Sunday, March 13, 2011 Updated: March 14, 8:00 AM ET
Knicks behind curve in Chemistry 101
By Chris Sheridan ESPNNewYork.com
NEW YORK -- Only once all night did the crowd break into a chant of "Dee-fense" without being prompted by an organist or a bass drum recording, and it was clear from what happened why the fans never took it upon themselves to try that again.
It happened almost at the very beginning of the New York Knicks' 106-93 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday night, and let's just say the players weren't exactly listening.
In the face of that "Dee-fense" chant, Indiana rookie Paul George drove the lane and met zero resistance just 1:04 into the game as he lofted in a short jumper, which he then followed by driving around a lead-footed Landry Fields for an emphatic jam that made the score 8-1.
Chauncey Billups came back after a six-game absence, but the Knicks didn't jell on any level on Selection Sunday.
Just like that, the tone of the night had been set.
Allowing the Pacers to shoot a blistering 57 percent from the field in ending a six-game losing streak, the Knicks did not get a boost from the return of Chauncey Billups, did not get any kind of sustained offensive production from anybody, did not match Indiana's energy and did not give the 21st consecutive sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden anything to cheer about the rest of the night.
They even heard a few boos.
"They had it tonight, we didn't. Simple as that," said Carmelo Anthony, who scored 14 points in the first quarter but just 11 the rest of the way. "The foul trouble got to me tonight, the way they let [Dahntay Jones] play me tonight was kind of weird. They let him beat me up tonight, and it happens -- you have nights like that where they don't blow the whistle or the whistle doesn't go your way, and tonight was one of those nights."
But this night was bad for the Knicks on so many different levels, the most major of which was their inability to mount any kind of an interior defensive presence against a team stocked with power players along the front line.
Indiana scored 18 points in the paint in the first quarter, 10 more in both the second and third quarters and never allowed the Knicks to mount a sustained charge in the fourth quarter. In fact, New York's offense actually stagnated when Anthony and Billups returned to the game with 9:38 remaining and the Pacers leading by 10.
Billups shot an air ball from the corner on a spin move, Jones hit a 3-pointer on the other end for a 13-point lead, Anthony missed a 3-pointer and an offensive rebound was followed by a turnover by Billups as he lost the ball on a drive.
Billups followed that with another turnover by running into Darren Collison on the perimeter, and Anthony followed suit by plowing over Jones for an offensive foul.
And still there was more.
Billups rushed a 3-pointer on the next possession, Roy Hibbert rejected a dunk attempt by Amare Stoudemire and Shawne Williams missed a corner 3. By the time Stoudemire scored inside with 5:24 remaining, it had been more than five minutes since the Knicks had put a single point on the board.
"We played stagnant and didn't do a great job defensively," said Stoudemire, who acknowledged that his own defensive intensity took a major dip after he drew his first personal foul just 3:15 into the first quarter. "They got to the basket at will, finished with dunks, they shot the ball well. Once you let a team get confidence like that they're going to play extremely hard, and we know they are fighting for the eighth seed in the playoffs, so we knew going into tonight's game it was going to be very important from an effort standpoint."
Effort, however, never arrived from the Knicks.
Nor did a pick-me-up ever get delivered from the other starters or the bench.
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Aside from Stoudemire's 28 points (10 of which came in the fourth quarter when the Knicks never cut their deficit into single digits) and Anthony's 25, there was little to point to in the box score for the Knicks to be proud of.
Toney Douglas, who filled in so admirably while Billups was out for six games with a deep thigh bruise?
He was 1-for-11, including 1-for-8 on 3-pointers as the Knicks shot 7-for-30 from downtown.
He was 4-for-14, but included in that percentage was an 0-for-7 effort from long range, many of the shots coming at inopportune times outside of the flow of the offense, what little of it there was.
If this was a chemistry midterm, the grade would be a D-minus. But this was only the Knicks' 11th game since making their blockbuster trade, so "midterm" is an inappropriate term -- especially since the Knicks (6-5 since the trade) remained in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and have 17 games remaining before the playoffs begin.
They also get an immediate shot at redemption when they play the Pacers again Tuesday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.
"Well, I don't know at what point it becomes a problem," Billups said of the team chemistry. "I just know we haven't been able to get it. We had one real practice, and it happened yesterday. The trade happened two weeks ago. It is not that easy. We end up practicing in the games."
Such are the perils of making the type of wholesale changes the Knicks made two-thirds of the way through the season. Still, they weren't going to be much of a legitimate playoff threat with their old roster, and they will head into the postseason a more capable offensive team that understands deep down that it will still be one-and-done (round-wise) in the playoffs if it defends as poorly and with as little effort as it showed on this night.
"I know in my mind I will be thinking about this game throughout tonight," Anthony said, "and I just want my whole team to be on the same page as me when we step on the court Tuesday."
Chances are, a whole different Knicks team will be on display.
Problem is, you still can't tell from night to night whether the energized, juiced Knicks will be on the floor or whether Clyde Frazier will give a workout to the term "matador defense" on the home television broadcast.
As mentioned before, such are the perils of changing so much on the fly with so little time to get acclimated to all the new faces. But if there is a bright side, it's that the playoffs are still more than a month away. By mid-April, this dog-day game on NCAA Selection Sunday might be able to be written off as an evening when the new-look Knicks had to endure some of their growing pains.