emphasis on defense, so they can put points on the board generated more from stops and steals.
"It's definitely going to change," he said. "Jeremy brought a tempo to us and that's kind of got us going when it came around earlier in the season. But we're going to have to play more of a kind of grind style and let our defense lead us and let our defense lead to fastbreak points. We've got to pick our pace up a little bit. We were a little slow, but there's so many games in a small amount of time. We're going to have to pick our pace up."
Without Lin -- not to mention Amare Stoudemire (bulging disk) and Jared Jeffries (right knee inflammation) -- Mike Woodson applauded the team rallying together to get the win. And he stressed defense as the defining factor, once again, as he's done since being named interim head coach on March 14.
"Jeremy's a big piece of our puzzle, but they do understand the reality of it all," he said. "I thought it was a total team effort tonight. They had to do what they had to do to get the win."
Looking ahead, more will obviously be asked of Davis, who called Lin "like a brother." But he'll have to be an offensive anchor for his teammates in more halfcourt sets. Davis' slower-paced style in his older years, especially because of a recent sore hamstring, is one of the main reasons why the Knicks will become (and already have) more of a grind-out scoring team.
While Davis' 6-3, 215-pound size enables him to keep his defender at bay, he's lacking an explosive first step and consecutive ones to get to the basket, which Lin had. Now with Lin out for likely the remainder of the season, he's been given the responsibility of what he came to New York for: starting at point guard. But now, his minutes will have to be limited so he doesn't put extra wear and tear on his aching body, which is why Toney Douglas saw increased minutes tonight and will moving forward.
Overall, the Knicks can't expect Davis, Douglas or Mike Bibby to do everything Lin did. They will need to be able to score in multiple ways -- and sometimes any way they can. That's why non-point guards Carmelo Anthony, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith stepping up in the past three games has been huge.
One of the biggest things that Woodson and his lead player, Anthony, stressed postgame was that the team can't get too down about the injury situation or look too far ahead. Their message: take it one step at a time.
"One game at a time, one practice at a time, one film session at a time," Woodson said. "We've just got to hang in there together and keep the bodies that we do have healthy playing when they step out on the floor. The season is what it is. It's not going anywhere. We can still control our own destiny, and they've got to understand that."
Anthony: "We've just got to keep coming together as a team, get healthy -- that's the most important -- take it one day at a a time and just go from there."
Chandler said that even though the Knicks are more shorthanded, that shouldn't be blown up as an excuse. He said the best teams in the league, no matter who's in the lineup on a given night, still find a way to win. And that's what his guys have to do.
"We gotta win games, whether they're ugly or pretty we just gotta make sure they end up in the W column," he said. "We have to keep the boat floating until we get [Jeremy] back."
That starts with a greater emphasis on defense.
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