Commentary

There IS a D in D'Antoni, after all

The offense is still ugly, but the Knicks are shocking everyone with their defense

Updated: January 12, 2012, 4:46 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- To say the New York Knicks have been pathetic defensively since the day Mike D'Antoni arrived is tantamount to saying there's always congestion on Broadway. It's something everyone knows. Something everyone accepted a long, long time ago. More importantly, it's something everyone expects, especially with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire on this roster, despite their vehement commitments to change.

But as we sit here today, in the aftermath of the Knicks' 85-79 victory over the exhausted Philadelphia 76ers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, it's hard to ignore what is transpiring in these renovated corridors.

"We're playing defense," rookie Iman Shumpert said.

"We're committed to doing it," added Anthony.

"It certainly appears that they are," 76ers head coach Doug Collins agreed

And so it goes.

[+] EnlargeTyson Chandler
AP Photo/Bill KostrounTyson Chandler's not the only Knick playing D.

Following the Knicks' win last night, all one could say is thank God there was something positive to peel from their defensive performance, because there certainly wasn't anything to gloat about regarding their offense.

The Knicks went the game's final 9:02 without a field goal. They missed their final nine shots. They committed nine turnovers. Seven foul shots in that span was all they could muster. And this is with a perennial 20-points-per-game scorer (Stoudemire), with someone who could drop 40 in his sleep (Anthony) and with a coach who gives a green light to everyone but the water boy.

"We're not worried about our offense," Anthony said. "That will come. Right now, we're focused on our defense. That's where we need to be."

Which, in itself, is why Anthony and all the others should be commended for the direction this franchise is heading.

It's easy to lament the reality that the Knicks are in the training-wheels stages of learning to play defense, but a lot more difficult to malign them when they're articulating the right attitude about it.

Time and again on Wednesday night, minutes after holding the Sixers to 37 percent shooting, they preached about the importance of defense. D'Antoni acknowledged his confidence is growing by the day. And Anthony, still stinging from the playoff sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics, easily surmised why that is.

"I think that's in the back of our minds," Anthony explained, alluding to the Knicks' playoff loss. "For me personally, I was on a personal vendetta. I get tired of hearing it.

"… I think most importantly that once we got Tyson [Chandler] everybody was saying he was the key to the defensive changes. But it was going to start with myself and Amare to help him out. We can't rely on Tyson to do everything out there. As long as I'm out there putting the effort forth, as long as Amare is doing the same thing, going for the loose balls, rebounding, talking, communicating, we'll be a great defensive team. I can see us moving in that path."

That's pretty nice of Anthony and the Knicks, considering what we were all forced to witness last season. There's a few reasons Jim Dolan went out and paid nearly $60 million for Chandler over the next four years, and the 105.7 points per game the Knicks allowed (28th in the league) would just happen to be a start.

Of course, there's the 47.2 field goal percentage allowed, which was 26th in the league. There's the 37.2 percent shooting allowed from beyond the arc, which was 25th in the league. There's also the issue of ranking 28th in the league in total rebounds allowed, 26th in the league in offensive rebounds allowed and 24th in the league in free throw attempts allowed.

So much for wondering why Anthony is talking the way he talked on Wednesday night, praising Chandler, while heaping greater praise on the shoulders of Shumpert, New York's steals leader.

"It makes me feel good," Shumpert said with a smile, even after having more turnovers (three) than points (two) in the fourth quarter versus Philadelphia. "Makes me feel like I'm wanted and I'm needed.

"When I came in here, people were telling me that I was going to have to change the attitude of this team. But when I stepped onto the floor, it was Amare and Melo who came at me, telling me, 'You're going to have to defend.' So it was clear to me that those guys made the change in their minds at the end of the last year. Obviously, during the lockout, they made a commitment to themselves that they were going to play defense and they were going to make sure everybody on this team played defense. So I just came in and did what I normally do. Somehow, it seems like it's starting to click right now."

Right now, the Knicks are surrendering just 93.7 points an outing on 44.9 percent shooting. Clearly, they have improved.

"I thought what [the Knicks] did tonight was, by far, the best defense I've seen played all season long," Collins added. "They're big and strong. Their guards got into us. I take my hat off to them. Very impressive."

Don't faint!

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, host of a weekday show for ESPN New York 98.7 and a regular on "SportsCenter" and "First Take."

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