The Knicks made it a game against the Celtics on Monday night, but they hurt themselves down the stretch by settling for too many rushed 3-pointers in the early ticks of the shot clock.
They attempted 11 long balls alone in the fourth quarter -- mostly by Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith -- and while they made four early on, they missed their last four. And three of those four misses resulted in a Celtics defensive rebound, preventing the Knicks from getting a second-chance opportunity.
While the Knicks are still averaging more than 100 points per game during their current 5-6 slide, they have continued to rely on their 3-point shooting to get by. Before Dec. 17, they were averaging an NBA record-high 29 3-point attempts per game, and remarkably making 41.0 percent of them. Since then, they're still averaging 29 attempts, but they've come back to earth at 34.8 percent.
What also hasn't changed is their inability to get to the line. Their roughly 20 free throw attempts per game ranks them toward the bottom of the league.
Can a team get caught up in settling for too many 3-pointers? San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who has won four championships, says it can happen. He noted more teams are shooting 3s in recent years, and therefore pick-and-roll defensive schemes have changed to make sure teams don't get open looks.
"Sure," he said last week when the Spurs were in town. "You forget you're in the bonus, the ball doesn't move as much, it doesn't change sides, maybe you shoot too quickly, no offensive boards -- and then all of a sudden, if you combine that with a few turnovers, you're really in trouble. We try to keep our eye on it.
"We talk a lot about what kind of 3s we're shooting. If they're open, we've got to shoot them because the guys in the NBA now are too good. I remember the days when in the pick and roll, you would just go under. You didn't give a damn about going over the top because very few people would have the confidence to shoot a 3. Now, it's the opposite, so if they're open, you're pretty much going to take that shot."
Speaking of defenses that have adjusted well to 3-point shooting, two of the best are the Pacers and Bulls -- the Knicks' next two foes. Indiana ranks No. 1 in the league in opponents' 3-point percentage (31.5) and Chicago is seventh at 33.9 percent. Combined, they've allowed opponents to reach 10 3-pointers in a game only three times.
The Pacers and Bulls have different anchors to their perimeter defense. Indiana is led by Paul George, George Hill and Lance Stephenson, and Chicago's director is Joakim Noah, whose exceptional pick-and-roll D allows his teammates to stick to their assignments better. Both teams, however, play with a lot of heart, effort and aggression -- the same qualities the Celtics displayed Monday night.
On Thursday night (without Anthony) and Friday, the Knicks are in for two more physical, playoff-like battles. But they can demonstrate more of an attack mode and controlled manner?
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