Thursday, March 28, 2013
Knicks mastering steal-and-score strategy
By Jared Zwerling
Perimeter defense and transition scoring.
That has been the Knicks' mix during their six-game winning streak, while playing smaller ball with Kenyon Martin at starting center, Tyson Chandler injured and Marcus Camby hardly seeing the court.
Kenyon Martin, pictured stuffing Zach Randolph in Wednesday's win, had one of the Knicks' nine steals on the night.
On Wednesday night, the team continued that effective game plan against the Grizzlies and won their sixth in a row, fueled by nine steals and 10 fast-break points. In fact, during their recent successful stretch, the Knicks have been averaging 10 steals per game (second-best in the NBA) and 11.7 fast-break points per game (about three more than their season average).
Through Mike Woodson's approach, the backcourt has stepped up, causing most of the defensive damage with their quick hands, relentless hustle and smart reads predicting passes. Case in point Wednesday night: Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and Jason Kidd combined for seven of the team's nine steals.
Before the Grizzlies game, Woodson spoke about how his team has been able to lock down defensively on the perimeter.
"I just think we're back to that mold of knowing each other, feeling comfortable in terms of rotations," he said. "If somebody has a breakdown, somebody is there. We are getting a lot of deflections and steals. A lot of that is being in the right place at the right time, so that helps when you're trying to build a defensive system."
Shumpert, who had two steals Wednesday and is now averaging 2.3 steals in his last three games, started things off in the first quarter against the Grizzlies. Midway through the period, he forced Marc Gasol into a turnover and then took it himself for an acrobatic layup, showing off hops that he's gradually regained since his left ACL repair.
Then in the second quarter, Kidd got under Jerryd Bayless' skin, snatching the ball and initiating a fast break, which ended with a Steve Novak 3-pointer. Afterward, the sharpshooter said the energy of the team "feels like night and day" and pointed to the faster pace off more consistent defensive stops helping him find his rhythm from downtown.
"There have been times in the season where our pace just didn't feel right, and sometimes it does," Novak said. "Definitely these last few games, the pace has felt like very natural and the ball has moved around easily, and a lot of guys have shot the ball well."
At the top of the fourth quarter, Felton caused Quincy Pondexter to fumble the ball, and the point guard quickly dribbled up the court and found J.R. Smith swooping in for a breakaway layup. Felton knows that playing style suits the Knicks best, and it helped them jump out to an 18-5 record to start the season.
"When we're able to play aggressively like that, get steals, keep guys in front of us, when we get out in transition like, that's really big for us," Felton said. "That's the way our defense was earlier in the year -- really tenacious, really getting after people, getting steals, getting in passing lanes and then just attacking offensively."
The Knicks' backcourt defense has been contagious for the team's main frontcourt players, Carmelo Anthony and Martin, who had one steal apiece Wednesday. Smith said there's one key factor as to why everyone is on the same page right now.
"Communication is extremely high on the defensive end," he said.