Thursday, January 12, 2012
Knicks deliver on D ... again
By Ian Begley
Raise your hand if you thought the Knicks would be winning games on the defensive end early this season.
If you have your hand up, chances are you just woke up from a coma that was induced in the late 1990s.
Because, even with Tyson Chandler in tow, most fans expected Mike D'Antoni's Knicks to be outscoring their opponents early in the year -- not stifling them on the defensive end.
But that's exactly what's happened this week.
Granted, the Knicks were playing two teams at the tail end of brutal stretch of schedule on Monday and Wednesday, but they used strong defense late in both games to walk away with wins over the Bobcats and 76ers, respectively.
They held both opponents under 90 points, something they hadn't done in back-to-back games in the past six seasons. D'Antoni's club has held its last three opponents under 88 points, a streak the Knicks haven't touched since March 2004.
"Guys are buying in and that's the key," coach Mike D'Antoni said after the Knicks' 85-79 win over Philadelphia. "Everybody knows that. Iman [Shumpert] puts a lot of pressure on the ball and he can do a lot of things. Tyson [Chandler] is super vocal back there. Things are good. The other guys are buying in. It's fun."
The Knicks held the Sixers to 39 percent shooting, including an ugly 3 for 15 from beyond the arc. And they needed every Philly miss. New York held on to win despite missing its last 11 field goal attempts of the game.
"We're starting to buckle down," Carmelo Anthony said.
Of course, Philadelphia was playing its third game in three nights. Many players were dragging and -- at times -- the ball movement just wasn't there [the Sixers finished with 10 assists on 32 makes].
But the Knicks haven't been known as a defensive stalwart since Jeff Van Gundy patrolled the sidelines in 2001.
So the players were practically giddy when discussing the effort of the defense on Wednesday night.
"We're starting to trust one another," Anthony said. "We're having people have each other's backs out there. We're starting to put three, four quarters together."
On the day Chandler signed, he declared that his top priority was turning the Knicks into a defensive team. Early on in the season, his words looked like an empty promise.
The Knicks allowed three of their first six opponents to shoot above 50 percent. With the team struggling to find any cohesion on offense, they started off 2-4.
But since their embarrassing 118-110 loss to Charlotte last Wednesday, the Knicks seemed to have turned the page defensively.
They've held opponents to a combined 41 percent shooting over the past four games and limited foes to 90 points or fewer in three straight.
That's something that certainly didn't happen last season, when they allowed an average of 105 points per game.
"We're getting better; that's all I can tell you," assistant Mike Woodson, who was brought on to teach defense, said earlier this week. "We're getting better, we've got to keep working at it."
Chandler's certainly making a difference. So is Shumpert, whose aggressive perimeter defense has bothered Charlotte's D.J. Augustin and Philadelphia's Jrue Holliday this week.
The defensive cohesion has surprised Chandler. He was certain that the offense would be carrying the Knicks early in the season.
"The offense has always been so explosive, I thought we were really going to have to get guys to buy in defensively," Chandler said. "But guys are really willing ... "